June 20th 2011
In 2011 Twitter’s influence has become the subject of greater debate than ever before.
In the age of citizen journalism the medium has been at the centre of some of the most astonishing global events of the 21st Century – governments have fallen, due in some part, it is widely accepted, to social networking’s ability to open borders, allow the communication of injustices and report on news ‘on the ground’.
Closer to home Twitter has been examined for its potential as a force for bad, and good (think the social network-organised riots – and their subsequent clean up) and its influence has reached such a point that moves have been mooted to shut it down more than once.
Hard to believe then, that just five years ago the social networking site didn’t exist. Its meteoric rise as a communications tool is indeed phenomenal – in its infancy in July 2006, just 224 tweets a day were posted. By 2010 this figure had risen to a staggering average of 65 million a day – and in 2011 we’ve hit the 1billion tweets a week, or over 200million a day mark; the equivalent of a 10million page book that would take 31 years to read.
With so much ‘noise’ and the lifespan of a tweet becoming shorter by the day, what value is there to b2b marketers?
There’s no doubt that Twitter, perhaps more than any other social media forum, plays a role as the icing on the content cake. A ‘follow’ in the b2b Twitter-sphere is an unwritten, yet implicit contract, that the follower expects you to supply information of value. That isn’t to say that every tweet has to link to a blog, infographic or article; indeed the opportunity to inject some personality is the very thing that makes Twitter so successful; but if your aim is to engage people with your brand and encourage conversation, tweeting your daily breakfast menu is unlikely to appeal for long.
The true ROI (or ROE) from Twitter may still be a little fuzzy, but used wisely it can cross the brand awareness/ lead gen divide, allowing us to measure engagement more meaningfully, and communicate directly with audiences we might previously only have had a hope of reaching via press-release-blast-and-fingers-crossed PR.
So what are the latest trends in Twitter? (As opposed to Twitter trends…) So fast moving, it’s difficult to pinpoint. Six months ago we might have been discussing collaboration, paid for tweets, location based trending, tablet apps and micro-interviews – but these are all pretty commonplace now.
A key change this year worth highlighting however, has been Google’s acceptance of tweeted links as SEO currency; so it’s important that the content you tweet is of value. The better the content, the more people retweet it, the further north up the rankings you’ll head. Simples. (A word of caution though on adding those links. Twitter has handily just added an automatic link shortening tool that reduces any link to just 19 characters. But unlike some of the more popular link shortening sites on the web - bit.ly, tiny.cc etc. - Twitter’s own tool does not allow analytics.)
Other recent changes include the addition of promoted tweets, trends and accounts. While Twitter has steered away from traditional banner advertising, the ‘Who to Follow’ and ‘Trends’ lists have recently become a little less ‘organic’ – jarring perhaps with its well-documented comments just last year against advertising tweets: “It is critical that the core experience of real-time introductions and information is protected for the user… and the Twitter ecosystem.”
But for its own survival and commercial success, the move was surely inevitable. And while promoted trends and topics are becoming more commonplace, Twitter has been careful to ensure the user experience remains much the same. Promoted tweets will only appear to users who already follow the brand tweeting (and even then, only once), and the new ‘Activity’ tab, designed to provide a snapshot of favourites, retweets and follows from your follow list, provides an effective new advertising home. Expansion to provide greater advertising real estate without intrusion – surely a wise move.
As b2bers become more comfortable with Twitter, we become more sophisticated in our approach to the medium, and some trends are indeed driven by the user. We’re analysing our approach much more; selecting a different tone of voice for different types of tweet, even separate Twitter channels for different types of communication and we’re analysing ROE at different stages of the Twitter cycle – follower and RT numbers as a target for brand awareness and DM communications to engage active interest for example.
We’re also flipping the b2b-2c model on its head – generating consumer interest to increase broader awareness with our target b2b audiences. (See @OptaJoe as a great example.)
Will we move on from Twitter? Probably. There’s always the next big thing round the corner (see MySpace vs Facebook for reference). But for now it’s here to stay – and its value as a social benchmark has been afforded the highest status; the US Library of Congress has chosen to store every single tweet ever posted as Twitter ‘provides unparalleled knowledge of our civilisation for future generations’.
So think carefully before you tweet. It could be that those few little words of yours will be hanging around for a while…