Post I wrote for Marketing Conversation. It’s a little long, but read it anyway :)
Much like milk with no expiration date, no one quite knows for sure when (or if) Twitter will go sour. And it seems like everyone these days has two cents to add to the Twitter hype debate. I can’t blame them. It’s fascinating stuff. Twitter’s ascension to become one of the top dogs of social media has been great fodder for every PR, marketing and business blog, magazine, newspaper out there. Todd Wasserman at BrandWeek is no exception. His article “Is Twitter the Next Second Life” discusses Twitter’s influence in social media and compares its diminishing popularity with the decline of Second Life.
According to Wasserman’s article, in mid-2009 Twitter’s growth slowed from 7.8 million new users joining each month to 6.2 million. He describes Twitter as a “wasteland” for brands as some companies are beginning to realize that a Twitter strategy “is not particularly relevant to what they are doing on the branding and advertising side.”
Even worse, I just read through a recent survey report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project focusing on internet and social media usage by teens and young adults that said teens are not using Twitter in large numbers anymore. Only 8% of internet users aged 12-17 use Twitter, making it as common among teens as visiting a virtual world. Ouch. Tough luck Twitter. Looks like your 15 minutes of marketing fame might be up.
But maybe not. Chris wrote about this very issue back in June 2009 and suggested that while Twitter is definitely suffused with hype, its hype is sustainable. He praised Twitter for being light, cheap, and open while criticizing Second Life for being heavy, expensive and ephemeral. Twitter’s sustainability comes from allowing people to access the medium in ways that work for them (e.g. desktop applications, mobile access) and for being committed to the community and meeting their wants and needs.
I think Wasserman’s article, although starting out in the “Tough luck Twitter” tone, moves more into a discussion of how Twitter has worked for certain companies. The article stresses that companies need to learn how Twitter can add to their social media strategies before jumping on the bandwagon and becoming part of the “wasteland.”
The beauty of Twitter is that companies can use it in ways that work for them. Wasserman describes @DellOutlet as Twitter’s large brand success story, and it is. Dell needed a way to quickly sell merchandise and Twitter presented an easy way to reach out directly to their customers. Comcast also gets an award for making Twitter work for them. Customer service and cable were never synonymous until Comcast took to tweeting.
Wasserman says that sometimes the best policy is to hitch your brand to a personality. I couldn’t agree more. Interpersonal communication only works if it’s between people. Small businesses seemed to have gotten this right, including Someecards and the custom t-shirt company OddFit mentioned in the article. These companies use Twitter to express the “mood and swagger” of their brands through the creative personalities of the people behind the brands. And it’s worked well for them. Someecards has 1.7 million followers and OddFit has a small, but active cohort of loyal customers; something that small businesses may prize more than a larger, inactive following.
Now I know this post is already well over the 140 characters that most of you Twitter-lovin’ readers are used to, but I’d like to add my own two cents to the Twitter debate. My first point addresses the potential for Twitter to become a “wasteland” of companies , and my second offers a reason for the decline in users and a prediction for future increases.
- That Twitter represents a paradigm shift in the way customers interact with each other and with companies and brands is a bit of an exaggeration. We still rely on our social groups for information, recommendations, and entertainment; and tend to trust those groups more than mass media. But now, with Twitter, companies can become part of that social group. However, before they jump on in, companies need to first understand how they can use Twitter as part of an integrated social media strategy and how it can best work for them and, more importantly, their customers. Will it be customer-service based, sale-based, just a way to say “hi” to customers, or some other strategy we’ve never even thought of yet?
- Twitter has yet to catch on with the late-adopters and laggards. These people wait until a majority of their social groups has adopted the behavior before they will try it themselves. Teen tweets might be slowing, but teens are usually more on top of the technology trends than the rest of us. As more of these people learn how to use Twitter and learn how it can benefit them, I expect the number of users to continue to increase. I think the DC Snowpocalypse is a great indication of Twitter utility for even the most resistant social media user. I mean, who doesn’t want to know where they can get a beer and burger in a blizzard? I know my previously Twitter-resistant boyfriend thought this was pretty darn cool.