You can’t read a social media story right now that isn’t Twitterfied. Heck, one of my tweeple, a well-read blogger and Twitterer, just yesterday, tweeted that he sat down to write a story about Twitter, but then decided not to. Because every other new story he could find about social media and online marketing was about Twitter.
I’ve been tweeting for a couple of years. In that time it has gone from an interesting way to swap thoughts and tidbits of information with a few friends, to a global real-time conversation between enough people that it has become a force in politics, marketing and culture. But you already know that, because you’re tweeting now, too — and even if you aren’t, all the other articles about Twitter have told you as much.
Advertisers want to tweet. Ad agencies want to develop Twitter strategies to sell to advertisers. And Twitterers are exhibiting a predictable mixed set of reactions to marketing messages on Twitter. Some embrace them. Some don’t like them at all. Some couldn’t care less. Kind of like the reactions to marketing messages on other social platforms. Kind of like the reactions to marketing messages in life.
Nevertheless, Twitter rules. It rules the moment, at least. It’s almost as if Twitter has caused a shift in the very fabric of the web. Except. Except, the shift that is the buzz, the shift that is Twitter — isn’t really Twitter. Not really.
First, in a literal sense, the inventive uses for Twitter and the explosion of the service as a platform have as much to do with third-party applications as anything else. The service itself, from a functional and interface standpoint, hasn’t changed much since it was launched. What has changed is a result of innovative programmers, and innovative users, providing an almost constant stream of apps to enhance the Twitter experience, and ways to use Twitter to deliver far more than 140 characters about what you had for breakfast. Add Oprah, and you’ve got yourself a phenomenon.
But that’s not the biggest shift. Not even close. The most significant shift in the nature of the web that has been ushered in by Twitter and all the things and people that surround it is immediacy. Time. Real time. Twitter didn’t invent, or even allow for, a real-time web. It was already there. But Twitter did make the real-time web a cultural phenomenon. And that’s huge.
The web has had immediacy — or, at least the potential for immediacy — since day one. But it hasn’t always lived up to the promise. Not that long ago, the first word about a big news story was likely to be broadcast live, or very close to live, on radio or TV. Not until the first “breaking news” paragraph was written, and the callout headline composed for the landing page, did the story hit the websites of the news outlets. That took (gasp) minutes. Now news is tweeted by people on the scene. Because there are no gatekeepers, in the form of station management, or, well, even the technological process of broadcasting, the tweets get there first. Yes, the gatekeeper problem sometimes translates to an accuracy problem, but here, the point is about time. And Twitter is very real-time.
From a marketing perspective, that’s both a challenge, and an opportunity. Real time is hard. Hard to build a brand — at least using the tactics marketers are used to using. The good news is, good things can happen fast. You can see immediate reactions, results, and as Dell has found, sales, with the right Tweets. Current TV was able to use Twitter to turn an arduous, and typically long, ad agency screening process into a fun, and attention-getting five-day creativity shootout. And along the way, they found some hidden-gem agencies they might not have uncovered, otherwise.
But just as good things can happen fast, so can bad ones. A bad customer service experience at a single location can turn into a national or global PR crisis in less time than it takes to eat lunch. Which means, being out to lunch is no longer an option.
For creatives crafting marketing messages, or more appropriately, promoting positive conversation about products and brands, the real-time web requires not so much a shift in tactics as the addition of multiple new skill sets. It’s not enough to be able to craft an attention-getting message that plays over time. It’s just as important to play off the cuff. But contrary to what a lot of other digital-natives believe, I don’t believe one negates the other. In fact, they’re complementary. Advertising creative used to be akin to crafting a novel or a film. Real-time creative is like improv. To be successful, you need both skills on hand.
How lasting is Twitter? It doesn’t matter, really. Plenty of trends, tactics, services and styles come and go almost constantly online. Little things get big, big things go away. What matters, though, is the shift Twitter has ushered in. The real-time web isn’t going to go back in the box.
It’s here for real, and it’s here to stay.