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Twitter's all the rage right now. In social media and digital marketing circles, Twitter seems to be taking over the world.

I have a different perspective: it's not. For all of Twitter's growth, I believe it has yet to achieve what it needs to achieve to become a viable marketing platform for businesses.

Since there's far too much mental masturbation about Twitter already taking place, I'm going to make this simple - the problem with Twitter is that the conversation is still about the conversation on Twitter.

99% of the Twitter discussions I'm exposed to are about its (potential) use as a marketing platform. What does that mean? It means, obviously, that marketers and industry folk are talking about Twitter. Users? Not so much.

I have a few friends who use Twitter casually. They don't work in social media and they're not marketers. None of them has ever stopped to tell me about a wonderful interaction with @Starbucks. None of them has ever mentioned how blessed they felt to have @DellOutlet. And none of them has bragged that @mrskutcher responded to a tweet they sent. None, in fact, has ever pressured me to join Twitter beyond an automated invitation.

Contrast that with even Facebook, another service that I believe has been overhyped. Sure there's a lot of talk about it in the context of marketing but the number of 'average' users on the site who are using it to interact with each other far exceeds the number of social media types and marketers on Facebook who are using Facebook to talk about Facebook.

On Twitter, industry folks talk about Twitter. On Facebook, real people actually interact and share. In other words, Facebook is more than an echo chamber for marketers. That's not to say that the online interaction and sharing that takes place on Facebook is as good as the real deal (i.e. life), but it's certainly more meaningful than 140 character tweets extolling the virtues of 140 character tweets.

I'll admit that for some individuals and businesses, Twitter just might be useful. I'm obviously biased but Econsultancy's experiment with live tweets on the homepage demonstrates that Twitter can be used in interesting ways. And for a company like Econsultancy, using Twitter just might make sense. After all, many Twitter users are digital marketers and that's exactly who Econsultancy serves. Going where your audience is always makes sense and judging from the responses received, it looks like Econsultancy was able to attract some attention.

But that doesn't mean that Unilever, Toyota and Wells Fargo need to be on Twitter or treat it as a potentially significant part of their future marketing mixes. Twitter might not be useful to them and it certainly isn't going to be more important than, say, television advertising.

Perhaps a metaphor is in order. People in the construction industry might love to talk about the tools they use but the only thing their clients really care about is whether or not their construction projects are finished on time and on budget.

It's clear that Twitter has become the cool new tool that social media types and digital marketers love to talk about but that doesn't mean that the people they help businesses market to really care how cool Twitter is. What the businesses they serve want to know is how Twitter is going to help them reach their target audiences and there has to be more to Twitter than industry fodder to get big consumer audiences excited.

Right now, given that the loudest conversations on Twitter are still about Twitter, I don't think most businesses have much to gain by investing lots of time on Twitter. Resources are better allocated elsewhere, be it PPC or SEO, affiliate marketing or offline advertising.

Until Twitter truly goes mainstream and the majority of the conversations and popular Twitter 'memes' have less to do with industry chatter and cheerleading and more to do with real life, my opinion is that most people are all atwit over nothing.

Drama 2.0

Published 19 February, 2009 by Drama 2.0

237 more posts from this author

Comments (18)

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Wink Lorch

This may not be mainstream, but I've been using Twitter for several months now and found it hugely useful as well as entertaining. It isn't just something for Social Media types ... there are plenty of conversations going on in the worlds of wine and of travel, my two main focuses. And, sure, we sometimes discuss use of twitter, but mostly it's about what's going in our own businesses and/or passions. I've made some serious contacts and learnt huge amounts of stuff. In the world of wine, live wine tastings have been a feature - #ttl (Twitter taste live) - in the UK @bibendum used this so successfully on the day of their trade tasting in London last month that the Twitter popularity that afternoon exceeded that of Obama. Only yesterday I've been following proceedings of a wine writers symposium (#spww) in Napa, California that I couldn't atttend - several attendees have been tweeting their impressions of the speakers/comments.

Follow me at www.twitter.com/winetravel

over 7 years ago

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Adi

As you mentioned, I can see a benefit from marketing on Twitter, but for the life of me I can't see why I'd want to go on their socially.  Content I get via rss, friends I get via Facebook and entertainment via tv or YouTube or something.  The only times that I've turned to Twitter in my leisure time has been during breaking incidents such as when the plane crash landed on the Hudson river.  It had a definate use then but for the remainder when such events don't happen it holds very little appeal.

For instance I notionally follow Lance Armstrong and could have discovered about his bike being stolen via Twitter, but the incident (and indeed the tweet) were reported in mainstream media anyway.  I'm not that bothered about his news that I have to know right there and then so the immediacy isn't really a factor.

It is early days however so a use may well emerge as the mainstream flock to the site to see what all the fuss is about so I won't rule it out just yet.

over 7 years ago

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Illiya Vjestica

I couldn't agree more with this article.

Clearly there is a value to some businesses using Twitter take the success of DELL for example, but marketers definitely shouldn't be putting forward Marketing Strategies raving about Twitter just because it is the "COOL" thing right now.

Facebook in a prime example as a social media platform, out the demographics who use it the majority don't want to be marketed to. They use Facebook to connect with friends and tag photos, as one of the Facebook generation I don't believe people are in the buying mind frame when they are on Facebook, which makes placing adverts on it less effective than Google Adwords.

This why Digital Marketers need to be more smart when putting forward Social Media platforms as benefits for their clients.

If you were at a party in a social environment you wouldn't walk up to the first person you see and try to sell them a watch. It works the same online, if your interacting with your customers on a social platform you need to be more receptive to needs and let them tell you what they want.

If some Tweeted I need a new computer, my current one is useless!! I can see the benefit of a computer manufacturer interacting with this user to build a relationship to lead to a possible sale.

However will Twitter be around in the next five years or will we just move to another social media space instead?

over 7 years ago

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Dan Thornton

I agree that the scale of Twitter has yet to reach that of Facebook, for example (estimates of 5-7 million Twitter users don't include mobile access, but compared with 175 million for Facebook).

However, it's been covered in mainstream media enough to be discussed outside the marketing echo chamber, grew 984% in the UK last year (Hitwise figures), and has grown five-fold in the UK this year already.

It's become the industry leader in microblogging, which means it is in the prime position to benefit from the advantages of the format, whether that's the $1 million + Dell has made in revenue from Twitter, or the benefits it offers in interaction and particularly customer service.

As a consumer it's already becoming second nature for me to attempt to reach companies via Twitter rather than searching for a website, finding a phone number, going over the phone, waiting for 20 minutes with inane hold music, then finally getting to speak to someone.

If you're reading marketing and digital media blogs, websites and tweets, of course it's going to all be about how cool it is for marketing without hard figures - because most people will be saving those figures for direct conversations with clients.

Mind you, if you don't believe that the ability to interact is becoming as important, or more important, than the ability to mass broadcast, then there's always going to be a gap in understanding how a tool like Twitter can be beneficial.

over 7 years ago

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Robin Houghton

Couldn't we all just calm down a bit? This is a new tool in the same way that computers were once new and the telephone before that. I recommend reading The History of the Telephone by Herbert Casson, written in 1910. He tells how the invention of the telephone was ridiculed and for years no-one could see the point of it:

"Alexander Graham bell received no welcome and no notice from the great business world. "It is a scientific toy," said the men of trade and commerce. "It is an interesting instrument, of course, for professors of electricity and acoustics; but it can never be a practical necessity. As well might you propose to put a telescope into a steel-mill or to hitch a balloon to a shoe-factory.''

Of course one of the main subjects of talk on Twitter is Twitter. People are only just starting to explore its value as a tool per se, let alone its value as a business or marketing tool. The hype, the buzz, the talk all indicates that there's something potentially very interesting about it.

Let's carry on experimenting, discussing it and learning about it and not write it off too quickly.

over 7 years ago

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Ben Mason

I agree that it's over-hyped, but i don't think its because of it being too 'meta' and only discussing itself - it's because it's just not slick enough yet.

The crucial factor is the quality and accessibility of the conversation being held - and until it is as easy to follow and interesting as a chat in a pub, it's not going to be the killer tool we are hoping for...

over 7 years ago

Jason Till

Jason Till, Digital Strategy Director at Designate

Viable marketing platform - remains to be seen.  Useful tool for certain types of like minded people to connect and share info - certainly.  I've had two positive customer service experiences - from Tripit and Reality Digital - after tweeting about their companies (one bad tweet made good and one good reinforced), but both of these are Web 2.0 companies and I'm a B2B / community user of twitter in the main.

Re, the content of what people are talking about the biggest subject at this time is the Watchmen film - check out http://twopular.com/  - correct there are a few twitter based themes / memes, but films and TV are singularly more popular than any single twitter theme (Twitter Remote comes 5th).

What you read / hear completely depends who you're following, and you're following digital marketeers.  I'm following a few people / companies who are dropping all sorts of interesting stuff they find / need in their worlds into the community - more than 50% of which is observational / snippets / links / requests for interest.  There's some noise / banal status updates, but I find Twitter a useful source of leads on marketing / tech practice from a blend of ingredients (interesting people) I've personally chosen - much more useful than Facebook or Linked in for this purpose.

over 7 years ago

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Elliot

"This new fangled telephone thing is hard to fathom. I mean, what is one supposed to talk about?" 

Truth is, Twitter (this year's name, agreed) is just a medium or channel, a method of conversing with large amounts of people simultaneously... like TV, radio, print in that respect, but different in that your conversation goes two ways instead of one. 

If you can't see how brands / businesses can benefit from being able to talk with their customers 24/7, then perhaps stick to old school ATL stuff and leave the new things to the youngsters, huh? 

The conversations about Twitter are inevitable - people are fine-tuning the technology, but you're missing all the smart stuff that's going on outside of that stuff - stop following techy types and anyone else that adds to your numbers artificially - that's like cold-calling - and make relationships with the people you would in the offline world.

You don't watch TV programmes you don't like or call people who aren't your friends. Actually, maybe you do....  

over 7 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

Dan: look at most Twitter accounts, especially those that are commercial in nature. If that's what "interaction" looks like, perhaps I've been spending too much time in the real world.

By the way, I'd love for you to explain how Twitter is a scalable customer service tool. Good luck.

Robin: You can carry on experimenting with Twitter and discussing it. I'll be busy building my businesses and maintaining real relationships, since those are the biggest drivers of business.

Call me in 5 years when Twitter is the next telephone and we'll compare notes. In fact, don't call me. Tweet me.

Ben: "quality" is not a word that I think a reasonable person can use to describe "conversations" that take place in 140 characters or less.

Language is inexorably linked with thought and if your language is limited to 140 characters, expect thought to be too.

Elliot: yes I'm old school. Old school as in I do things that make sense because sense makes dollars.

I hate to break the news to you but Twitter is not the only tool that enables companies to "talk with their customers" 24/7. Give me a company that has 24/7 telephone support over a company with a Twitter account any day.

You might want to try calling a company that offers quality phone support. I think you just might find that it's easier to get a question answered or problem fixed with a phone call than it is asking @DellOutlet why your new Dell is a dud.

By the way, I'm not on Twitter (I came, I disliked, I left). Truth is, I'm too busy building relationships with people in the real world (what you refer to as the "offline" world).

over 7 years ago

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WebUrs

I have a problem with this post, because we are an example of how much Twitter can help with marketing.

Five lessons we learned while using Twitter for marketing:

Five steps to Twitter success

Thanks for this post.

Incidentally, more successful Twitter marketing cases here:

Examples of successful Twitter applications in business

over 7 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

WebUrs: funny. I looked at your "Five steps to Twitter success" link and despite your generous use of the word "success", not once did you mention revenue or ROI. In fact, you didn't look at any "marketing" metrics.

I think that speaks for itself. Marketing is measurable, my friend. Everything else is mental masturbation.

over 7 years ago

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Alexandra

Well, if all you can see on Twitter is conversations about Twitter, that just speaks to the choices you are making. It does not describe the majority of conversations, information feeds and just fun that is carried through Twitter. Media talking about media happens in every media. It is up to the user to discover more.

over 7 years ago

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Alexandra

PS Do you all have to be so *serious* about this?

over 7 years ago

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Alexandra

Oh yes, lastly, don't forget that on Twitter you choose who you follow - and can unfollow easily - so you are not marketed at (yet). Also, as all media feed off each other (particularly on the web), that just exposes us to more opportunities to discover the information, entertainment, discussions in which we are interested. Guess what, it also leads to finding out about real life events and if using it to keep in touch with friends, to real life socialising (shock). 

And like with all media, if a brand is savvy and uses it appropriately then people will find them. It's not for everyone. Can't stand Facebook myself. 

over 7 years ago

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Paul Blunden

The future of conversations or the future of search?

over 7 years ago

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Sandlines

An interesting but, to borrow a term from anthropology, ethnocentric post. OK - so the jury is out on whether and/or when twitter will qualify as a viable digital marketing tool. But that doesn't mean that twitter is worthless.

It's been well discussed that, currently, a viable business model is currently not shown for twitter. I wonder, does that apply to any other form of social media? (that's a rhetotical question, for those who missed it)

Surely that's not the point. I've been asked by a wide range of people inside and completely outside the digital marketing world about twitter - and many of the people who have the most interesting experiences with it are using it for their own enjoyment.

Where it gets valuable to me is when following it on a mobile - iPhone has good examples for this - and offers the ability to pass a few interesting minutes, maybe share some experiences and learn something.

The business model will follow once people (you know, those creatures who use the service) have worked out what they use it for. Remember SMS?

Meanwhile, my best advice to you is widen your 'follow' list... get some more interesting content.

over 7 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

Sandlines: I'm not on Twitter (I cancelled my free trial). I think my problem is that I have a rare genetic disorder that affects my cerebral cortex. I just can't find interesting content in 140 characters. It's kind of like color blindness, only for intellectual stimulation.

Dave: nice post. Well-balanced and realistic.

over 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Wow, a few months late but loving the vitriol. 

Twitter is not going to work for everyone, in the same way that some companies get a great ROAS from PPC and others don't, some get the affiliates excited, others don't.

Dismissing Twitter out of hand because you don't get it or it is not relevant to your customer base is, I believe, incredibly short sighted.

If Twitter had no value, why do companies like ASOS, Topshop, Zappos, Dell, Innocent etc continue to invest time? 

Twitter is simply another tool for creating customer communication & engagement. And to Dan who claims this is not the real world, then I must be in a parallel universe to you because last time I checked millions of people were conversing using social media and building relationships. Are they not real? Same criticism was levelled at internet dating in the early 00s - now look how socially acceptable it is......

Online communication does not replace face-to-face interaction but I'm not going on Twitter to get that, i'm there to ask a question, get an answer and then go off and make a decision. I don't want or expect to have to physically meet or call someone each time I have that need. I've also found Twitter response times generally to be far quicker than email (exclude 10 Downing Street from that claim!).

So why can't we appreciate that Twitter is another media channel available to brands to use to connect, communicate and engage with customers. Why wait another few years for someone else to prove it, then you simply become a me-too company? 

Good luck to those who can remove the shackles and give it more than 5 mins distracted attention. I firmly believe that with the right attention, focus and planning, Twitter can become an integral part of a brand's customer communication strategy.

Not every activity has to create a direct sale, it is increasingly important to engage people when they are not in the buying stage of their decision cycle so that when they come to buy, they will think of your brand ahead of competitors. Engagement is a key tool in influencing customer behaviour and Twitter can be part of this.

about 7 years ago

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