When The Client Doesn’t Get It

Twitter, is a light weight online service. It is limited, like text messaging, to messages of 140 characters (called Twitters or Tweets). It has the potential to afford rapid two way messaging either broadcast or personalized conversations among customers and partners.

In two years Twitter has grown from nothing to an estimated six million registered users. Other estimates are half of that. Whatever the actual number, it has moved beyond technologists and early adopters and is mentioned in mainstream publications such ad Fortune, Business Week and the Wall St. Journal. Twitter has become a channel in its own right.

The service is free to both individual and corporate users and can be accessed through the Web, mobile phones, or computer software. The potential is there to inform, intervene, monitor and connect with far less overhead and start up costs than email, web, blogging, Facebook, or other social marketing tactics. Its rapid response and low bandwidth make among the ost immediate and compelling of a new crop of mobile applications.

Yet when I suggest Twitter to marketers, who are not already users, their responses range from indifference to rejection. They are seldom even interested in trying it. Why is this?
They ask for clarification – so, what is it? And that’s the problem. It has been described as:

  • Light weight social networking
  • Micro-blogging
  • Instant messaging
  • Many to many texting


Visiting Twitters home page and viewing the torrent of passing traffic isn’t compelling. Twitter messages, they can indeed seem like self absorbed babbling.

  • It doesn’t fit well in any established category
  • It seems at least as much abused as well used
  • It demands creativity and a degree of innovation from its users. Success will require experimentation and evaluation
  • It has the danger to degenerate into online drivel
  • Good business cases and “best practices” are just starting to emerge

Twitter’s business model has yet to be developed. It has yet to figure out how to make money. At present, that’s more Twitter’s problem than yours; but you don’t want to invest thought an effort into a medium if it is not like to stay around.

Our old friend ROI is hard to measure. Actually the investment in a Twitter campaign or marketing program can be trivial – no money and Much less effort than say a blogging or Facebook strategy. However it will take some thought, time, and inspiration. It you start a Twitter conversation, be prepared to maintain it.

Twitter is, of course, just one of many media. It has been used successfully by Barack Obama, but less so by Hillary Clinton, and still less by John McCain (based on followers and traffic). Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts use Twitter; Peets Coffee, Folgers, Maxwell House and many others in the category appear not to. Dell and HP use it; Lenovo, Toshiba, and Sony don’t.

Among marketers, technologists, and some media cognoscenti Twitter is cool. This of course is no reason to use it.

What to do:

See if your firm, industry, products or issues are actively discussed on Twitter by searching at search.twitter.com.

Track and follow discussions of those influential in your industry.
Respond, when you have something to contribute.

Even Twitter fans admit it may take some getting used to. It looks quite different after using it for a week or two.

Are a significant number of your customers, or those who might influence your customers using Twitter. If you don’t know, you should to try to.

If they do, Twitter is worth a try. You may gain valuable market insight, test a concept, or launch a guerilla promotion campaign.

Otherwise, you would do better to reach prospects where they are through media they are acquainted with. Leave the cool to someone with venture capital to burn. Even if you’re sure Twitter could be a useful part of the marketing mix, let it go. In the words of the late LL Bean, who left no opinion of Twitter, “Nobody ever won an argument with a customer.”