~Reading Time: 5 minutes
I know you’ve heard the hype. Teenagers are Tweeting each other from their phones. Scratch that. Everyone is Tweeting from their phones, because they all have fancy new smartphones (kinda). Companies are in a panic to follow suit, creating accounts and begging people to follow them.
I think it’s time that someone pointed out that this strategy might be a little effective – particularly for small companies looking to grow public awareness -but, overall, the impact will be minimal. Why? Because it’s all completely over-hyped.
Now, there is definitely some influence. Some statistics have shown that 51% of Facebook “fans” of a particular brand will choose the product over a competitor. Twitter followers are much higher – 71% show unwavering loyalty to the companies they follow.
But are followes really indicators of success? Who is reaching out to follow Ben & Jerry’s, anyway? Who gets home from their respective corporate or educational institution and eagerly plops in front of the computer to see the latest news about ice cream? Probably people who would already be eating Ben & Jerry’s regardless of whether the aformentioned pint provider is Tweeting twelve times a day or… not.
Who is going to become a Follower of Coca Cola over Pepsi or vice versa? Mostly people who have already safely established which kind of acrid dissolv-O-liquid they prefer. In fact, these people are so massively confident in their choices that they want to follow accounts to profess to their friends and everyone they know that their admiration for the particular brand is untouchable.
But is someone who is debating between Coca Cola and Pepsi really going to be swayed by a bilingual Coke Twitter profusely thanking people for following it in some kind of demented and incessant gratuity loop? Especially when most followers are just asking Coca Cola to follow them?
Studies say no. Studies say that “less than 5% of social media participants age 15 to 34 ‘regularly turn to these sites for guidance on purchase decisions.'”
But back up a bit. Look at the that account. A lot of followers of Coca Cola’s Twitter account are asking for Coca Cola to follow them.
In short, Twitter is a “digital closet” for some users, where they can quietly count their followers, swing from vine to vine in the humid jungle of their own thoughts, and hope that people are joyfully wandering through the tangled foliage of their wisdom. All the while, half of these users aren’t reading anything by anyone else.
Twitter appears to be an easier way to catalog one’s daily cyberspace voyage, but when it comes to actual marketing strategies, well, I’ll be honest – not one person I know has a regular Twitter account and I’m 23, the supposed beating heart of the Tweeting demographic.
At first, I wonderered if this meant that I had an inadequate group of friends who, like dinosaurs unaware of the next technological meteorite casting ominous shadows overhead, were still pawing at Facebook and grunting at primitive news aggregators.
But then Yahoo found out that less than one percent of Twitter users produce half of the total content.
I actually have two Twitter accounts. Maybe three. I forget. Did I use them? Yes, for a few days. I generally complained about politics and the state of things today and had two followers. I’m pretty sure one was a bot. The other was my dad. Then I realized if I wanted to really complain, I could start a blog instead.
While it doesn’t have the sociopathic, data mining charm we have come to know and forget about Facebook, Twitter also doesn’t have the one thing Facebook does have: usefulness.
If I wanted to tell a bunch of strangers what I did on Saturday night, there are a lot of other outlets to do so and none of the others restrict me to 140 characters (although texting on my artifact of a phone comes close at 160).
This leaves companies in a rock and a Tweet-forsaken place. Because media has decided that Twitter is somehow Facebook’s equivalent, every hip business needs a vibrant, energetic, and polished Twitter account, replete with fake followers.
OK, fine. Maybe I’d be interested if Skittles was coming out with a new flavor. But honestly? Am I using my theoretical smartphone to catch up on the latest humor from Skittles? How do jokes that I’m pretty sure were written by Carrot Top encourage me to buy candy?
The problem that businesses face is that there isn’t enough relevant, interesting, or entertaining industry news to Tweet about every day, seven days a week. So Twitter accounts deterioriate into the Coca-Cola Thanks Loop, the Skittles Popsicle Stick Humor (better than the F*ck Skittles catastrophe, I guess), or the Pepsi Miscellaneous Machine.
I know that Twitter is supposed to foster a more personal connection with brands. That’s an attractive strategy for people who really want to make sure that there is a special place for them in their favorite soft drink’s heart. But when TWO Pepsis are competing in Scrabble scores, what are we supposed to envision? A can of alumnium happily tapping against a keybord?
My suggestion to companies is that, if you’re going to humanize your product, get a mascot at least. Tony the Tiger is a lot more appealing to my sensibilities than a grinning frosted flake would be and the same goes for pints of ice cream.
And person-to-corporation connections should be a one-way street. Telling Coca-Cola that a flavor is “rad” is fine, but could you imagine if you got home from work and Tweeted, “So tired, hard day at work – overwhelming!” and Coca Cola checked your profile and replied, “@TiredDrone Sorry about the tough day, try to relax with a can of you know what!”
Or, better yet, “My boyfriend is such a tool!” And Pepsi tweeted “@PissedGF Yeah but don’t worry, Pepsi will always be there for you.”
The bottom line is that Twitter isn’t Facebook (even in the best case scenario), because it’s hard to communicate anything that matters in 140 characters and the interaction seems to be limited to mutual admiration and/or fawning and/or journal-style meditations.
And Pew research from December shows that of the 8% of Americans who use Twitter, 41% of those users access their accounts “Never” or “Less Often” than “Every Few Weeks.”
So, unless companies find a more inspiring way to use this medium, I suspect that it will be damned to be just on the cusp of popularity. My suspicion is that many are already looking out to the next big thing and hopefully realize that, sometimes, holding one’s Tweeting silence is better than filling a page with mindless and uninspiring drivel.