Over the last three months or so, there has been an amazing upsurge in the use of Twitter. This micro-blogging platform that allows you to broadcast to your personal network (and to the world) in short, 140 character blasts -- has been growing at a phenomenal rate over the last 12 months -- and seems set to continue its upward climb. In August last year, Mashable reported that Twitter had experienced a 422 percent growth in visitor numbers over the previous year -- with 2.3 million web visitors. This, however, does not take into account those who access the service through third party applications such as Twirl or TweetDeck.
By December, usage reports had almost doubled again, with Comcast indicating Twitter received 4.43 million web visitors for the month. This was, no doubt, assisted by Obama’s clever and sustained use of Twitter -- and the high profile use of Twitter during the Mumbai terrorist attacks -- both of which brought mainstream media attention to the fast-growing web service.
Now, as celebrities begin to gravitate towards Twitter, there is a real sense that the service is beginning to go mainstream. With Ewan McGregor, MC Hammer, Stephen Fry and a raft of celebrities and sports stars now using Twitter to communicate with their friends and fans, I expect to see an ever-increasing number of people starting to use Twitter -- attracted at first by the star-power, but then finding their own sense of value.
The most interesting part of all this for brands and marketers is the transformation that takes place for almost every person -- well, every person who PERSISTS -- in their use of Twitter. What we are seeing is a change in consumer behaviour -- and it is playing out right before our eyes. This was made obvious to me by a message from Frank Sting.
Change management theory suggests that there are a number of phases which we must go through before we actually commit to a change of some kind. And it is fascinating to see what happens if we apply this to Twitter. In general, we move through THREE phases of our commitment to Twitter, as follows:
- Preparation: This is an awareness stage. Here you will find people responding to the question "what are you doing?". Accordingly there will be tweets along the lines of "checking out Twitter ... who should I follow".
- Acceptance: By this stage, people have normally found a small community to engage with. The tweets will have transformed into a combination of status updates and @ messages directed to people that they follow.
- Commitment: In this final phase, Twitter conversations flow freely between and amongst followers. The network continues to grow as more participants establish weak links at the edges of the social graph.
Of course, not everyone moves through all these stages. I suspect that there are a large number who simply do not put the time in to build value into the network. This would account for discontinued use in the first stage.
Negative perception (caused via unexpected interaction) would account for discontinuation at the second stage.
For stage three, additional tools are required to help manage conversations. Applications like TweetDeck and its ilk are the only way that participants can actively continue to find and provide value to a growing follower base.
As brands seek to have and hold conversations with consumers, they will increasingly need to listen, understand and engage with people who are using services such as Twitter -- for the one way broadcast messaging offered by mainstream media is holding less appeal with every passing day. Remaining relevant to the people who buy your product is essential -- and will continue to be the future of your brand.