Twitter Is Like walking to School with Your Friends

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by: Lynette Webb

I’ve held off posting about Twitter until now. Mainly ‘cos I didn’t have the time to do it justice.

I find Twitter intriguing for a number of reasons, not least
because it’s fun watching the debate – from the sidelines it seems
pretty polarised… people either love or hate it. Whatever you think
about Twitter, the fact that it can stir up such a storm means it’s hit
a nerve. 🙂

My gut feel is that Twitter has now ‘tipped’ among early adopters at least in the US, so it’s only a matter of time before it spreads even if it morphs along the way. Hitwise did a post about growth in traffic to Twitter recently which was interesting. Take their figures with a grain of salt though… as pointed out in the comments, Hitwise’s counts are limited to only those people who visit the website… and a lot of Twitter use beyond signup – especially in a text-loving market like the UK – happens via mobile which Hitwise don’t track.…

Twitter reminds me a bit of Myspace, not only because of the ‘always on’ ‘broadcast to the world what you’re doing’ spirit of it, but also because of the inanity of much of the stuff that’s written. Just like Myspace though, the inanity is very much in the eye of the beholder. If I knew the person – or was curious about the person (eg: celebrities I like), I think I’d quite enjoy it… to me, it’s only inane when it’s a stranger. As the quote on this slide implies, reading someone’s twitter gives you a different level of insight to their life, more than you’d get from a blog, and perhaps a little less ‘managed’ than Myspace where, after all, profiles are tweaked within an inch of their life. Of course, not everyone necessarily is comfortable with sharing their lives to this extent. As a guy recently wrote in the NYT about his feelings about twitter: “I wasn’t sure that it was good for my intimate circle to know so much about my daily rounds, or healthy for me to tell them”.…
I think this is another instance of how you either have the mindset for this sort of thing, or you don’t. For more on this, see…

Twitter also reminds me of Myspace in that it’s something I came across early-ish, tried out briefly but then abandoned. Of course, it’s hard to experience twittering to its fullest when no-one else you know is on there (although that’s now changed). But what initially intrigued me about it wasn’t the whole social networking/staying in touch with friends angle that seems to have got the most attention. My interest in it was – and is still – far more selfish. I’m drawn to it for its ‘life blogging’ potential. You see, I’m crap at keeping diaries. I tried it when I was a kid and had many failed attempts – but even those short bursts, lasting usually no more than a week or two, have turned out to be fascinating for me to read back now. They’re little insights into what a grumpy teenager I was (!) but also lovely reminders of good times and other stuff I’d long-forgotten. I’d love to have some of that back, and Twitter is the first service that has come close to being something that I could envisage using to capture those little snippets about what you’re feeling, doing, being intrigued by at any given time, with zero effort.

In terms of the potential value of Twitter for marketers…

Personally, I think Twitter could prove a really usefultool for celebrities – or brands with a clear celebrity/individual spokesperson who truly ‘lives’ the brand… to get their sense of genuine-ness back. Nowadays, celebrity pages on MySpace just aren’t that interesting to me. They’re almost always written by PR people and thus often have a hollow ring (or perhaps I’m just too cynical…). But Twitter could be a new frontier allowing celebrities to ‘get closer’ to their fans with minimal effort beyond sending a few text messages each day. Postings on twitter (or ‘tweets’ to give them their proper name) by their very nature have the potential to come across as more genuine provided the messages really are off-the-cuff and there’s very few of the “I’m going to be at XXX on Friday night, click here for tickets” crass promotional posts. For more about use of twitter by celebrities see here:

[Sidenote: To give you an example about the kind of (non-tech) celebrity twitter that I’d like to see… years back I was signed up to get Eddie Izzard’s texts. For a while it was really good, I fondly remember a message he sent one Xmas about being just about to tuck into pudding. Even though I know he wasn’t writing to me in particular, it was really sweet to know that he thought of ‘his fans’ enough to spend 30 secs to fling out a message like that on a day he was spending with his family, and it made me smile. Sadly I have looked for Eddie on Twitter to no avail… I live in hope. 🙂 ]

I’m still thinking through the opportunities beyond this for brands (other than individuals) to get involved in Twitter. Of course, there’s the potential for product placement among the trend-setting twitterati (“I’m just popping into Starbucks, dying for a mocha latte”) but a lot of that will happen organically and people will be able to sniff out when it’s not genuine so you’d have to be really careful. Probably we’ll end up with branded ‘backgrounds’ for your twitter viewer too, just like on IM. There also could be opportunity for sponsorship and offering of syndicated type services which leverage twitter content and extend it. Eg: ‘today’s funniest travel tweet, brought to you by XXX”, which could be delivered not only as a tweet but in an email/SMS/in a banner ad/whatever. But, arranging such things – if you want them to be brilliantly executed on-topic & timely (which they must be to succeed) – has an overhead cost, and thus isn’t as easy to make happen as you might think. You can’t just do it on a whim, it requires up-front planning & a little investment. Given how freaked out some brands seem to still be even about spending on search marketing, the ultimate no-brainer, selling them on doing something significant with twitter, even if it’s a perfect fit, ain’t gonna be easy.

Of course, if there are a few high profile marketing successes in brands using Twitter, there’s a risk it’ll flip and everyone will rush to jump on the bandwagon just like Myspace. The danger is that if this isn’t done sensibly, they’ll destroy the very thing they were trying to tap into… it’s the same danger that all online communities & social networks face. Lovely quote on this: “Every PR organization and marketing arm is leeching onto MySpace like a blood thirsty vampire. Problem is that vampires kill their prey” (see… ).

I’m looking forward to seeing how things pan out. Oh, and giving Twitter another try. 🙂

PS: As always, what I’ve written here are my views only and not necessarily representative of where I work.

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