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.

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