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The Power Of Twitter

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Monday, March 21, 2011

Anybody that spends time on the Internet knows that Facebook is far and away the best known and most used social networking site in the world. What many don’t realize is that Twitter is gaining ground on Facebook. Twitter is now the third most popular social media site, with only YouTube standing between the two. The power of social media is undisputed, but what is the best way to optimize social media as a marketing tool?

Twitter BirdTwitter originally started out as an improvised meme that aspired to foment  a small revolution in  the way that small groups—dynamic clusters and swarms of human beings affiliated by some common or shared interest or characteristic—communicated with one another. Then beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, in approximately five short years after its conception, Twitter reportedly reached the 200 million accounts milestone.  Today, Twitterers have permeated every nook and cranny of the earth. So much so that when an important event transpires anywhere in the world, it is tweeted with tremendous veracity, sometimes long before it shows up as breaking news on the Internet or television. The now famous “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash is a good example of this. After a heroic US Airways pilot ditched flight 1549 in an icy river off the shores of Manhattan, Twitter users were able to break news of the crash approximately 15 minutes before the any mainstream media outlets could get the story on the airwaves.

The earliest notable “proof of concept” of Twitter’s potential as a marketing tool was its implementation at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival back in 2007. Twitter’s internal marketing team set up giant plasma screens throughout the festival; these plasma screens were used to blast out short tweets. Almost immediately, large numbers of festival attendees got into the act and started to produce their own tweets about their favorite music, films, and events taking place around them. At the start of the festival, shortly after Twitter was unveiled, the number of tweets was 20,000.  By the end, the total was upwards of 60,000. This lightning fast, viral adoption of Twitter demonstrated its true potential in gathering and disseminating first-hand information to a large group of people in a matter of milliseconds. 

A common misconception about Twitter (especially among non-Twitterers) is that the technology is, at best, a way to announce your comings and goings to a select group of friends, i.e. followers. However, the reality is far different: Twitter has become an integral component of marketing strategy for the most elite brands in the world. The Twitter brand building process is simple in concept: Create good enough tweets and you will attract followers, who will in turn become clients. This is much easier said than done though, given the micro-blogging nature of Twitter, where tweets are more about style and overall impression/impact than substantive information. (Lest we forget that each tweet consists of 140 characters or less—barely enough room to mention what you had for breakfast.) The overriding objective is that a regular dose of short and pithy sentences and phrases will build memorable (and virtually free to produce) brand impressions over time. (Although to some extent, this may require a very well thought out posting strategy that arguably runs counter to the spirit of Twitter—that of free-wheeling spur-of-the-moment posting and stream-of-conscious rants.)

 In this century, to succeed in business requires one to stay as agile as possible. For consumer-focused business organizations, this means keeping up with the latest news, fads, and trends—on a minute-by-minute basis. Twitter makes this possible by creating an ever-evolving real-time feedback loop between businesses and consumers. Marketing strategies that are based on one-way communication where information about products and services are pushed out to consumers, no matter how creatively, will wither and die. There must be true interaction between customers and marketers. They must share the stage together now. If consumers are not allowed to take their turn in the spotlight, with their opinions and feedback featured as part of advertising and information campaigns, then brand loyalty will wane. In the decades ahead, the best way to gain the trust of your constituency or potential customers is to give them a public voice and a forum (social media) in which to encourage and cultivate that voice. More and more, their trust will become predicated on such an arrangement. It remains to be seen whether or not advertisers will embrace Twitter to the extent that they have embraced Facebook, but the numbers indicate that Twitter is growing rapidly. Although advertising space has only been sold since spring 2010, it has generated over 45 million dollars in revenue. For now, the tweet should remain a powerful tool in the arsenal of many a marketer.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices—across all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide.. As a Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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