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Everyone is Twittering, But Is Anyone Listening?

qualman-erik
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Everyone was aflutter with Twitter at Search Engine Strategies New York. This was helped by the conference being kicked off by an energetic keynote speaker and Twitteraholic Guy Kawasaki.

Some in attendance thought Kawasaki may have pushed the line of spamming just a bit. My sense is that he isn't, because if you don't like the way he uses Twitter, you can always un-follow him. Unlike e-mail where anyone can spam you, in Twitter you need to be following someone in order to see their tweets in your stream or receive direct messages from them.

Whether Kawasaki, Britney Spears, or Lance Armstrong has 94,000 or 550,000 followers, they're "A-Listers." People want to hear what they have to say. It's not because of Twitter, it's because these celebrities previously had a fanbase.

Now, there will be a few new "A-Listers" that result simply from Twitter. However, these will be few and far between. Kawasaki is being helped greatly by Twitter because he's being aggressively smart.

But what about the rest of us? If we have 1,500 followers, are any of them really listening? I'd argue that most are not. However, it's still a huge marketing tool, and the nobodies are now the new somebody for the following reason.

Twitter is free. If a local plumber has 1,500 followers, even if it's likely most of them aren't listening at any given moment, as long as at least one person is, that's all that matters. If that one person has a plumbing issue, the plumber now has a shot at new business, especially if the plumber acquired these followers simply by limiting his search.twitter.com query to people within a 25-mile radius. For that plumber, that one listener goes from a nobody to a somebody in a hurry.

The biggest uses of Twitter right now are:

  1. Businesses following what is being said about them or their industry -- Zappos, JetBlue, Comcast, etc.
  2. Celebrity updates -- Lance Armstrong Tweets about his collarbone.
  3. Real-time updates of news events, especially natural disasters.
  4. Niche topics, like #MSU or #UNC during March Madness.
  5. Individuals/companies promoting themselves.

And it's the last point that may eventually cause Twitter to become tiresome. Is Dale Carnegie rolling over in his grave because everyone on Twitter is trying to be heard, when the key to winning friends and influencing people is actually listening? Twitter is popular, in part, because not everyone is on it, giving it effectiveness and a cool factor. When it becomes flooded with marketing messages, it loses both, which will lead many users to abandon Twitter and move on.

Smithsonian Student Travel sent more than 6,000 students to Washington D.C. for the Presidential inauguration. In the past it would have been difficult to get major media outlets attention. However, Twitter made it easy. NPR, MSNBC, and PBS immediately replied to Smithsonian Student Travel's tweet, expressing interest in hearing from middle school students and teachers.

Now, only two months later, I typed in #JetBlue, expressing my concern that the televisions may not work on my flight. This was important to me because I selected JetBlue solely for the purpose of watching March Madness on DirectTV. Instead of hearing tweets, I heard crickets chirping. It's cool when companies and even CEOs respond real time.

In JetBlue's defense, they're somewhat victims of their own success on Twitter (Morgan Johnston does a fantastic job). People expect the best from them because they've been one of the pioneers. As a result, more people tweet and follow them and it's difficult for them to keep pace.

In another example, I tweeted an interesting article about Travelocity along with #travelocity and indicated that Travelocity was in deep trouble. Here's what responses I received:

@Travelocity: How deep of trouble?

@equalman: Pretty deep as it appears Priceline has the lead and only one or two online travel agents will survive. I love the gnome, so good luck!

@Travelocity: We like Gloria Gaynor ;)

It took me a second to get it, but then I was laughing at this witty retort. Gloria Gaynor's famous disco song is "I Will Survive."

As more people join Twitter, this type of one-to-one relationship will be difficult to maintain. Many celebrities already have "ghost tweeters."

In the future, instead of getting a witty and salient reply from a CEO or well-informed employee, you'll most likely get an uninspired reply from a call center (tweet center?) in New Delhi -- if you're lucky to get a response at all. Remember, I received no response to my #JetBlue tweet, where I was surprised and delighted by the Travelocity response.

Now, before I get tons of hate mail, there's a need for micro-blogging tools like Twitter, but it's somewhere in-between "poor man's e-mail" (Google's Eric Schmidt's words) and the greatest thing ever. I still tweet, because the upside is still greater than the downside. And oh, by the way, please follow me via @equalman.


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