In defence of Twitter

Since this is not a ‘personal’ blog in the original sense of the word, I should say that what follows is an exposition on Twitter which is not endorsed by all parties in our small organisation. (That is my business partner and wife disagrees with me.)

But I think this is a topic worthy of serious debate, so let me declare my position upfront: I participate on Twitter. I am a relatively late adopter and only relented because of the insistence of @servantofchaos and because a serious marketer has to at least investigate and not form opinions about everything said and written about the platform second-hand. So I signed up.

I have never chased followers, and other than the initial list which was based on my blog roll and a few of Gavin’s recommendations, I have really just reacted to people finding me. Since half of those are spammers and ‘bots, my ‘following’ has grown slowly (organically) over the last few months. I have tended to counter-follow only people whom I think might be interested in what I have to say and vice versa. I have also tended to focus more on Australian-based tweeps.

I have recently switched from Tweetdeck to Hootsuite and it has been set up to track a few keywords/topics and to be perfectly honest that seems to obviate the need to actually have a tweetstream based on followers – and also vindicates the approach that I have taken in being narrow and somewhat selective in my approach.

I don’t describe myself as fan or a reluctant participant. I can see the potential, but since it is not massive for me in my business, I don’t really pursue it fully. In short, I am still ambivalent.

Recently a blogger announced that he had broken through the 1000 follower marks, and was following no-one. I posted a comment about his approach towards Twitter and suggested that although I share some of his scepticism, I disagreed that is necessarily a waste of time for everyone and that I could see how it could work for some people, who may choose to use it differently.

It must be because English is my second language, but he took umbrage at my view and actually insulted me in reply. The irony is, I think he has a great business, a great brand, a great strategy and was looking forward to learning much from him.

I just had to swallow my pride and the urge to retaliate and decided to walk away. We never got to have a decent conversation about the relative merits and demerits of Twitter and that is the genesis of this post.

I choose not follow him (@BentleyGTCSpeed) because of the positioning he has adopted. I find it hard to reconcile the approach that ‘this is all rubbish but here are my tweets anyway’ – approach.

Having said that, his tweets and posts are actually very insightful and I respect his right to use twitter anyway he likes. (It just so happens that he does not reciprocate the courtesy.)

Isn’t that ironic? A twitter sceptic accusing me of all manner of stupid things because I can see merit in this application. (In fact, I called Twitter a ‘tool’, and Alan admonished me because it is a ‘communications platform’. I am not sure why the difference is material; in fact in hindsight ‘application’ or ‘channel’ may have been more appropriate.)

So why is Twitter what it is?

Some criticise Twitter for not being profitable or that the business model does not work so therefore the application is meaningless. If you argued that way, then you would not want to read half the newspapers in print because, so too are they struggling to invent a sustainable business model. And besides, would you rather have Biz Stone’s bank account or that of the critic?

Even though the business model is not apparent (yet) that does not mean it does not have potential. (It took Google awhile too…). The shareholders’ (owners) have done pretty well so far, even if you are just cynically saying they keep finding suckers to invest in the company.

What follows are a few bullet points on some examples of how Twitter is or could be powerful. Each probably could be an essay in its own right, but the purpose here is just to ‘list’ a few headline reasons why Twitter may well be a major player in the years to come, despite the sceptics’ arguments.

  • The main reason why I see a lot of potential in Twitter as an application or platform relates to how it really taps into the zeitgeist. Every generation thinks it is living ‘faster’ than the one before, and they are right. Today, everything is at warp speed. It is attuned to the times of limited attention span s and increasing speed of decision-making. And the rise and rise of Twitter is testimony to that.

  • The notion of micro scripts in marketing is gaining increasing credence. Twitter provides practice in the process and the execution of condensing ideas and arguments. I am not sure who said (thought it was Oscar Wilde, but can’t ascertain for sure) that he was to busy to write a short letter – and that says a lot. It takes time and effort to craft an effective short message. Just because many people substitute short for squashed, does not diminish the art of being succinct and the demands of the medium.

  • Participation requires discipline – and the lack of discipline is quickly evident. Your tweets can really polish or diminish your brand very quickly because of the reach and speed with which things can spread.

  • It is extremely flexible and you can communicate pics, texts, and importantly links to great content. The only constraint is brevity, and if you can’t articulate an important thought briefly, it probably isn’t.

  • Its flexibility extends beyond the technology; it somewhat ironic (given the trigger for this post) that it is flexible enough and powerful enough to accommodate it being used the way @BentleyGTCSpeed uses it as well as the way I use it. Neither has to be right. Either can be more or less effective at different times for different reasons.

  • People make snap judgements anyway – so this forces you to hone your thoughts if you want to be effective. Twitter interactions are trackable and measurable – almost infinitely so. It is asynchronous, synchronous and ubiquitous. (Is there a word for that?) In my own case it has lead to alliances and partnerships and real-life meetings (wet world :-)) which have much potential.

  • Twitter is stream-of-consciousness stuff; many people dribble inanities. Now whilst that means you will be exposed to some drivel (no more than taking public transport in any city in the world) it also means you will be able to see and interpret the waves of issues and opinions as they are formed – as close to ‘real-time’ as you can get.

  • It is immediate. It requires an immediate response: blink and you will miss it (hence it is addictiveness) and on the positive side, it gets you an instant response.

  • Twitter can easily become a substitute – or at least a real competitor of Google (which must be a good thing in itself) and it provides an endless sea of links and people who can respond to queries and provide access to fresh content.

  • This one probably needs a Clay Shirky to explain, but the way information is connected via Twitter is unique in that it simultaneously deep (conversational threads) and wide (hashtags). The use of hashtags allows for very deep searching across an almost infinite array of sources; whereas the conversational threads are infinite (chronologically speaking). This has unique advantages over the hyperlinked nature of the web generally, and I don’t think this is fully exploited yet.

  • I do predict though that Twitter may well become a serious rival for Google. If you do find it is taking over your life – switch it off: just like TV.

  • There are of course downsides too; the primary one being that opinion is more easily repeated (RT) as fact and much damage can be done, very easily. But you can’t blame the medium – that is just human nature’s fickle, irresponsible approach to the truth being exposed.

I don’t know if I am right, but I obviously believe so. I would love to chat to you about it. 

(And that, Alan, was all I was trying to say.)

Creative Principles of Visual Merchandising (post 2 of 12)

Oscar Wilde: On Twitter

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