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The Rise and Fall of Twitter, Part 1

How business marketing is destroying the fabric of a social networking icon.
Written May 03, 2010, read 4218 times since then.
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“I’m having a tuna sandwich and a coffee for lunch.”

In the summer of 2006, this would be considered a normal and acceptable tweet.  After all, according to creator Jack Dorsey, Twitter was nothing more than a web based SMS tool allowing groups of people to stay in touch with each other.  The purpose was to say whatever you wanted in 140 characters or less.  Brief, to the point, and fun.

However, it did not take long for businesses to see Twitter as a tool for self promotion.  The power of Twitter as an effective marketing tool became evident during the 2007 South by Southwest film festival where attendees, celebrities and sponsors used Twitter to inform each other of events and promotions.

Soon after, savvy companies started to integrate Twitter into their marketing programs.  By knowing who was following them, they were able to send relevant, timely messages focused on getting business, building relationships, and creating buzz. At a time when few companies knew what Twitter was or how to use it effectively, those companies that refined and perfected their Twitter strategies got noticed and achieved significant success.

And how could they not?  Back then, the number of followers a person had was a fraction of what they are today.  People saw a greater percentage of the tweets they received.  Automation and scheduling applications for tweeting did not exist, thus people tweeted when there was something worth saying.  And for the most part followers listened, replied and retweeted when they wanted to.  No agenda, no strategy, just people saying “Hi, here’s something I wanted to share with you…”

Like previous forms of “push” technology such as fax and email, those with the biggest lists yielded the most power.  That power being the ability to communicate or market directly to the end user.  Companies no longer had to rely on mass media when they could reach their clients directly for a fraction of the cost. 

Like the experts of years past that would show companies how to write a “fax that will always get read” or an “email that will always be opened”, a new flock of self titled masters and gurus had arrived ready to show both companies and individuals how to build a list and leverage it for profit. 

And that is essentially what Twitter followers have become.  They are simply lists of people and organizations that have given permission to others to say whatever they want to them.  But that doesn’t mean they’re actually listening.  The days of people being attentive to every tweet they receive has long disappeared.

With people following hundreds or thousands of others, the continuous flow of tweets are like scrolling sports scores, with people taking a quick glance from time to time.  With the introduction of Twitter Lists in 2009, members can now be grouped into virtual folders, further empowering the receiver to control the effectiveness of the message.

So the game of cat and mouse marketing enters the Twitter universe.  Marketers trying to find ways to get their messages to as many people as possible as often as possible, and people trying to control how often and on what terms they receive those messages. 

As such, today’s Twitter marketing strategists employ extravagant and randomly orchestrated schemes to attract more followers.  And like the email lists of yesterday, the focus seems to be on quantity over quality.

The frequency of tweets, the art of retweeting, subject matter, key words, “mentions”, direct messages, hashtags, and the ever popular “I’ll follow you if you follow me” offer, have all become the guru’s tools of choice for doing nothing more than increasing followers or improving their Google ranking.  However the one thing that “experts” will never admit is that there is no formula for Twitter success.  And if they’ve found one, it’s probably ineffective by the time they’ve sold their first training webinar.

And yet it is more evident than ever that what drives legitimate followers is the same thing that has attracted followers through all forms of media: the content and the person delivering it.  The public’s obsession with celebrities means many are followed regardless of their content quality.  Conan O’Brien boasts over 900 thousand followers with just one comical tweet a day. Kim Kardashian has over 3.5 million people following her name-dropping tweets about the life of a socialite.  And celebrity Twitter pioneer Ashton Kutcher has over 4.8 million people following tweets that at times could be confused for alien code.  Are 4.8 million people actually reading his tweets? Highly unlikely.

On the flip side it’s interesting to note that some of the brightest scholars and business people, those with the most knowledge to share, either have relatively few followers or choose not to tweet at all.  A June 2009 UberCEO.com article stated that out of the top 100 CEO’s in America, only two had Twitter accounts – both in the technology field.

And now with the introduction of paid tweets, the transformation is complete.  Twitter has now become a soapbox/billboard for the internet masses, with premium visibility for those willing to pay for it.

Twitter is a victim of its own success.  What started off as a forum for people to share and exchange condensed renderings of ideas and experiences has transformed into a streaming media tool for personal branding, multi-level marketing, SEO strategies, and site referrals.

So is Twitter any different than any other form of mass media?  It could be argued no.  Like television, newspapers, or any other web site, you have the ability to choose what messages you receive and from who.  Ignoring a print ad for a new car is no different than ignoring a tweet about a new car.  Changing the channel is no different than unfollowing someone.  And should you change your mind, simply read their tweets or follow them again.

And remember, there’s no need to worry if you missed anything.  It will likely be retweeted by someone else you’re following.

Speaker/Marketing Consultant 
Toronto, Ontario Canada 
Marc Gordon

Marc Gordon is a professional speaker and marketing consultant based in Toronto. Learn more about Marc at http://marcgordon.ca or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MarcGordonDotCA

Learn more about the author, Marc Gordon.

Comment on this article

  • Commercial Photographer 
Olympia, Washington 
Gary Silverstein
    Posted by Gary Silverstein, Olympia, Washington | May 06, 2010

    Hi Marc -

    I have been running an experiment on Twitter. I have images, and (gasp) marketing pieces on Flickr that I have posted links to on Twitter for my business, We Shoot. I don't yet have many followers, but within seconds of hitting the Tweet button, my Flickr image viewership rises somewhere between 5 and 10 new viewers. I would imagine that someone with a lot of followers has a lot of eyeballs besides those followers checking him or her out. So, I don't know if Twitter should be counted among the dead yet.

    Gary Silverstein We Shoot

  • Assistant Director 
Kirkland, Washington 
Joseph Hailey
    Posted by Joseph Hailey, Kirkland, Washington | May 06, 2010

    Extremely well-written article that I suspect will prove to be highly accurate, perhaps even prophetic.

  • Speaker/Marketing Consultant 
Toronto, Ontario Canada 
Marc Gordon
    Posted by Marc Gordon, Toronto, Ontario Canada | May 06, 2010

    Joseph, a thoughtful and sincere post. Thank you. You may be right.

  • BEND, OR 
Bend, Oregon 
Greg Broderick
    Posted by Greg Broderick, Bend, Oregon | May 06, 2010

    Agreed.

  • Internet Sales Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Howard Howell
    Posted by Howard Howell, Seattle, Washington | May 06, 2010

    @MarcGordonDotCA

    See Twitter for comment

  • Nutrition Coaching, Microscopist and Yoga Teacher 
Pauma Valley (San Diego Co.), California 
Jane Falke
    Posted by Jane Falke, Pauma Valley (San Diego Co.), California | May 06, 2010

    I'm new to social networking and find that I am confused with twitter. Much of what is being said does not add value to my life so, I wonder why I waste my time there. What am I missing? Thanks for writing this article. You make sense to me.

  • Speaker/Marketing Consultant 
Toronto, Ontario Canada 
Marc Gordon
    Posted by Marc Gordon, Toronto, Ontario Canada | May 06, 2010

    Not quick, Jane. Stay tuned for part 2 next week.

  • Certified Public Accountant 
Seattle, Washington 
Laura Dodson, CPA
    Posted by Laura Dodson, CPA, Seattle, Washington | May 06, 2010

    The twitter automation can cause strange problems.

    My sister was following her favorite TV actor and the separate TV character's twitter. She received tweets from each account about five minutes apart. The actor's tweet was about eating a sandwich in New York, the charactor's tweet was about a what great day it was in LA. :)

    Obviously one of the tweets was incorrect.

  • Ignore the map, it doesn't work! 
Everett, Washington 
Dennis Dilday, D.C.
    Posted by Dennis Dilday, D.C., Everett, Washington | May 08, 2010

    It's amazing the lengths that people will go to avoid being present to the here and now.

    Tweeting makes as much sense to me as an XL Diet Drink.

  • Certified Cat Behavior Consultant 
Nashville, Tennessee 
Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC
    Posted by Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, Nashville, Tennessee | May 10, 2010

    Marc, what a sincere and valuable article, thank you. I recently (and VERY reluctantly) joined Twitter because I was hounded endlessly by friends. I don't like the "follow me and I'll follow you" way that many engage in and I find myself not even reading most of what is posted because it's all just endless mini ads. It has almost become too tiresome to hunt through my home page for a tweet that offers something interesting.

    Oh, how I miss real conversations.

  • Freelance Website Producer 
Melbourne, Victoria Australia 
Matt Jensen
    Posted by Matt Jensen, Melbourne, Victoria Australia | May 11, 2010

    Nice opinion. It's really just "one more medium", as you say/infer :) Cheers Matt

  • Creative Director, Graphic Design 
Bothell, Washington 
Tony Halstead
    Posted by Tony Halstead, Bothell, Washington | May 18, 2010

    Very nice article. I agree with just about everything you said. I wonder how many hours a true tweeter spends tweeting. I'm looking forward to your next article. Cheers, Tony

  • Speaker/Marketing Consultant 
Toronto, Ontario Canada 
Marc Gordon
    Posted by Marc Gordon, Toronto, Ontario Canada | May 18, 2010

    Hi Tony,

    Glad you liked the article. Part II can be found through my Biznik profile.

  • Designer, Artist, Author 
Seattle, Washington 
Jane Marshall
    Posted by Jane Marshall, Seattle, Washington | May 19, 2010

    Totally agree! I meant to use it as a "Voice" platform for my illustrated character StickFiggy. BUt....my audience is too young ...3-8. Tried the "reach out to moms" approach but it feels that everyone is blasting out messages and no one reads them unless and @ is used! Looking forward to p. 2.

    JANE

  • President - Software Knowledge 
Nashville, Tennessee 
Steve Kozy
    Posted by Steve Kozy, Nashville, Tennessee | Nov 21, 2010

    Dude,

    As the guy in 2nd place on the biznik.com "most read" article list (although not for much longer maybe; as my newsletter membership expands), I gave this article a '10' without reading more than the first sentence. My company does not use Twitter for business, & neither should most firms.

    Steve

  • Speaker/Marketing Consultant 
Toronto, Ontario Canada 
Marc Gordon
    Posted by Marc Gordon, Toronto, Ontario Canada | Nov 22, 2010

    Hi Steve,

    While I appreciate you taking the time to write me, I have to wonder why you would mention having rated my article a “10” with just reading the first sentence. After some thought, I believe your comment was merely a call out to let me know your intent to take the title of most read article on Biznik.

    If reaching that goal will somehow validate your writing efforts, then I encourage you to pursue it with passion and enthusiasm. However, if you are looking to write an article that influences trends, gets picked up by main stream media, and forces thousands of people to rethink how they communicate with the world, then sadly your article will never catch up to mine or any of the many other innovative and thoughtful articles posted on Biznik.

    For you see, Steve, for myself and many of the other Biznik contributors, submitting articles is about sharing ideas and opinions, not recycling common knowledge and pumping it through membership lists.

    But as with all my articles, that’s just my opinion.

    Marc

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