February 16, 2009

Twitter Is A Lot LIke Digging Through A Restaurant Dumpster For A Fresh Donut

Maybe you've heard about this social networking tool called "Twitter".

If you listen to the pundits, you'll come to the conclusion that this is the most spectacular marketing tool ever created. The "twitterati" will tell you that this is a game changer, a tool that, with just a little tweaking, could cure cancer.

They'll quickly tell you that Dell made a million dollars over the course of eighteen months using Twitter. WOW! Think what you could do, if you used Twitter?!

Of course, Dell sells $60,000,000,000 (sixty billion) of merchandise a year. So if you have a respectable $50,000,000 brand, and you do just as well as Dell did (and they're good), you might sell $833 this year on Twitter. OMG, WTH, LOL :) :) ! The twitterati will defend this fact by pointing out that the $833 will have the best ROI of any marketing channel.

With that kind of brand promise, I, too, took the Twitter plunge. Here's my page, here's the RSS feed.

I've written more than one hundred and seventy updates, earned more than two hundred and eighty followers, and learned a few things about the Twitter ecosystem.
  • You can look really important! I could write something like "@PresidentObama I'm sorry you're having a tough time with cabinet appointees. Keep your chin up!". It turns out that a whole bunch of people do just that, as a method of gaining awareness and encouraging new followers. Or they follow you with the sole purpose of encouraging you to follow them. You get the opportunity to waste time judging the motives of others, something you get to do every day in the real world.
  • Not everybody is using Twitter. Wow! You wouldn't know that by reading the various SmartBrief publications, or by reading any of the Top 25 Marketing Blogs. In fact, if you took a random sample of 100 residents in the United States, you'd quickly realize that maybe 2 in 100 are on Twitter. Not 2 in 3, 2 in 100. How are you going to reach the other 98 people in the random sample? Maybe Twitter is the next big thing. Maybe it is the next Geocities. Maybe it is a glorified version of the pen pals folks had thirty years ago. Time will tell.
  • You offend people if you don't follow them. I'm officially following fewer than five folks, and I do this on purpose because I want to conduct an experiment --- I want to see what happens if you do the opposite of everybody else. Instead, I follow many of you, as well as a limited number of the Twitterati, on My Yahoo page. I'd rather test and learn than to follow the sheep and do exactly what you're told. And quite honestly, I don't need to know that you're drinking a hot cup of cocoa after shoveling snow.
  • There might be a small return on investment. I was invited to speak at a conference through a connection on Twitter. Of course, that connection may have happened without Twitter, but such is life --- the direct connection on Twitter led to the speaking opportunity.
  • Twitter is an immense ecosystem of micro-communities. I review the page of every person who follows me. Everybody has 117 followers and is following 209 people. Nobody is famous, but everybody is micro-connected, an infinite array of micro-channels about every conceivable topic.
  • Twitter is a vast wasteland of infinite pap that includes a half-dozen nuggets of well-disguised gold. You'll dig through six hundred messages like "@goobertoe CRM strategies really are the future. Someday, we'll all be communicating via relevant, timely 1-to-1 messages" or "@socialmediapundit These luddites just don't get it. They're dead men walking". And then you're ready for more waste when you see a message from @piddlepuppy that says "Check out this video e-commerce application http://tinyurl/zzzzz". The use of tiny urls to compress urls into the 140 character limit conceals some of the value of Twitter --- all of a sudden, you realize that @nordstrom is publishing video interviews from Fashion Week.
And maybe that final sentence summarizes my first month on Twitter. You have to dig through a ton of garbage to get something of value. The signal-to-noise ratio is not favorable. And don't line up behind all the hype from the twitterati --- because two years from now, the same folks who told you to have a blog in 2005 and be on Twitter in 2008 will tell you to be somewhere else in 2010. Do something on Twitter if there's a reasonable business plan behind the idea.


  1. Then build a filter system. Stocktwits.com is a financial comment filter for Twitter and it works. I think we will see more apps like this going forward.

  2. Anonymous6:55 AM

    Cutting to the chase, as usual, Mr. Hillstrom! The Dell calculation is priceless, and the comment about 2005 2008 2010. Thanks!

  3. Anonymous7:52 AM

    Ha. I love it. As someone who uses Twitter every day, I do believe it has value, but the snake oil and magic carpets tend to get a little old. That being said, Twitter does have its uses. Surprisingly, people on Twitter talk about brands; what they like and don't like about them. And while it doesn't replace another marketing strategy it has been good to talk to those customers through twitter.

  4. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Twitter's value is its community; it's not groundbreaking technology. Twitter's community of trust will weaken as it expands, and its users will move elsewhere as has happened with Craigslist and eBay.

    Dell has other problems than microchannel profitability: it floods the market with so many offers from so many channels that I delayed my purchase of a desktop for six months while I waited for a better offer.

  5. Anonymous9:57 AM

    Kevin as always you pretty much nailed it. I am really sick of all the games people play on Twitter to gain attention and build followers. I would add on the plus side there have been some helpful micro-community chats using hash tags.

  6. Anonymous10:26 AM

    Of course I saw the link to here on Twitter. ;)

    It's difficult, and probably not worth the time, to take your points seriously when they're swimming in multiple colors, all caps, underlines, and good grief, multiple colors--sometimes all at once.

    If your text looks like it was made by a clown in 1986, so do you.

  7. Anonymous10:35 AM

    Mr. Hillstrom,

    From one perspective (your's and many others'), of course Twitter is just the "flavor of the month" which can be confusing, annoying, time-wasting and just plain useless.

    But there's something to be said for following trends - including that right now Twitter is an EXCELLENT place to research, follow and yes - even create - trends.

    Using the desktop application Tweetdeck ( http://www.Tweetdeck.com ) I set up columns dedicated to keyword searches. And just like a keyword search on Google or any other search engine will not always return 100% desirable or 100% relevant data, searching through a pre-filtered list of Tweets - which can even be narrowed down by yet another level of search in the Tweetdeck column using Tweetdeck's column search feature - makes finding the meaningful ones very easy.

    Twitter is just a tool, like any other tool. If you don't have a purpose for carrying around a hammer, don't waste your time carrying around a hammer. If you don't have a purpose for using Twitter - and develop a strategy for how you will use it to build and serve a community of followers - then (I say) don't bother wasting time using Twitter.

    Indeed, there will always be people whose "purpose" is to reach out in their loneliness to others, or blow their egotistical horns - and those people will flock to Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else they think they can be "heard" or find new "friends."

    But if your desire is to research, follow or create trends; keep in touch in a meaningful way with friends and colleagues; and expand your network so you are better able to serve more people, then Twitter allows you to do these things - and more - with a great deal of ease.

    Without a conscious purpose and a specific strategy for tapping into the immense value of Twitter, the signal-to-noise ratio and the mindless chatter that DEFINITELY exists on Twitter will make it seem worthless - or at least "a lot like digging through a restaurant dumpster for a fresh donut."

    Know your purpose for using Twitter, whether that's just to meet and keep in touch with friends, or use Twitter as the invaluable marketing vehicle it is when used properly. Remember that Twitter is simply a tool for creating and nurturing relationships, and dedicate yourself to creating and nurturing HIGH-QUALITY, highly valued relationships. Develop a strategy designed to specifically fulfill your purpose for using Twitter, and you'll gain immense value, in both imagined and unimagined ways.

    Thanks for providing a forum for this invaluable discussion. Many people feel as you do, and have similar experiences. I hope that my comment provides yet another perspective of use to some of your readers.

    Jay Aaron
    Strategic Visionary / Visionary Strategist
    Founder of http://www.Twitternars.com
    Follow me on Twitter: http://Twitter.com/newthoughts

  8. Love it!

    Sure, everyone who is selling Twitter to customers right now has to contradict, and as some are running out of ideas Twitter has many supporters.

    May I quote your Dell example, this is just awesome. (Don't tell my 'social' colleague though, he's not going to like it.) In general this cost / benefit perspective is not very much developed in some companies, right?

    One addition to your list>
    Following twitter is finding information by sheer luck and incident (or accident). Using it as a research tool, sure, that is fine, but nothing special, right?

    It is great for targeting marketers, though!-)

  9. Chris G --- thanks for the message.

    Midhael --- yes, there is value to be had. And the "value" is different for everybody. Just too much overhyping the tool.

    Anonymous, I tend to agree, the value is in the community, and the community is different for every person.

    Anonymous, there does seem to be a system of building followers, a best practice if you will.

    Eric, I visited your Twitter page. Good luck with your support of the tool, it is clear you are a passionate user, and were probably offended by my comments. I am sorry for that. My goal was to use satire to get us to think, we're just not thinking often enough in marketing.

    Mr. Aaron, your comments were constructive, thank you for the well thought out response.

    Andreas.wpv, you can use the quote, it's the actual math, and is actually generous because Dell generated their volume over 18 months. I do think there is research benefit in the tool, but it does take a little effort.

  10. Twitter is an early iteration of a new media technology, which are often awkward and clumsy. I think micro blogging is here to stay.

    Heh, I could have tweeted that...

  11. You have made your content quit clear. There’s no way to mistake your points of interest. I enjoyed this writing very much and I agree with your ideas. Thank you.
    Social Media Optimization


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