The Tipping Point: Understanding the Impact of Twitter

  |  April 7, 2009   |  Comments

If mom's tweeting more than her son, what does that mean for online businesses?

If you've read Malcolm Gladwell's, "The Tipping Point," you may have noticed a tipping point in the last few weeks. Twitter has hit the big time.

Yes, Twitter has been popular and heavily used within the technology space for quite a while. But it recently vaulted outside of that space and attracted many more interested people.

It dawned on me when a got a note that my mother was following me on Twitter. It really sunk in when I realized she has posted more tweets than I have! Then there are all the news organizations getting on board (CNN, New York Times, etc.) and NBA players getting nailed for tweeting at half time of big games.

If you're on Twitter, you've probably added more new followers in the past six weeks than the prior past year. You can observe the jump in interest by looking at the term, "Twitter," in Google Trends.

So, what impact does this new breed of Twitter users have on our companies, our Web sites, and the way people make decisions about our businesses?

In reaching out to a few people on the recent growth of Twitter, Ryan Turner, associate director of user experience at my agency and a social media expert and blogger had an interesting perspective. He points out:

    Prior to this year, Twitter had been used mainly by a relatively small core of heavy users of social technology. It was a good channel to reach them, and it was a good source to gauge the responses of early adopters to new social technologies. These people were important because they're influencers. What's happened the past few months is that Twitter has entered mainstream use, and as such it's now a much more viable channel to reach broader audiences. Twitter is no longer populated by a focused clique of hardcore social technology people.

So what does this all mean? Twitter is just one more place where people can share opinions, ideas, and experiences.

Some of these will have to do with your brand, company, or products. Do you know what people are saying? Are you seeing an increase of referrals to your site from Twitter? It likely won't be a huge percentage of your traffic, but is some traffic coming to your site from Twitter (or URL-truncating sites like TinyURL,, etc.)?

So, you want to understand what people are saying and what sort of traffic you may be getting from Twitter? While tools can help you a number of different ways, one of the best places to start is by doing a Twitter search. You can look at what people are saying today or go into advanced search and get more granular including looking at things over different time periods. This will help you get at least a high-level view into what people are saying.

Using your analytics tools, you can segment out traffic coming from Twitter (and the URL-truncating sites). Are those folks acting differently or converting at a different level (higher or lower) than the rest of the visitors to your site? Are there trends or certain behaviors you're seeing?

Depending on your site, industry, and your clients' use of Twitter, you may find that it makes sense to create a custom landing page to address them directly. You may find there are better ways to speak to those people based on how they found your site. Unless you have visibility into what people are saying about your company on Twitter and how they may be moving from Twitter to your site, you won't know what the opportunities are.

Twitter can also be a great early warning sign of what people are saying about your products and services before it turns into a significant issue. Think back to the problems Dell had with its laptop batteries catching fire. Ideally, Dell would have heard about the problem when it involved only a handful of laptops; it could have publicly addressed the problem before it became a public relations nightmare.

On Twitter, your fans can follow your company to get inside news, information, and offers. You can also communicate with your loyalists.

Remember: use the channel appropriately. Understand that it's not a broadcast channel, but a participatory channel. Add value, engage, and don't be "spammy."

Looking at Twitter's move into the mainstream, it's obvious it will impact how people share their positive and negative experiences. If I have a bad experience with an airline or restaurant, it's that much easier to blast it out in 140 characters or less and share that experience. For this reason alone, companies must understand what people are saying about you online.


Jason Burby

As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 years experience in digital strategy, he is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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