Overlooking Twitter for Internet marketing is potentially like ignoring Google.
I wrote this column back in May in part as an experiment. In my defense, I do admit that I was performing this experiment within the column itself, but I figured it would be worthwhile to add a few notes and reasons to it as well.
A while back, ClickZ added a "tweet" button to its site, next to each column. As a result, I immediately saw a spike in the number of times that my stuff got mentioned on Twitter. The problem was, the column was being forwarded around, but it wasn't clear that people connected the column with the columnist (me, that is). To be honest with you, I'm not that vain, and while I naturally see this column as a way to get my name out, I primarily see it as a way to offer some ideas to the community. I've been writing this column continuously for about seven years, after all.
But I figured with this particular column, I'd try a hack. Since clicking on the tweet button puts the headline of the column into a tweet, I would put my Twitter handle into the headline. I didn't really know what the result of this would be, but I was sure that it would at least get @garyst3in out there a bit more.
The main thing that happened is that the number of mentions I had on Twitter spiked. This is obvious, but also totally misleading. People were not actually referring to me. They were still just sending around my column. I did get some people following me, but not any more than any other week when I write.
The big thing that changed was my Klout score. It went through the roof. I had effectively tricked Klout into believing that I was way more influential than I actually was. The good news about Klout, though, is that if you look at it now, it has settled back to a more normal level.
So what did I learn from this experiment? The main thing is that the systems that are plumbing social data to identify influencers is totally open to trickery, just like search engine results. This is a new data set, so we would expect that companies like Klout will get better at sorting out the scams and garbage from the real data. The lesson for brands that are using this data to make business decisions (such as targeting influencers for a campaign) is that they need to be highly skeptical of data. The best approach for this is to give everything time. My Klout score came back to normal quickly. Identify influencers in your campaign early and keep an eye on them. If time is on your side, then you can hopefully have a bit more confidence in the data.
Twitter has completely blown my mind and not using it for Internet marketing is quickly becoming as big a mistake as not using Google. This is not an exhortation to become social and participate in the conversation and all the rest of that. This is an exhortation to begin participating in what has become the point at which content is born, grows, and spills over into the rest of the world. Brands that don't participate in Twitter, I believe, are going to begin to feel more and more like they are showing up late to a party.
Recent news events have certainly indicated a new rush of attention toward Twitter:
- The service has seriously been investing in new ad formats and (more importantly) new advertisers. Jack Daniels most recently bought ads on the site, becoming the first spirits brand to do so. The company is reporting not only a great engagement rate, but also that the brand spiked in tweets, not necessarily related to the ad.
- Twitter is also experimenting with new text ads appearing on the site in the side bar. This seems to be a small test now, but it clearly hints that Twitter is trying out a few different formats to figure out which is the most effective at generating revenue.
- A new forecast seems to have picked up on this activity. An outfit called BIA/Kelsey is predicting that ad sales on Twitter will grow at 65 percent (compound), which is twice what regular old boring display ads will do.
- Twitter seems intent on recapturing come control over the Twitter experience. There are ridiculous strong rumors of Twitter buying TweetDeck, a highly popular desktop client for the service. Of course, Twitter already has a desktop client (which is quite good), but imagine if there was some other way to access the iTunes store, besides iTunes?
- And, finally, Twitter has had its big breakthrough moment in the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The particular nature of this event meant that the U.S. media announced that a special report was coming from the President, but wouldn't say what is was. But the news was already out and all over Twitter. In that moment, Twitter trumped television as the place to go for immediate updates, in very much the same way that television trumped print before it. The idea has been established in the minds of the media public. Check Twitter first.
Not Even 5 Years Old and Already So Smart
Twitter, remember, is just barely getting close to reaching its fith year. The site, created in March 2006, officially opened in July. Since then, 200 million people have joined the service. There was definitely a period of time when people signed up and then never used the site (Twitter quitters), and that certainly still continues. But, even through all of that, the site remains enormously vibrant with 65 million tweets sent daily, along with over 800,000 search queries.
These numbers pale in comparison to what happens over at Google. But that's fine because we're talking about different things. Google (and other search engines) are capturing, organizing, and making available everything in some great, imaginary, global library. Twitter is capturing, organizing, and making available everything being said in the plaza outside that library. And while libraries are critical, it is in the plaza where ideas are born out of the sporadic and spontaneous conversations that people have all the time.
And because of this, I've noticed a key shift in my own behavior online: I open Twitter up first in the morning and keep it on all day. I remember the early days of the Internet where the big challenge was to become someone's home page - the place where they began their online activities and the spot they returned to consistently. The idea of a home "page" has become less important, being replaced instead with the idea of a persistent service. That is what Twitter is, because it is ideas in their most raw form.
The Marketing Opportunity: Use Your Name
For advertisers and marketers, it's time to put down questions of "why would anyone do this" and get deep into Twitter (if you haven't already). The key to doing this is to reconsider what you think Twitter is. Certainly, it's a social network like Facebook where friends communicate with each other. And clearly there are great ad models on the site that give brands the chance for exposure to a large and engaged audience. But put all that aside and think instead of Twitter as the source of the content flow that washes over the Internet consistently. Simple statements become shared experiences on Twitter, and those shared experiences quickly can turn into big ideas. The closer you are to the source of those ideas, the better chance you have of participating in those discussions.
The advice for marketers is simple. Make sure you're ready for a long Twitter tenure (that is, don't sign up today and complain about not many followers tomorrow). Participate in specific discussions and with target groups by using hashtags and following lists. Reply back to people who you find interesting and compelling. Twitter is made for talking, but everyone likes to hear something back. Pay very close attention to trending topics and engage the moment you see something at all relevant to your brand.
The biggest piece of advice, though, is to use your Twitter name/handle as frequently as possible in other spaces. For example, here on ClickZ, you can log in to leave comments using your Twitter handle. Do this, because then the groups that form around a column - who all share an interest - can find you again and stay in touch through Twitter.
I've totally adopted my Twitter handle (@garyst3in). I have it in my email signature file, on my business cards, and on my bike (long story on that one). And, I put it into the title of this column for a pretty specific reason: if anyone clicks on the "tweet" button to post this piece up on Twitter, my name is automatically attached to it. I want to be at the source, where content is born, and the best way to do that is to have people bring me there.
This column has been updated from the original published May 6, 2011 on ClickZ.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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