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What Twitter Means for Marketers

What Twitter Means for Marketers Mark Silva

Twitter. Twits, tweener or t'winner?

If you're listening to the digital space, the sound you are hearing in the blogosphere around Twitter could be a distracting buzz or the howling gasp of old ways passing. Whether you're talking about Twitter or one of its microblogging counterparts, such as Jaiku or Dodgeball for mobile, we believe we're seeing a run-up of empowered, engaged voices connecting in new ways.

Some of you may share the healthy dose of skepticism this space inspires, so I'll try to share what's got me all atwitter with this new platform and why I think it's a game changer for marketers/communicators. I'll break it down by taking a quick look at how it's defined, what people are saying, what the digital marketing implications are and what innovative applications are already in use, and I'll wrap up with some of my picks of people to watch in the Twitterverse.

My strong recommendation for digital marketers, publishers and agency-folks is to create your free account today, then start connecting and exploring innovative ways of using it. I look forward to hearing from you.

Author notes: Mark Silva is managing director/principal & founder for Real Branding. Read full bio. He can be found online between Twitter and his blog.

Twitter Vision (like a humankind lava lamp) 

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Twitterverse presents a "cloud" visualization of term clustering from what people are posting. As Google went public with its DoubleClick acquisition, the Twitterverse "shouted up" the size of "Billion" and "Google." Common emphasized terms with early adopters include "blog," "coffee," "day/morning/night," "going," "new," "sleep" and "twitter."

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Twitterholic: Tracks the top performing Twitterers. The example below tracks the progress of Robert Scoble, one of the twitchiest, most erudite and smartest posters (he is the first "friend" I recommend you enlist).

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Twitterment: Search on specific terms being discussed or compare different terms/categories. In this example, I compare beer volume over wine:

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For the latest web, desktop and device-based applications, check out the Public Wiki on Twitter.

Building on Sharon Sarmiento's post on the 901am Blog, "The Top 5 Ways Smart People Are Using Twitter," here are some digital marketing implications for platform-independent, networked microblogs:

Advertising and marketing communications
The operative word here is "dialogue," where the form gives life to continued conversations and engagement over time. At Real Branding, we define the advertising role of any medium to Introduce, Engage/Dialogue and Remind. While Twitter doesn't have broadcast-like impact or broad enough penetration yet to widely introduce in the way most large marketers consider effective, it can be easily applied to extend the advertising effect. Dialogue is where Twitter lives.

  • For entertainment, consumer package goods, consumer electronics and B2B technology new product releases, as well as highly considered and affiliated categories, expect "Nano-Releases" by Twitter that tickle The Long Tail and maintain interest building to a trial, consideration, engagement or purchase event. See the Fox Twitter for "Drive" as an example of fan-based engagement with their show, and then with the broader community around shared interests.

  • For personality-driven and beloved brands, look for wit, wisdom, clues and insider info delivered to the deserving (See Colbert's and Borat's twitters).

  • For live sports and entertainment event marketing, expect the Twitter to get you front-row. Currently, you can get stats, scores and news from NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL teams pushed to you in real time. There's your Sunday ticket. For multi-venue music and film events like the New Orleans Jazz Fest or the Tribeca Film Festival, imagine quickly sharing the experience from your venue to your friends' devices next door, across town or even around the world.

  • For promotional programs, Twitter can deliver clues, locations, events, program updates and other gambits in richer ways that better account for how consumers are connecting.

  • For crisis management, think about having a Twitter deployment strategy to address breaking events between the news cycles. We would recommend having your Twitter available before it's needed, which brings up another implication.

  • Domain/brand claims. As with your domain names a decade or so ago, and MySpace pages more recently, friends and foes are already starting to "squat" on your most intuitive name. Go forth and register your brands even if it precedes a communications strategy.

As you may imagine, bloggers are the fastest publishing group to adopt microblogging; we've got a list of formidable participants in the last section, people to watch on Twitter.

Notable entrants outside of the blogosphere:

Traditional publishers

New media publishers

Back in the early 1990s at Omnicom, we came up with the idea for a career portal and launched the first one with Career Mosaic. The premise was based on a simple media dynamic: We noticed that the internet -- at the time, mostly newsgroups, FTP and gopher sites -- was primarily organized through the lenses of love (and every variation on the theme), money (with Classifieds being the biggest draw) and hobbies. Expect love, money and hobbies to be connected in short-form and less formal ways through Twitter. More connections before an in-person meeting could develop greater trust, familiarity and confidence. 

  • Winners here will be people practiced in the art of the sustained short-schmooze. In fact, this could really change that art, and could put a higher demand on substance.

  • Think networking on steroids. 

  • Consider it a friends & family rollcall and alert system.

  • For interdependent, interdisciplinary teams, this could be a killer client, teams and project communication tool ("alpha version on the staging servers!"). 

  • Proceed with caution: it seems like an Artificial Intelligence engine can fake a Twitter session/persona pretty easily (similar to what we created for HBO with Da Ali G bot).

Faster, stronger, better truths and transparency
Anyone who got the flu last year knows how good new strains are at beating our defenses. It's the same with these evolving platforms. Twitter will challenge the PR and corporate communications groups in ways that will make blogs look like warm-ups.

The next noise you'll hear around Twitter/microblogging could be a demolition of old ways of communications and brand management. Expect a wall of corporate secrecy to tumble one chip/Flickr Shot/YouTube video/Twitter at a time.

If you dig into expert commentary on the subject, there's this strange dynamic around the Twitter party. It seems like critics want to love, hate or at least appear indifferent to Twitter, perhaps to mask the obvious question: "How can you change the world in 140 characters or less?" Most blogs about Twitter will have a form of apology or disclaimer. For example the 901am blog by Sharon Sarmiento captures the sentiment: "To be honest, my first impression of Twitter was that it was for folks who had way too much time on their hands who narcissistically wanted to broadcast every random thought that crossed their brains."

It's true, a service answering one simple question, "What are you doing?" sounds so-Generation Y (See chart.), with a first-person world view and graphophilic-enabled drive to be somebody. Scroll through a page or two of short messages on the Public Timeline (one of the default views on Twitter) and the majority seem like navel-watching.

The first post by someone answering the essential Twitter question, "What are you doing?" is likely to be "trying to figure this thing out." Within a day or two of working on that question, the quality of posts may evolve. Just like the question "Who are you?" can become a life's work when practiced long enough, "What are you doing?" moves from temporal descriptions of the mundane to more emotional, humorous and intellectual musings.

The magic comes from the one or two posts every 10 seconds that present universal truths, and that makes the Twitter experience like watching a human lavalamp. Every five seconds or so (today) someone around the world is putting something you should read out there. The point of this social criticism is that Twitter taps into something deeper than the moment, than Gen-Y, than the ADD-attention span, and it's more than social networks that meet all your devices.

The big idea is that it's small and immediate. There's little room for fluff or editorial. It's a distilled meme or it's an update on something relevant to you. Whether it's the lives of loved ones, the status of a project, the fortunes of your team or fantasy player or even the weather, it is highly relevant should you choose to lock in your attention. Pick the right "friends" and the posts become personally, socially and professionally rewarding.

Given that Twitter is finding traction/velocity, the question every smart marketer seems to be asking is, "Is there a 'there' there?" Briefly, "yes," and in the next section I'll offer concrete applications for marketers and publishers to exploit this platform right away.

To give this new form a little context, here are three different cuts at definition:

  1. Twitter's description: A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Answer on your phone, IM or right here on the web! In an April 22, 2007 New York Times interview, Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams, said: "Twitter is best understood as a highly flexible messaging system that swiftly routes messages, composed on a variety of devices, to the people who have elected to receive them in the medium the recipients prefer. It is a technology that encourages a new mode of communication…"

  2. My description: Microblogging meets global social networking. All the ways you connect digitally -- instant message, email, SMS/mobile, web -- combined with your select network or populating globally with a 140 character-limit. The short form is a big part of the function. Twitter is an active stream and archive of brief thought bursts bound to expedite and influence taste, news, popular culture and perhaps even where you'll dine tonight or in the near future and with whom.

  3. Wikipedia description: Twitter is a social networking service that allows members to inform each other about what they are doing and what they think. It allows users to send messages via phone, instant messaging or the Twitter website. Two SMS gateway numbers are available: one for USA and one UK number for international use. Users can receive updates from other selected users via web, IM or SMS. It made its debut in March 2006. It is an example of a microblogging platform.

    "Quoting the Wall Street Journal March 16, 2007 article, 'These [social-networking] services elicit mixed feelings in the technology-savvy people who have been their early adopters. Fans say they are a good way to keep in touch with busy friends. But some users are starting to feel 'too' connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cellphone bills and the need to tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they're having for dinner.'"

Note: A new service has since been launched that mitigates most of the "higher cellphone bill" concerns. EmailTwitter.com lets anyone post and retrieve Twitter updates by email without incurring SMS fees.

From Twitterholic, here are some of the top-rated and most popular Twitterers. Some you may know and others have charm and appeal you'll have to discover on your own:

Industry folks

Other popular personalities

Twitter founders

I learned quickly from many of the sources referenced here. In fact, one of the most honest, open and public dialogues I've participated in lately was instigated between Steve Rubel, PC World and the rest of us. The post and commentary gives great perspective as well as some best practices to apply when you begin microblogging. Check out this open letter about a tiff that erupted from a Twitter post. It's good reading and also suggests some of the challenges of open blurting on both sides in the forever-archived world of blogs/twitters.
Here's a closing thought as you head out into the digital frontier. If Twitter were an acronym, I think T.W.I.T.T.E.R would stand for "The Way It Thinks, Travels, Evolves and Relates." Expect this smart, global phenomenon to expand its global scale while continually evolving based on who is connecting and using it.

We look forward to meeting you in the Twitterverse. Cheers!

Mark Silva is a Silicon Valley veteran with 20-plus years of experience building digital media and marketing companies and working with some of the world's largest brands. Most recently, Silva led the Anthem emerging platforms practice before...

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