I have no doubt that Twitter offers a new world of possibilities for business use. At the core, it’s potentially a leveler, offering a trade-off between buying attention through more traditional marketing methods and earning attention instead, by generating credible interesting content. Search Google for “Twitter for business” and you’ll get more than a million hits.
And with Twitter, unlike some related methods like blogging or Facebook, you can generate content by uncovering good content and linking to it, which can be a lot easier than generating your own with your blog.
Attractive as that sounds—and I think it is attractive and important new addition to a marketing mix—it tends to get oversold. It’s not that easy or that cheap. To guard against unbridled Twitter-for-business mania, I suggest these five reality reminders.
1. It’s so not free
It’s easy to find people with experience and expertise talking about Twitter as if it were free. True, the account is free; but to make tweeting effective you need to dedicate time and effort. Just throw a few tweets into the mix every so often and you have nothing but wasted time. Businesses that are successful with Twitter are dedicating resources to it. If you have any doubt, take a look at these six winning brand strategies for Twitter from a recent post on Mashable. As you read them, think about the resources involved in each.
The idea that every business owner is developing a brand on Twitter? Not without some hard work, several hours spent, every day. And that isn’t free.
2. There’s an inherent problem with businesses being social
If you think of Twitter as a very large social event with somebody recording all the conversations, every one of those 140-character bursts of conversation come from an identifiable Twitter account. If you’re a twitter user, ask yourself how you react to a tweet announcing a price promotion of a product, compared to a tweet linking to a blog post somebody you know liked. Can a big company’s branded Twitter account share a joke, interesting picture or a blog post that company liked? Does that feel somewhat awkward to you?
And if you’re not a Twitter user, imagine a large social event in which most people standing around are people, but some of them are large corporate symbols in full costume. What do you expect from Ronald McDonald, the Pillsbury Doughboy or the Michelin man? It’s sort of like that in Twitter.
3. It’s inherently fuzzy and hard to measure
A few Twitter business presences can measure leads, complaints handled, links clicked or some similar metric for business results from Twitter. But because of Twitter’s inherently social nature, a lot of the business benefits are by their very nature hard to measure. Your Twitter strategy might be about brand awareness, generating leads, validating your expertise or handling complaints…but how will you measure the impact of the people you’ve affected who don’t click, or go to a website later, or keep you in mind?
Compared to when I first started a business about 30 years ago, we are blessed today with many more tools for measurement and analysis, beginning with clicks and conversion rates and all the rest. I’ve seen some very smart people suggesting you should never do anything for marketing that you can’t measure. But I don’t believe that’s practical or manageable quite yet. There are still lots of marketing activities that are clearly beneficial, but still not measurable.
4. It’s not easy to contract out
The trouble with contracting out your Twitter activity is that authenticity, or lack thereof, shows up. You can’t expect anybody to successfully represent you in a social setting without echoing like a spokesperson. The stream of tweets has to reflect personality, opinions, likes and dislikes; if it’s not the owner then it should be somebody who knows the business well, shares its values and communicates well. That’s a hard person to find.
5. Ignore it at your peril
So do you just stay out of the mix and let it go by? That’s not an easy decision to make either. For that one, search Google for “Twitter business success stories” and you’ll come up with (gulp) 196 million of them.
And, as another way to look at it, there is clearly potential for attention earned by good content as a substitute of attention bought and paid for—that’s an interesting trade-off.