Twittermania: Why do you tweet? Does it help marketing?

twitterImage by xotoko via FlickrTwitter is a game, Twitter is a political tool, Twitter is a celebrity hunt, Twitter is a waste of time! 

A waste of time? Yes, that's the conclusion that one writer came to after reaching 25,000 followers. Larry Carlat (that's his name) humorously described in a New York Times article (November 15, 2011) how Twitter had become a mania that destroyed his normal social relationships and even affected his job. To tweet, he found he was repairing to the toilet in restaurants so as not to be seen by family and friends. That's when he decided to stop. He deleted his Twitter account and you can't even find him on Facebook!

What is Twitter for you? The 140 characters you are allowed for a message: is it a challenge to express all you want to say? An advantage to zero in on the very essence of the message? A way to sell and promote your stuff? A neat tool for sharing links to interesting articles, books, products and what-have-you? A game to see how many followers you can get? A way to increase your Internet presence?

In a recent article in Time Techland, Graeme McMillan (on Twitter: @graemem) asked his followers that very question: why do it and is it better than other social media? The implication for most people being: is Twitter better than Facebook (or Google+ for that matter, should it ever compete successfully against Facebook).  

He got some very interesting answers which can be condensed as follows:
1. the "tight" form enables "sampling strangers efficiently" and keeps friends "from rambling too much", while Facebook does neither;
2. Twitter is a cocktail party or a meeting at the watercooler or waterhole, take your pick; it "supplements your social life, while Facebook seeks to replace it";
3. Twitter "ignores the barriers of class, age and locale" and enables you to follow what celebrities and politicians say.

A recently released Pew research study, based on a survey of over 2,000 adults conducted in April-May 2011, shows that 66% of Americans are on social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn) and most - roughly two thirds - are there to connect with family and friends and half say they've used the new technology to connect with old friends they'd lost sight of. 

That leaves only one third of Americans who're on social media for "cocktail party" reasons

In other words, Americans who use social media to find interesting strangers or follow celebrities. More precisely: 14% say they connect around a hobby or shared interest, like say the writers' community - an area where I certainly try to connect on Twitter and tweet about; my other interests of course being politics and art, as anyone who's read this blog knows. Mind you, the writers' community - considering also literary agents, editors, publishers etc - is actually huge. How big I don't know, but consider that there's an estimate of two million writers published and unpublished in America alone!

Then there are only 5 percent who read comments by political figures (take that, politicians! You are not followed as much as you think you are!) and 3 percent who seek romance. Obviously Twitter is not the place for romance ( I would say that among my 1,000 followers I have about a dozen "ladies" who've sent me very sexy pictures of themselves, probably taking me for a man because of my first name - btw, these are people who don't tweet...) .

But let me get to the key statistic: 

Only 9 percent - that little! - say that making new friends is important to them. 

Why Twitter is not necessarily the Best Place to promote your business.

If only 9% of the Americans in the Twitterverse are out there to find new friends and new things, it doesn't bode well for marketing. As Graeme McMillan says, this goes a long way to explain why business and media outlets who send out links to their products aren't getting very far. 

Unless the tweet with your link is a great conversation starter, it will be ignored.

I've experienced that again and again. I send out tweets with links to articles that I find interesting but that is not enough. I have to think of something fun/arresting/special to say about the said link, or else it falls flat on its face. 

This is especially true for writers who send out tweets that promote their books. Nothing could be more boring than a message that says "buy my book", and even adding that it's a steamy romance or an awesome thriller won't get you anywhere. 

Have you ever bought a book on the basis of a tweet?

I know I haven't. Unless the book is a new one from an author I know and like. 

Which brings up my next point: whatever link you send out to your followers, make sure it goes to an interesting product - whether article, book or gadget. Bottom line, content is king. Your followers will stop following if the links you send out are not to their liking. 

For example, on the days I tweet about politics I can tell quite a few of my followers unfollow me. My growth on Twitter has been extraordinarily zig-zaggy.  At first, that puzzled me. Then I realized that there is a stong undercurrent in the American writers' community that dislikes politics. Writers, on average, are not politicized (or if they are, they keep it to themselves) because they are afraid of losing readers

This fear is understandable and makes sense in America, given the strong polarization of American politics. Republicans won't read a writer who's blatantly a Democrat, and Democrats won't enjoy a Tea Party writer.

As a European, I find this is not quite so true here. Though for decades in Italy (at least until the fall of the Berlin Wall), you didn't have a hope to get published if you didn't belong to or were supported by the Communist and/or Socialist parties. That was also true in France. Now that has changed, and there's a lot more tolerance towards a writer's political inclinations. Quite frankly, I don't think they matter in Europe anymore, you won't lose or gain readers on that basis.

If your experience on this is different, please let me know!

Is Twitter a Political Tool for change?

Under this heading there are two main considerations:

1. Having a lot of followers makes sense if you're a political site issuing orders/policy slogans/strategy moves.
But it doesn't make sense if you're a political operative/agent working within a political movement. 

I'm thinking of the way people used Twitter in the Arab Spring, Indignados or Occupy Wall Street movements. Here you want to connect with other fellow agents and coordinate the street theater that your movement has organized. You want to know to what street, square, building you're supposed to go and at what time and for how long. Twitter is an entirely tactical tool - much like a telephone or radio call. 

Facebook can also help organize an event, but it's much more static. Last minute changes can't be announced or acted upon. On that score, Twitter is more agile and operates in real time.

2. Twitter is a form of "micro-blogging" in that it can support and spread a political campaign's main slogans. It can't replace a blog or a newspaper article because it can't dig in depth into an issue. But it can echo and amplify it, enriching it with related ideas/slogans as it spreads.

Lessons to be learned for marketing: 

The successful use of Twitter as a politcal tool combined with what the Pew research tells us about how Americans use Twitter suggest some general lessons for marketing: 

1. The product you sell needs to enjoy near-instant recognition and general support - for books, it's "loyalty transfer", as pointed out by John Locke, the successful seller on one million e-books on Kindle  in just a few months. In short, your readers have to empathize with your books's subject matter - or with you, the writer.

2. The number of followers you have is less important than the way you interact with them. For effectiveness, it has to be a two-way conversation. That has happened to me several times on Twitter and I can honestly say I've made new friends thanks to Twitter.

How do you stay atop of your Twitter stream when you are followed by thousands and follow an equally enormous number? Even at 140 characters a message, there's too much to read! 

There are several ways to do that. 

For example, you can use Tweetdeck to create columns of tweets categorized by subject matter. You can create your own "Daily" with which enables you to keep track of all the news/tidbits from favorite Twitterer you're interested in and that show up on your Twitter stream while you're busy elsewhere (you can't be on Twitter 24 hours every day!). 

3. Marketing has to be orchestrated as a political campaign, with objectives and an implementation plan. 

You can't just tweet at random buy my book, read my blog. You can't shower your followers with messages or you'll be considered a spammer. Constant tweets are irking. 

On the other hand, you can't go silent and wake up six months later: people expect a steady stream of (hopefully) valuable information. And since a tweet's "shelf life" is relatively short (4 to 5 hours) and people live in different time zones, you have to tweet accordingly (the same message sent out at broadly different times of day to "catch" your audience).

4. Be aware of what your audience likes. Check your followers' profile: are these the people most likely to buy your product? Follow people whose profile you deem "right" for your product. Some will follow you back. 

Use hashtags with a subject matter related to your product: it will capture the conversation around that topic. It enables anyone on Twitter who's searched that hashtag to find your tweet. Retweet messages related to your product.

Okay, these are just a few of the more obvious elements for a winning marketing strategy on Twitter.

I'm sure there are others and that you can point to them. 

I'd love to hear about  your experience on Twitter! Have you found it useful to your goals - like sell your product or bring readers to your blog?

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