Listen to the Tweets

Once again, this blog fueled a column, though less directly than in other instances. Below’s this week’s entry, originally published in MediaPost and continuing in the extended entry.

Listen to the Tweets

 Here’s a question to consider when trying to get marketers to try something new: how should the
task rank in their priority list? Should it be one of the Top 10 items on their
daily to-do list? Should they try it once and then shelve it for awhile? Do
they really need to try it at all?

Bias is always a problem here, so there’s no perfect answer. It
also depends on the audience — the marketer’s title, seniority, and job
description. Yet thinking about marketers in a broad sense, here’s a priority
question that comes to mind:  How much should they care about Twitter — namely when considering it as a
search engine?

Twitter’s main use is for communicating; it’s a hybrid of instant
messaging and blogging (and it can bring out the worst of both worlds, with
people publicly broadcasting notes that would have been unnecessary to even
IM). Ann Handley of MarketingProfs provides a number of ways marketers are using
Twitter to communicate
, but marketers are lucky to reach a following of
even a thousand people on Twitter; only a few tech brands tend to get that
many, and there’s no way to determine active readership. I’m skeptical of
marketers using Twitter (and related services like Jaiku, recently acquired by Google) for
communicating right now; that’s a topic for a different column, though if
you’re interested, you’ll find a rousing
debate on my blog
where a number of Twitter diehards tell me I have no idea
what I’m talking about.

Twitter can be used for other purposes beyond communicating. Allen
Stern on the Center Networks blog offers ideas on how Twitter (or other
sites like StumbleUpon) could make it easier to find and discover new people
and feeds (or tweets, if you want to use the lingo for Twitter messages). He
has some great ideas, but he didn’t take it far enough. One of the biggest
problems with Twitter right now is that all you can do there is search for
people, not content. There are two ways that’s changing: from internal and
external forces.

As for external forces, before Facebook made it cool to open up a
social site to outside developers, Twitter established itself as a hotbed of
innovation where third-party applications improved its service. Until recently,
Twitter has had such a dearth of features that just about everything you’d want
to do with it other than the basic posting and reading of feeds came from
external tools. This is especially true for searching Twitter. On a rudimentary
level, there’s the Twittermap search
engine, where you can enter any keyword and see what people are saying
about it, but only over the previous twelve hours.

Twitter also is finally catching on itself. It now offers Twitter Tracking
— a way to subscribe to alerts much like Google News so you can find out when
someone’s tweeting about a brand or any subject. This is a must-try, regardless
of whether it becomes part of your daily routine. If you want to store them,
you can set up the alerts through Google Talk and have those IMs saved
automatically in Gmail. For popular conversation topics like the show
“Heroes” or Twitter itself, it feels like eavesdropping in a public
place.

Just because customers are talking about a brand doesn’t mean
marketers need to listen. If someone stands on a street corner in Peoria and
shouts that a national retailer’s benefits stink, that’s not an effective way
for the customer to relay the message. If and when he convinces a group of
people to join him on that corner, that’s a nuisance, not a problem. But if the
local news covers it, the Associated Press could pick it up, and suddenly it’s
a national news story.

This customer could alternatively use Twitter instead of the
street corner. It’s just as inefficient a way to communicate right now; he’ll
find a small audience, he’ll be lucky if anyone else cares, and the gripe isn’t
going directly to the retailer. Yet with Twitter, it’s possible to find that
person before he finds an audience. And of course, there are positive
scenarios, too; someone who wants to stand on his soapbox and rave about the
retailer may welcome being the first to know about a new store opening, product
line, or sale.

With the tools available, especially Twitter
Tracking, it’s now easy to monitor this channel with a minimal time investment.
If it proves to be valuable, maybe that will motivate you to use Twitter in
other ways. For most marketers, however, actively listening will put you a step
ahead of most of your peers, and you can wait for Twitter to build its audience
to do anything more with it.

One thought on “Listen to the Tweets

  1. Ooh. Now those are a few applications I hadn’t quite considered.
    We’ll make you a Twitter convert yet! 😉
    Or, well, perhaps the 3rd party apps will, anyways.

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