Friday, 12 November 2010

Twitter is a complete and utter waste of time for most businesses

Twitter is a medium best suited to facilitate the sharing of inanity. Despite this, businesses have jumped on the medium and are trying to find ways to make use of it for marketing purposes.

Why are they doing this? Because Twitter is popular, and seen as a bandwagon on which to jump. Such knee-jerk thinking betrays a lack of strategic thinking within the business. The plain fact is, there is no point being on Twitter unless the company's marketing strategy provides a specific purpose for being there.

Having said that, let's examine a common use of Twitter by business. It's often seen as an ideal notification medium. And in fact Twitter's primary purpose is to notify other people about what the Tweeter is up to.

Popular Twitter celebrities such as Stephen Fry (1.9 million followers) use the medium for (I suspect) personal amusement. This is why you'll find gems on his Twitter page like this one: "Wet and windy. Then I looked out of the window and saw that the weather is too."

The difficulty for business is to translate the success Stephen Fry has had on a personal level, into a viable business strategy. It's simply not useful for a business owner to tweet about his/her epic boil lancing session. The most common Twitter strategy is...
  • Gain as many followers as possible (usually with minimal thought given to who those followers are, why they're interested, and how to convert apparent interest into profit)
  • Tell those followers about every new blog article, marketing initiative, shindig, and product the company launches
There are 3 inherent problems with this approach...
  1. Most of the 'news' isn't inherently interesting outside the company because it's self-serving and self-agrandising (yawn)
  2. The followers are almost always competitors or free-loaders rather than actual viable customers
  3. The nature of the content and its followers makes it unlikely a tweet will go viral
This last point is most crucial, because it provides the key to understanding the real power of Twitter.

Successful tweets are those that get retweeted by other users. And the challenge for most business owners is to find content that is retweet-worthy.

Put another way, under what circumstances would you retweet an announcement by Company X that it has just launched Product Y? Here are a few reasons why you might...
  • The businesses' own followers are inherently interested in product Y. The Apple iPad is an example of a product that was, in and of itself, exciting to a specific group of people
  • A tweet that offers a very attractive special deal available only to Twitter users who retweet the offer and prove they've done so (naturally the offer must be for something the target market actually wants)
  • Something so juicy it can't be ignored by those following the business on Twitter, such a link to a YouTube clip of the company chairman running naked down the street while being chased by bears. Sadly, there are very few company chairmen that find themselves in this situation. And even fewer that caught on film
In all 3 cases a small business will struggle to produce anything that meets these criteria. And if that's the case, the business must ask itself whether or not Twitter is a waste of its time and/or money.

The plain fact is, most business owners are far more interested in what they're up to than the rest of us. A dentist may like to think the wider world is interested in his/her new comfy chairs, or the redecorated waiting area. In reality, none of these things are retweet-worthy. Most of us are simply too busy to care.

Even a business that employs a social media marketing expert to manage it's Twitter presence will struggle to find retweet-worthy content. It's difficult to come up with genuinely compelling ideas. And even harder to have it infect the 'Twittosphere'.

But even if a business down come up with something retweet-worthy, and it does catch on, the question of its own target market remains.

Will the business attract genuine prospects in its target market, or merely act as a source of useful information to its competitors, time-wasters (literally) and marketing free-loaders?

If a business can't attract it's target market, there are far more profitable ways to invest it's marketing budget.


Jonno said...

Hi Wayne

Found the link to this blog on your twitter feed. Found it interesting so think I'll retweet it :-)

I think the point of twitter for companies is to provide the human face of the company and allow its clients closer access, both to send messages to them and to follow what interests them.

Also it keeps the company front of mind in the client's mind.

However like you say it has to be compelling. For instance I'm interested in links my hosting company posts, their announcements of upgrades, etc.

Wayne Davies said...

Hi Jonno. I agree, there are other uses for Twitter beyond marketing. For example, my hosting company once used Twitter during a catastrophic failure they suffered. Their engineers gave live updates as they brought everything back online. From my perspective as an anxious customer, this was absolutely brilliant. I'm sure it was useful their end too, as they weren't fielding endless calls from their customers asking the inevitable question over and over again.

In this article I'm focussing on the viability of Twitter as a direct contributor to a company's promotional activity. It's certainly useful for some kinds of business, but I take the view it's destined to fail for the majority (for the reasons stated).

Your Brother Bob said...

I agree. While Twitter is fun and it has it's uses, most business people fail to understand their products, services and advertising are inherently uninteresting to the outside world. I can't imagine myself retweeting an announcement that Humdrum Corp. has just launched a new Whatchamucallit.

Tony Gates said...

nice post!!
and i m agree with you....twitter is very effective for business purpose and advertising of the product...lead answer

Luke Watkin said...

Great article Wayne. I've had a nagging feeling for some time about the exact point that you've articulated so well.

Working in marketing myself I've found it very hard to get real value from using Twitter, other than to provide an amusing distraction.

So many businesses are so obsessed with providing "interesting content" that my News feed has just become a borefest of Top 10 Tips articles and Stephen Fry retweets...

Christina said...

Hi Wayne,
I agree with Jonno, very interesting post.

I just recently started using twitter and it is difficult to find good content. The problem is you follow them, they follow you and then they don't tweet about the reason I am following them in the first place. In fact, one of the most connected people in my industry tweets all day long. It makes you wonder, where do they find the time?

Lead Generation said...

Social media is very useful to business but some people are already abusing the use of social media.