As a student of local search marketing, I'm always looking for new emerging opportunities that have the potential to change the way sales and marketing happens for local merchants. For the longest time, I've watched Twitter from the sidelines and seen it go from enthusiast level to the more mainstream.
With the recent public discussion and usage by Hollywood stars (e.g., Oprah, Ashton Kutcher), the Twitter phenomenon is exploding in terms of the number of users, and it's also changing the manner in which we communicate.
What is Twitter and How Does it Work?
Twitter is a rapidly growing social network and micro-blogging platform. Micro-blogging involves brief text-based messages that are sent to your community of "followers" across the Twitter network who are reading your posts, known as "tweets" (think Facebook status updates on steroids). Topics vary from updates about your daily/momentary activities to news stories to social commentary about any issue.
Let's Look at the Statistics
According to Nielsen, Twitter was the fastest-growing member community in the past year, seeing a 1,382 percent growth in the number of unique visitors from February 2008 to February 2009.
Although Twitter is experiencing explosive user growth, it's finding challenges in keeping its users. This week Nielsen revealed that more than 60 percent of Twitter users fail to return the following month after signing up. It should be noted that this is often common of viral growth and social platforms like MySpace and Facebook, which have experienced high churn numbers in their early days as users tried the service and then waited until they found relevance in the developing community or content. Make no mistake, users like the one-to-many broadcasting stage that twitter provides.
Whatever Happened to the Queen's English?
Interestingly, some folks are concerned that our proper use of English and the written word (paper letters, snail mail, etc) has suffered as a result of the mass public's assimilation of e-mail. The concern stems around the informal and immediacy relative to older communication methods.
The general feeling being that as a result of e-mail, no one is able to write a complete sentence or tell a good story. Well, then came instant messaging, texting on cell phones, and now "Tweeting," which basically says, "If you can't say something in 140 characters, then you're writing too much."
For some, this can be a great concept. Get to the point, cut the fat, time is money... things of that nature.
Is this a social network for those waiting to tell their life story? Probably not. But it's a great way to share information quickly and succinctly.
Additionally, Twitter is perpetuating a vocabulary all its own (for full list of ways to use Twitter, check Twitter Help). I've also learned that you can put a "Tw" in front of just about any verb or noun and create some new twocabulary. For example, my son now lovingly refers to me as a "twidiot" (Find more terms like this at Twittords).
Should Local Marketers Embrace Twitter?
At this point yes and no; like most new/emerging platforms, it depends on your business category. Tweeting is a lot like word-of-mouth marketing. A non-scientific review of tweets showed that users are providing information and advice (reviews) on restaurants and entertainment topics such as movies, clubs, and music.
I've seen some innovative examples of quick-serve restaurants that accept "tworders" for their drive-up windows and other uses happening at the local marketing level. If your business is affected by trends or the above-mentioned category, then dive in.
For the rest of us, keep in mind that we're still very early into the Twitter growth curve and, as such, interested audiences within specific geographic areas may still be small. Most local marketers should look, listen, and learn.
Get started by signing up for a user account. A simple search for "twitter tools" on any search engine will return you with a huge selection of tools to help guide your use of Twitter. I use TweetDeck to organize the information as it streams in.
Other popular tools include:
- Seesmic Desktop, (formerly Twhirl)
- Tweet Grid
- Flaptor Twitter Search
As with other social networks, several applications are available for mobile devices such as the iPhone and BlackBerry.
Most of the local tools, such as TwitterLocal, focus on communications/tweets that are happening within a specific radius of the users, and are not yet organized by category, interest area, etc.
As the interactive universe continues to grow, I'm often fascinated at how new emerging technologies and platforms are viewed through their own experiential lens. Search marketers believe Twitter is a search phenomenon, whereas word of mouth experts believe it's the ultimate referral engine. The truth is somewhere in the middle and, as always, users/consumers will dictate how they use the service.
I expect that some savvy local marketing company will add Twitter communication capabilities for local merchants to conduct one-to-many conversations with their local target audiences at some point in the future. Until then, look, listen and learn.