ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — Twitter is hard to understand for normal people. The service – approaching 1 million users in the neighborhood of its first birthday – is among the most rapidly adopted applications ever. Without hyperbole, I would say that every marketing exec should be on Twitter, for reasons I’ll get to later.
So what is Twitter? Well, you basically create an account, and use it to send little updates (“tweets”) online as you go through your day:
“Long morning, feel like crap, hydrating.”
“Getting hungry, sushi maybe???”
“Fight with Joan last night, I’m a putz.”
So what accounts for the service’s geometric growth? Why are the digerati so enamored with Twitter, to the point that NOT being there is like missing out on a conversation with the cool kids? And finally, what’s the lesson for marketers in the phenomenon that Twitter has become?
Three pillars underlie Twitter’s undeniable success. First off, it’s blogging for lazy, time-starved, or ADD-afflicted people. In other words, most of us. Where a blog post requires a point, prose, and a few links, a tweet merely requires a thought. If you can just react honestly to the world as it comes to you, you can tweet with the best of them.
And therein lies the second pillar, that there is something utterly fascinating about peeking in on the mundane details and random thoughts that occur in the lives of other people. CommonCraft describes the value of this exchange in a Twitter introductory video, though it focuses a bit too much on your current friends and acquaintances.
While not a friend of mine (yet, anyway) Geek Guru Guy Kawasaki is a habitual Twitterer. Guy recently noted that despite Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s assertion that he (Steve) responds promptly to e-mail, Guy hasn’t yet received a response to the 2 notes he sent Steve after Mix08. For reasons even I can’t understand, this kind of inside baseball is oddly intriguing.
Jim Long is another Twitterati, posting in the system as NewMediaJim. While chasing stories for NBC News, Long mixes tantalizing live tweets from Air Force One with pithy little transcendent insights (“the Brumidi Corridor in the US Capitol is simply stunning.) Another is Laura Fitton, the quasi-mythic Pistachio; making friends by collecting the wisdom of the community (“We’re a team. What’d you learn at SXSW? Who’d you meet? What sessions are worth listening to?”) and just by being so darn… real (“Strange feeling to see my future ex-husband’s face pop up on Snitter…”)
Which brings me to the third driver of the Twitter phenomenon, perhaps the least apparent but most important for marketers.
Twitter is a look beyond someone’s public face, below the more charming and polished persona they present to the world, behind the carefully crafted communication we all use to seem smarter than we are when we let our guard down. While its detractors see a stream of mundane, tedious details, its fans sense something profoundly real and fundamentally human in the quiet musings of both extraordinary events and everyday life.
Twitter fascinates us because it provides a window on the authentic. You can “fake” a blog post, whether you rip off an idea or spend 10 minutes to get a sentence just right. But your tweets are the real you. There aren’t enough characters to support frivolity, and there’s not enough time to pass ideas through the filter of who-we-want-to-be. It’s just you at that moment in time, like letting the world inside your head for just a split second.
So what’s it all mean for marketers? Tactically speaking, Twitter will almost undoubtedly leverage its vast network of impressions through some kind of ad placement eventually, though it has not yet done so. Some third-party “client software” built for Twitter (including Snitter, Spaz, Tweetr and my personal favorite Twitterific) support advertising, though the targeting value of the text that flows through Twitter is questionable.
The Twitter service itself will probably prove to be a poor advertising medium for the vast majority of products. It can, however, be a potent tool for promoting anything that’s sold face-to-face, rather than bought off-the-shelf. That kind of selling is about building relationships, and you can get to know someone very quickly just by following them around in their daily life for a few days.
Stepping back, Twitter casts some light on all social media by revealing that people don’t want pedestrian online dialog for its own sake. These exchanges are instead a means to ends about which many people care a great deal: Understanding, Validation, and Authenticity.
The Twitterati hates anything that smacks of corporate polish, marketing doublespeak, or artificial anything. They like their news from real people, their video from other users, and their music from local bands. They eat more organic produce, watch more reality television and see more independent films than the generations that preceded them. Even their porn looks homemade (or so I’m told). It’s no coincidence that all of those things are gaining share at the same time Twitter and its multi-media spawn (Pownce, Utterz, Transpera, Qik, Mogulus, Seesmic, etc. etc. etc.) are taking over the world.
Strategically speaking, what this means for brands is that real rules. The Columbia ads featuring a sadomasochistic Gert Boyle and her intrepid son are sheer genius in this light, along with the subservient chicken, and even Kia’s “Duh” campaign. A real Frank Purdue still works, a fake Orville Redenbacher did not.
So why should you be on Twitter? Well, to get into the right headspace to do real work that speaks authentically to people, you have to walk the walk. For the people behind the ads – clients, marketing execs, CDs and writers, you and me – it’s time to get real as well. It’s time to come to terms with the fact that we cannot and should not keep our “Work” and “Home” lives in separate boxes. There’s one you – just like everybody else – and in the end making the leap of faith required to expose that real, flawed, whole person is the key to understanding not only social networking, but the spiraling number of people who participate in it every day.
So slap that Obama logo up on Facebook, post Thursday’s party picks on Flickr, and blog your heart out about the fact that that last copy strategy was wrong, wrong, wrong. When you’re ready to share what’s really going on inside your head with the rest of us, join me at http://twitter.com/miketrap.