Twitter's amorphous value

Twitter newbird blueYour tweets are of little significance to anyone other than your “closest family and possibly a tiny handful of employees”, according to Howard Rybko, Syncrony’s CEO (Syncrony is a Sandton-based web development company in case you haven’t heard of the company). According to Rybko, speaking to ITWeb and quoted in an article titled “Tweeting is for the birds“, all this focus on Twitter (and time spent tweeting, I am sure), has been totally misguided. If tweets don’t come from “big show business, sports stars or from boy bands and the like”, very few people care about those tweets. Sorry for you.

Rybko’s confidence suggests a wealth of practical experience with Twitter that most users simply lack and an understanding of Twitter’s true nature that, again, most users simply lack. I took a look at Syncrony’s Twitter profile which was last used to tweet in October 2009. Not quite a paragon of business social media use but perhaps this is indicative of a deeper understanding of appropriate use of the medium so I took a look at the main website which has a page titled “Website101 – Getting Started with Twitter” published in August 2009 and the following introduction to Twitter:

Your Twitter profile page will become your home page on Twitter. Done properly this can be a boost to your other web activities and online presence in general.

Interesting and somewhat at odds with his quote in the article:

“I challenge anyone out there to think of any single event that happens in your business that is so important that your customers need instant notification of its occurrence. Secondly, try to think of any regularly occurring events that would genuinely continue to interest and excite them.”

BrandStrategy’s MD, Mike Said, also weighed in with his views about the need for instant notifications through Twitter: they are probably not all that necessary and “most customers would probably live without them”. Perhaps but virtually instantaneous tweet publication is pretty much a consequence of tweets being digital updates distributed to followers using a virtually realtime service. Its how the medium works. Its a bit like email and sms and has little to do with whether the updates themselves are required in realtime, just that they are disseminated a very short time after they are sent. Does this devalue email and sms as communication channels?

Anyway, Said also seems to have a fairly dim view of Twitter:

“The best analogy that I can offer for Twitter is that it can be likened to walking around at a cocktail party handing out your business card and telling a few one-liner jokes. And, of course, at the same time collecting cards and jokes from others.

When asked whether companies should be tweeting Said’s response was yes, but only to the extent those companies have thought long and hard about their objectives and strategy. That is a fair point if you are a business and you want to make sure you use Twitter effectively as a marketing tool but it is hardly an appropriate approach for all Twitter users.

Said goes on:

Regrettably, Said believes, a number of people will post something along the lines of ‘just fed my dog’ or ‘I am at lunch’ or worse, and this contributes to the argument that Twitter is irrelevant or a waste of time.

However, he maintains that this does not mean Twitter should be dismissed. “It is an exceptionally efficient way to spread news, introduce new topics or give a little insight into your company.

He suggests organisations should take Twitter out of the hands of their employees and put it in the hands of professionals who can help them capitalise on it.

Again, interesting. I took a look at Said Twitter’s stream and found some tweets which were clearly carefully crafted by “professionals” and bolster his arguments for keeping Twitter out of the rabble’s hands:

1 Always use the right tool for the job. 2 A hammer is the right tool for any job. 3 Anything can be used as a hammer. #stuffmydadtaughtme (9 March 2011)

@JarrodSA Why should today be different from all other days? Relax, think calm things and try killing fewer people today (10 March 2011)

There is more including another gem from Rybko at the end of the article. The general sentiment expressed by Rybko and Said appears to be that businesses either have no place tweeting unless what they have to say is groundbreaking or that businesses simply shouldn’t tweet at all unless their Twitter accounts are managed by professionals like, for example, Mike Said. This stuff just irritates me. Rybko’s comments are seemingly made in the absence of demonstrated experience with Twitter as a marketing tool and Said may as well have included a banner ad for his firm in his quotes.

There is absolutely a lot of trivial stuff being published on Twitter, tweets that have no real significance for anyone, probably including the person who published them (at least a quarter of my tweets probably fit this description) but Twitter is not just some marketing channel to be controlled and managed by marketing professionals. It is a social platform that consumers use to chat to each other, share stuff and interact with brands that don’t have large objects inserted in uncomfortable places. There are even businesses that use Twitter very successfully to give instantaneous feedback to customers, often in response to customers’ queries, and manage to inspire loyalty toward their brands. Companies that come to mind include Hover, Gowalla and MTN. The manner in which they tweet and their approach may be pretty casual but it does what many companies that don’t bother to tweet don’t do, stoke the fires and keep customers engaged.

Mountaineers and farmers trading mules and horses on "Jockey St.," near the Court House, Campton, Wolfe County, Ky. (LOC)

Must companies tweet? No, of course not. I do think that companies should at least listen to what customers may be saying about them but that isn’t a necessity either. The difference comes with those companies that adopt a holistic and appropriate approach to social media and make sincere efforts to engage with their customers. Those companies stand out, especially in a time when consumers are increasingly empowered by these tools and expect to have immediate and meaningful access to brands through those tools. The key here, as far as I am concerned, is using appropriate tools appropriately. As Deloitte’s Greg Comline was quoted as saying in the ITWeb article:

Comline explains that within the social media environment, such as Twitter, users would expect a response from the business but would probably be tolerant if
it was not immediate, as long as a legitimate response is provided.

On the other hand, he adds, if the customer expects a personal response and receives an automated notification, it can have a negative effect. “Businesses should manage this balance between personal and automated notifications and manage the customers’ expectations.”

Commenting on whether Twitter adds value to a business’ online presence, Comline says the value driven through Twitter depends very much on the business objectives being addressed.

Deloitte’s Andre Hugo made a number of similar comments about giving real thought to a holistic digital strategy and making sure that your social media use aligns with this strategy and business goals.

I have been a little baffled by Twitter’s apparent success for years. I believe there have been better services that have done what Twitter does far better than Twitter (consider FriendFeed and Google Buzz) and yet it is much stickier than any of those other services. Like Facebook, to a lesser degree, Twitter is where people are.

The platform is conducive to rapid and widespread sharing. It is easy to fire off a quick tweet and the increasing number of services and sites that make use of its API to post links and items of interest add to its appeal as a sort of always-on news ticker. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is comfortably a business and a social tool and users can fairly easily control the noise in their streams by unfollowing noisy tweeters. Similarly, they can easily tap into interesting streams by clicking on a button. Twitter is easier than RSS and more personal. It has value to a great many people for a variety of reasons and comments like Rybko’s, in particular, are clear indications of a person who just doesn’t get it at all.

I quoted quite a bit from the ITWeb article but there is a lot more I haven’t covered so do yourself a favour and read it yourself, form your own views … and tweet them. Or not.




  1. @CIO_Adam avatar

    RE:your post -> Your opinion? Is tweeting for the birds? @DavidGrahamSA @paulsloane @duncanbrodie @ahoova @royblumenthal @cio_adam > what crap, blog post to follow

    I’d actually defend the theme of the article a little (to be clear, not Rybko or Said or the author) as its not all crap! I’d agree its not that well creafted but there are some things to take away from reading it, particularly if you are very green when it comes to social media. For example, you really wouldn’t want your business feed being based on someone tweeting inane personal comments about feeding their dog…

    Twitter is a great social tool for both personal and business uses with an ever greying boundary between the two. For business, it is import to have a marketing strategy that encomases social media as a core component whether for basic brand protection or more proactively to drive customer interaction. Its also very true that if you tweet about your new widget to the 5 robots following your profile then it is wasted effort.

    Creating a presense on twitter and establishing a network that gives you a route to the market is not so straight forward and for many businesses this will be something that they will need help to implement.

    There are many better articles out there on this theme both in terms of content and style. However, anything that provokes a reaction on twitter is doing something for someone somewhere and now we are both discussing it!


  2. pauljacobson avatar

    Thanks Adam. You are quite right and my “what crap” comment probably doesn’t quite capture my thoughts on it which I tried to convey in my post. That said, Rybko’s and Said’s comments really annoyed me and I almost missed the value in what the Deloitte’s people said. Business Twitter use does require planning and careful thought but I have found that people tend to use Twitter in very different ways and while some companies may adopt a very rigid and formal approach in their tweets, some companies are a lot more relaxed and it works for them.

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