Thursday, 14 May 2009

To Twitter or not to Twitter that is the question

Once again i have been dragged into argunments recently about Twitter and more specifically its value as a tool for marketing. So just to make my position clear i have copied below my April Eastern Daily Press column in which i set out my views on the subject.

It is worth noting that since then a poll on Marketing Weeks magazine website has 44.4% of marketing professionals thinking it is a significant tool and an equal 44.2% thinking ot with 11% unsure yet. Certainly in America a new poll by Harris has speculated that because of the recent media hype and take up by everyone from Martha Stewart to Opra Winfrey the younger age groups are now leaving Twitter to look for the next cool thing.

Anyway here's the column and if you agree or disagree feel free to comment or email me your views at

I was recently asked by a colleague about creating a feed on Twitter for one of our commercial sites. For those who don’t know, Twitter is a micro blogging site, micro because each post has to be less than 140 characters. It has become extremely famous very quickly as it has become the darling of the media. Every celebrity known to mankind seems to have their own twitter page and the media does love to write about it. Sky News even has a twitter correspondent for crying out loud.

Twitter was designed for friends to let each other know what they are doing in brief statements. However research from O2 has shown that UK businesses are sending about 3m posts a day with 700,000 business using the services. But what are they saying? In effect they are saying very little to a small amount of people who are not interested. It is just the next big thing and another bandwagon that businesses think they should be on. Don’t get me wrong Twitter for individuals can be fun, even the voyeuristic pleasure of reading posts written by celebrities themselves not the distorted and re-interpreted words from celebrity magazines is interesting. However a marketing tool it is not.

A couple of years ago Second Life, the online virtual world, was all the flavour. Thousands of businesses paid a lot of money to create their own environments within this virtual world but now two years down the line many are pulling out. Why, because they simply cannot justify the expense. The Department for Work and Pensions has had to defend publicly its “waste” of tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in building a government “innovations centre” in this virtual land. The users moved on to the next cool thing. Second Life “jumped the shark” (it’s a colloquialism, look it up in Wikipedia) and Twitter will be next. Ever since Jonathon Ross banged on about it on his show and Stephen Fry and Philip Schofield made it famous, the early adopters, those that many businesses want to target, decided to move on to the next big thing.

Geoffrey Moore, in his 1991 book Crossing the Chasm, created a life cycle for successful technology products and named groups of users based on the timing of the use of that technology. These are innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and eventually onto laggards. Twitter is current moving into early majority but it needs to make money. In reality most of today's social networking businesses will struggle to make a viable business. Evan Williams, one of the team behind Twitter has said “We will make money, but we can't predict exactly what's going to work,” Which is great when you get multi-million funding boosts but not when they run out.

Web 2.0 history is now starting to get littered with social sites, from Friends Re-united, Pandora, Bebo, Second Life, MySpace, Flickr, You Tube, Facebook and now Twitter. All in their time have been heralded as the future of the web and the next Google in terms of revenue potential. Some have been lucky to have been bought for millions of pounds ensuring that their creators retire in luxury. However although some still have vast audiences none have lived up to the hype. There is always something else just around the corner.

So for any business who is thinking they must be on twitter, ask yourself, why do you really want to be on it? Who are you trying to attract and what are you going to say? And is there some better way of communicating with your target consumers? My advice would be sign up, but just to find out what Philip and Steven are doing today as tomorrow they will probably be on something else.

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