Monday, August 17, 2009

I hate Twitter

I hate Twitter. There, I've said it. I actually feel better. Better yet, I didn't tweet it - you had to come an earn this bit of insight.

There's a million reasons to hate (or maybe even love) Twitter. But I have only one reason - for the most part, Twitter just doesn't work for marketing. In fact, it's an incredible time and resource suck. I'm amazed people dedicate any time and resources to it at all.

I'll give you an example...

Ticketmaster has somewhere north of (conservatively) 20 million email addresses and has (drum roll please)...6,650 people following on Twitter. So for every 1 Twitter follower, there are 3007 emailable addresses out there, just waiting to be marketed to.

Now you could say (a) people HATE Ticketmaster, so why follow them, (b) Ticketmaster doesn't put any effort behind Twitter, so why follow or (c) both. Point taken.

Live Nation - another company in a similar industry - is actively encouraging people to sign up for Twitter. In fact, they have a contest running that is entirely fulfilled via Twitter. They also have more than 10 million email addresses. The number of Twitter followers (once again, drum roll...) 19,986. 1 Twitter follower for every 500 email subscribers. Oh yeah - how are they publicizing Twitter? Via email, of course.

The question is why...why do so many brands fail to deliver on the uber-promise of Twitter? How can Ashton Kutcher have millions of Twitter followers, yet Live Nation (who gives away free concert tickets!) have under 20,000? Here's a few thoughts...

(1) Twitter is not a marketing vehicle, but a news vehicle - Marketing messages (generally) are not news. However, the latest musings from celebrities/athletes/musicians are coveted by the popular press. Twitter allows people an unfiltered method of getting data. The more unique the data, the more appealing the tweet. Most marketing communications are not all that interesting. You may have an intern sitting there banging out "interesting content" for your followers but it's nothing you can't get from other, more ubiquitous sources.

Take a look at Zappos - over 1 million Twitter followers. Yet most of their Tweets have almost nothing to do with Zappos. Because the Twitter page isn't dedicated to Zappos at all, but to the tweets of Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.

(2) Your brand has much less tactical value than you think it does - One of the big issues with brands is that - after a time - the brand itself becomes strategic. In effect, the brand gets separated from the product. Twitter is - at its best- an exceptionally tactical tool that exposes the lack of tactical power of your brand. Companies with "strategic" brands could spend as much time as they want building their Twitter presence. It won't matter. Open the window and throw out your money. Then Tweet about how you're throwing money out your corporate windows...that might work.

(3) Your customers are not as connected as you are - This is where marketers always, always, always get themselves into trouble - they don't market to their customers, but instead market to a small sub-segment of customers who resemble the marketers themselves. Let's face it, from a personal standpoint Twitter is a huge investment/waste of time. If you're in an environment where your customers are (1) addicted to their internet/mobile devices, (2) have serious pockets of time to invest (like people who travel a lot) and (3) are looking to consumer what you have to spit out (news, last minute inventory, etc) you might find some value in Twitter. Just because YOU can't wait to read Shaq's latest Tweet (and he is hilarious), doesn't mean your customers do.

(4) The number of Twitter followers you have means nothing - MC Hammer has over 1.2 million Twitter followers. So why isn't Hammer tour and selling out venues across the country? Because - much like their MySpace predecessors - followers don't mean buyers. Fallout Boy (a fine band) had over 4 million MySpace friends in 2007. The Police had about 20,000. Guess who did better on tour.

(5) Social Networking is Over-rated - The unifying factor in social media is just that - it's a social effort shared among people with at least some passing knowledge of and/or connection to each other. It may just be me, but people don't spend a lot of time in conversation with corporations. If they do, they are usually not the most friendly of chats. The goal is to get people to talk about you - not to talk AT people. Corporations are much better at talking "AT" rather than conversing "WITH" customers.

(6) People can sniff out fakes - Last year there was a campaign by Southern Comfort to build buzz around "So Co" by having a bunch of actors pretending they were being super cool and having a grand old time via drinks made with "So Co." Like "So Co" was their buddy or something. It was (in my opinion) one of the most aggrivating commercials on the radio last year. This year it seems to be gone - people sniffed out the fakes for what they were. Much like "So Co", it's kind of easy to spot when your marketing department is trying to build hype via Twitter. The excessive use of exclamations points are a dead giveaway!!!!!!!

(7) Twitter users suffer from early burnout - There seem to be two types of Twitter users - addicts and the exhausted. Addicts are easy to spot because they're the ones (like a junkie) telling you how great the Twitter high is. Exhausteds are people who have tried Twitter, gotten tired of it, and left (about 60% of new Twitter users become Exhausteds in the first month.) They're more from the "I tried (Twitter) in just wasn't for me." As we all hopefully know, there are a lot more Exhausted than there are Addicts. Thankfully. The question is, do you want to spend that much time marketing to the addicts when they are probably going to find out what you have to say anyway?

I'm not saying that Twitter is completely useless...just mostly. If you have the magical combination of elements, you might make it work. But for most of you, it's time to put down the Twitter and back up slowly from your mobile device.


  1. Bob, Glad you got that off your chest ;) But please don't confuse bad marketing with the tools.

    6,000 or 19,000 Twitter followers is pretty darn impressive. It doesn't replace email marketing (where did you get this idea that it should?), it complements. Marketers should of course be testing out platforms where their audience hangs out. Will some campaigns bomb - yep. Will those failures be really visible - yes. That is the nature of social media.

    I wish social media was the only place where marketers demonstrate a lack of understanding of their customers' needs. Unfortunately, no channel has a lock on that one.

    If your rant was about how social media exposes poor marketing, or accelerates customer exhaustion of it, then you might actually be on to something.

    Stephanie Miller

  2. Bob,

    Twitter still in its infancy while email is mature model, so your "follower examples should be perhaps be proportionate to a measure of time. I wonder how many email subscribers TicketMaster had a decade ago? When did Live Nation begin the Twitter recruitment campaign?

    Yes mistakes were made with email and Twitter, learning from those mistakes fast.

    Fred Tabsharani

  3. agreed.. don't just compare email to twitter.. compare twitter to twitter.. blink 182 = 40,000 some followers.. mark hoppus from blink 182 = 1,000,000+ with this example you take out the time variable and it comes down to the fact that twitter is not (and should not be) a marketing tool.

  4. Hey, bro ;-)--

    Have you checked out Denise Shiffman's blog or her book, The Age of Engage? (@denisess) I participated in a social media presentation where she was the keynote, and she had some really interesting thoughts on how corporations should use social media like Twitter. Basically, her thoughts boiled down to the fact that "corporations don't tweet, people do." If all you do is spit out press releases 140 characters at a time, no one will have any interest in what you have to say -- you can't tweet as Live Nation, you would have to tweet as Bob Frady, a guy who works at Live Nation and who has lots of interesting, relevant and sometimes personal things to share.

    I used to feel the same way you do about Twitter, but now I'm just excited about its possibilities, particularly as I move into library and information sciences. Give it time, maybe you'll come around. :-)


  5. Bob, thank you for saying it! I'm one of the Twitter exhausted. But having tried it for a few months I can say a couple positive things. 1) I found some interesting articles and sites I probably wouldn't have otherwise come across and 2) my Tweets did generate traffic to my blog and website.

    For now I'm just taking a break or should I say "twake."