Monday, June 15, 2009

The Twitter Revolution may not be televised

When I attended Social Media Camp during Internet Week, social media marketing pro Chris Heuer presented a slide in the initial Social Media 101 session that read: "Spin doesn't work. People smell BS a mile away."

Ironic, I'd say.

Tell me if this doesn't remind you of late-90's nuttiness: social media gurus conducting Twitter seminars for anxiously paying attendees and clients... people are signing book deals based on tweet compilations. Just last week, Twitter is on the cover of Time magazine ("Twitter and the change it brings"). One Social Media Camp seminar was about "the science of retweeting." Ashton Kutcher battled it out with CNN for the most followers. Jason Calacanis offered $250,000 to Twitter to become a "suggested user" because he equated it with another "Super Bowl."

Maybe it's a good idea that Twitter executives Biz Stone and Evan Williams are playing it very close to the vest or not jumping into crazed expansion.

The anecdotal and empirical evidence about Twitter's shortcomings is snowballing as fast as the microblogging's growth is slowing. The media hype turning point may be just upon us.

I'm not talking about abject failure -- Twitter has proven to be a financial boon for Dell Computer, apparently help generate more than $3 million in sales since 2007 from its @DellOutlet account. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is milking his Twitter account for everything it's worth to show how cool both he and his company are selling shoes over the Internet. For breaking news and massive outspoken protests (such as the recent #cnnfail Twitter trend) and customer service outreach (notably with JetBlue), the service has absolute merit. I follow certain journalists to get a sense of what they are writing about and how they are viewing their beats.

But Twitter is turning out to be like a huge party that everybody RSVP'd for and very few people showed up. You know that feeling you may have had in the back of your mind wondering how interesting it would really be to let everybody know about what you were doing every hour? You may have been right -- it's not interesting at all.

To me, it started with the ingenious New York Times article at the end of May that revealed most celebrity Twitter feeds were concocted by ghostwriters. Suddenly, Twitter had a little hollow ring to it, that it was a bit of a smoke and mirrors act. And if Hollywood couldn't bother Twittering, then what about other CEO's and well-known names?

Then came this one-two punch this spring: Nielsen Online issued a report that "more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month," followed by last week's Hubspot research that showed that more than half of Twitter's 4.5 million registered users have never posted a tweet. This is going to be a business?

I've heard all kinds of stories of mega-celebrities with tons of followers putting links in their Twitter feed, only to see the click-through traffic produce very disappointing numbers.

Just today, digital traffic measurement firm Compete said monthly unique visitors grew only 1.47% and TechCrunch called it "a breather."

When the cold light of day arrives, and Twitter's ROI is scrutinized by corporate America, PR firms, Hollywood, and everybody else who drank the Kool Aid, it may turn out that Twitter is only effective with a certain niche of early adapters, or highly mobile and connected individuals.
Twitter may be more comparable to the specialized smaller audience of Wired magazine versus the colossal mass outreach of Good Housekeeping.

Spin? Oh yes, it does work.


Stuart Foster said...

I'm waiting for the ridiculousness about Twitter to end. Like every new "revolutionary" technology it is going to spawn a ton of books, videos and how-to's. The key is finding a balance and actually talking to the people who know what the heck they are doing.

Steve Gaines said...

Online technology moves at lightening speed. A year from now itself may or may not still be a "rage". But I believe strongly that social interconnectivity will most definitely continue to be.

The bottom line is being connected through one sort of social network or another isn't a fad. So being an "early adapter" and learning how to navigate social networking in general is what is important. Today Twitter is one hot aspect of that networking idea. Better to learn how to utilize that concept to grow a business, and be easily able to adapt and move on to some better technology that comes along then to sit on the sidelines and say "Oh Twitter is just a fad", or "Oh Facebook is just for students and their parents" while remaining disconnected and holding tightly to old ways of thinking.