Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter

A year ago today, Twitter was something that many communicators were just trying to wrap their heads around. It was a new form of communication that was threatening to upset the precious fiefdom that they had built up over years and that had been taught in universities.

A year ago today, Twitter was something that a fringe of the greater population used regularly to discuss the election and monitor debates and campaign stops. It was something used for grass roots organizing and the biggest name was @BarackObama.

A year ago today, a handful of major media outlets were using Twitter. @ricksanchezcnn adopting Twitter on air at CNN and using it to monitor conversations around stories he was reporting on was a major coup de grace for stalwart journalism types who refused to adopt this new form of communication.
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Contrast these three scenarios with todays world. White House staffers are using Twitter as a regular routine. Sports fans follow @QBKILLA (aka Warren Sapp) and @THE_REAL_SHAQ (aka Shaquille O’Neal) – and yes, your observation of sports figures typing in all CAPS is not unshared. Musicians like @johncmayer – John Mayer – and @davejmatthews – Dave Matthews – are also using Twitter and talking to fans.

With this massive uptake of Twitter, it’s easy to think that the platform has arrived. And it has. It is as mainstream as any social service could hope to be. At the same time, Twitter is dead.

I don’t mean Twitter is going away. In fact, I don’t think it will ever go away. In fact, I think it is part of the future of online communications, much like email was back in the 1990s. Back then, it was somewhat rare for people to have email addresses. Clearly, this changed toward the end of the decade, but for most of the decades, the fad of having email was clearly seen in the resurrection of the old chain letter. We would find funny things online and forward them to all our friends like email was going out of style. Those of us who had an email address were considered the rare few.

Over time, email revolutionized the workplace to the point where, at the start of this decade, it was unusual for people not to have email and businesses began to rely on it as a necessity for internal and external communication.

Spamming picked up on the email service as it became easy to assume someone was attached to an email address somewhere.

Since 2006, Twitter has been like email of yore. Relatively few (in the grand scheme of things) had a Twitter ID. It was seen as somewhat geeky and was dominated by early adopters (from true early adopters early on to earlier-but-not-quite-early adopters joining in late 2007 and 2008. We developed exclusive little circles that we gave cutesy names like “tweetup” to – a mashup of the words Twitter and meetup. We developed our own lexicon for the efficiency of 140 characters. Words like “failwhale” and “hashtag”. We would “at” people and “DM” and we all knew what we were talking about. It was our little secret that would cause innocent bystanders to scratch their heads in collective confusion.

Sometime last year or early this year, perhaps with the election or the sudden rate of adoption thanks to celebrities such as Oprah and Ashtun Kutcher joining the rank and file, Twitter became mainstream. It happened while we were asleep and we all revelled in the fact that these well known names were becoming part of us. Until it happened without our notice and we became part of them.

See they used our tool to assimilate our culture into theirs – the same way they used tabloids and celebrity blogs to draw more attention to their worlds. More power to them. Twitter is not something that can be assigned rules of behavior or communication.

Excuse the long winded article as I come into land with my point.

Historically, tools come and go – whether email or Twitter, the sex appeal of a service inevitably gives way to the practicality of being. Much like a marriage where (and I’ve been through this), a couple meets, dates, has fun, gets butterflies but eventually settles into a more mature state of existence with their partner, platforms evolve into a mature offering that is critical to communications. It becomes the norm to have the tool and the conversation evolves from the topic of conversation to the catalyst for conversation. The platform ceases to be the focus and just “becomes”.

This is where we are at now, or rather, where we should be now. We are not and this needs to change. Twitter as a business offers much fodder for discussion, but Twitter as a tool needs to become that tool and not the topic of conversation. When we get together we need to stop having tweetups and start getting together. We need to put down our iPhones and BlackBerrys and sending 140 character messages on to our friends in the ether. Instead of talking to them, get back to communications with the people sitting across the table from you.

Instead of worrying about how to use Twitter, we need to just use it. Instead of having panels at conferences about Twitter, we should be having panels about the topics people are talking about on Twitter. Instead of worrying about whats the best way to use Twitter, we need to get back to our roots (whether in journalism or communications or customer service) and start doing the jobs we are meant to do and using Twitter to make our performances better.

Twitter is dead as a topic of conversation. It is dead as fodder for blogs. It is dead as a startup that is revolutionizing our way of lives. It already has revolutionized our lives and now we run the danger of over-committing to a way of life that will keep us in one place instead of looking forward to the next big thing. Twitter is important to help us get to that point but, like Twitter founder Biz Stone says, it should be the pulse of the planet. And that’s it.

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It's Not Necessarily Who You Know

In the world of social media, there has been a dramatic shift in how business ideas and implementations get done. David Armano touches on it today where he suggests that knowing the influencers will get you much farther in your effort.

In that case, it’s up to all of us to find them. Perhaps take a look at something like the Power 150 and start the list backwards (or maybe get out of the marketing echo chamber all together).  If you yourself have become the new breed of “gatekeeper”””ask yourself “is it who I know, or what they know?”. Ideally, its both””but up to us individually to strike the right balance.

Armano and I proceeded to have a lively discussion on Twitter over this idea. I agreed with his assessment  that the current landscape of the social web does cater to the idea of knowing people being more important than having a good idea. I disagreed on his conclusion that people should seek to extend their influence by knowing more of the top people on the web.

On principle, the “top people on the web” is a bit elitist and self serving. Both Armano and I enjoy being “top people on the web”, yet, I know my ability to scale is small compared to the ideas and conversations being pushed around. The web is bigger than me. It’s bigger than Armano. We both enjoy large networks of people that we know, and I don’t mean six degree of separation type stuff. We both can show you 10,000 or more collected business cards from over the years. At least I can. I presume it is the same for him.

I can brag about knowing over half of the Technorati Top 100 bloggers personally. I can point to the multitude of networking events that I attend (at least one major one every month) where I have a difficult time talking to everyone who wants to share their ideas and thoughts with me.

The problem is scale. The web is bigger than we are. You can put a gallon or five gallons or ten gallons of water in a sink, but if the drain is only an inch thick, you won’t be able to process more water out of that bin. You need a bigger drain to do that. In fact, it will take longer to drain that bin with increasingly more water. It’s physics.

Unlike Armano’s assessment that communicators, entrepreneurs, and brands should exploit the current landscape that values the personal connection over the business process (that is, good ideas can thrive on their own if they have merit), I see it as a hybrid. You must have a one-to-one network and you must have a one-to-many network, but your many-to-many network (the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th degree of separation) becomes fairly useless fairly quick. Good ideas cannot thrive in a vacuum.  However, simply knowing influencers aren’t going to make it fly either.

I can’t tell you the number of people who are friends, not just business network contacts, who have talked to me with great gusto and passion about an idea and I simply look at them blankly. They know me personally, but realistically, they have a sucky idea. It’s not going to fly and no amount of knowing the right people is going to make it fly.

On the flip side, having a great idea and knowing the right people can make all the difference in the world. This is a reflection of the truth that many of the worlds greatest idea people don’t have the communication prowess to “sell” that idea and make it work. Likewise some of the greatest communicators in the world have great bullhorns, but suck at innovating themselves. So we end up in a world where we all need each other for something.

This blend of traditional (networking) and innovation is really where we need to be. We’re getting there, but we ain’t there yet. Reinforcing an unscalable paradigm of who you know as the primary enforcer of innovation is a dangerous trend that really does need to be changed. Sometime. Hopefully soon.

Update: Armano chimes in in comments and corrects the record. He is recommending a balance, as am I. Different slants on the same issue.

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Viral Marketing”¦are you sick yet?

So often buzz words turn into marketing terms. Often enough, the strongest of the marketing terms become engrained into our everyday speech. Viral Marketing is one of the latest.

Marketingterms.com defines Viral Marketing as:

“œMarketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message.”

Ironically, medterms.com defines something that is Viral as:

“œInfection caused by the presence of a virus in the body.”

What amazes me is that a word, such as viral, when it applies to our body is something we don’t want, but when it comes to marketing”¦ we can’t get enough of it. Businesses throw thousands spend thousands of dollars to try to catch lightning in a bottle. Some work while some fall flat and never see the light of day beyond the board room. Alternate Reality Games, YouTube videos, and a wide variety of other tactics have been created to leverage this powerful marketing “œexperience”.

Viral Marketing as a practice is not new. Giving it a new name is. The different tactics and tools you use to create Viral Marketing range, but not the intention of it. It’s been called rumors, gossip, Word of Mouth Marketing, Buzz Marketing, and a long list of names all for the same thing. The purpose is to spread awareness of and create interest for any product, service, or entity.

So what is Viral Marketing and how can you apply to you, your business and anything you have that you need to get out to the public. Think back to a band that you had, or know, that was just starting out. Think of a party or event you wanted to get people to. Hell, think of the yard, or garage, sale you had that you really wanted people to attend. A small level of “œViral Marketing” was used to generate interest in these things. You told friends and neighbors”¦who, if they liked the idea, told friends and neighbors, and so on, creating a “œviral” spread of information “œinfecting” people with interest and desire.

The key factor in creating something that is Viral is that whatever it is happens to be appealing enough for people want to tell people about it. The problem with this is that it is really subjective. People on YouTube are famous for something completely accidental. They never knew that thousands of people would get into “œChocolate Rain” or “œSneezing Panda”, but they were never created to leverage a product. YouTube has become a wide avenue for things, but to me it will always be the Millennium kids version of Earth’s Funniest Home Videos. When you try to take something like the unintentional power of Viral Videos and apply it to a product, service or business the outcome could be wondrously huge or an effort in futility. There are huge successes, like the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for movies The Dark Knight, created by 42 Entertainment, or Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, created by Double Twenty, or wrapping a bus stop with bubble wrap, with each bubble having a PS2 controller icon, to promote the PS2 by Sony. Or the monstrous failure of Sony of America when they tried to create a fictitious person to sing the praises of their company via YouTube which seriously pissed off several of the Sony interested or faithful. VIRAL MARKETING FAIL.

If you want to apply some kind of Viral Marketing to whatever it is you want to promote you need to understand several things before you even get started.

You have to really know your target audience and demographic for this really to take flight. Just like Word of Mouth Marketing, Viral Marketing relies heavily on trust and faith of those participating. Find someone who believes in your idea, product or whatever and you’ve just created someone who help spread “œthe good word”. Give them a reason to distrust your efforts, intentions, or goal and you will have just created a Viral Marketing Campaign rallying against your Viral Marketing Campaign.

You need to have a strategy in place for the full duration of the campaign. Whether it’s something like the opening of a movie or night club, a presidential campaign, or a bands new CD (god I miss tapes) you have to have a fully realized strategy from start to finish of what you will do to help generate and maintain interest. That means fresh content to further your campaign along. Whether you’re creating a storyline for your interested to follow over a period of time, a one time stunt to gain media or personal attention, or just want people to pass your message along. You have to have it well thought out and be able to understand the potential consequences, because their may be some.

You have to keep the momentum going. It’s going to be more like a roller coaster than any other marketing tactic you’ve used before. You need to give it time to get over that first hill and get rolling. Then you need to watch it and make sure that when it picks up speed you don’t delay the next phase of it and have people loose interest, because when you bring that next piece out and you have lost them”¦they are gone. Unless you can do something wildly unexpected to bring them back.

Finally, you have to realize also that you can’t fully control it. It’s the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill. But even with that snowball, you don’t know if there’s something underneath the surface of the snow to cause it to stop or alter it’s course. You can nudge it along, give it suggestion, but one misstep and you could loose more than you gain. That is ultimately why you need to have your vision and goals firmly in place before you take step one.

Viral Marketing is going to see some pretty interesting trends as this marketing avenue is developed. As with all good marketing strategies, you’re going to see a lot of carbon copies, a lot of failures and lot of fresh ideas. One I’m personally following is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Captain John Smith for President. I can personally suspend disbelief long enough to see that their message is strong enough for me to want to share it, spread it and help them get this message going. That is the ultimate goal and success of any Viral Marketing campaign. The participant believes in the campaign, feels a part of the campaign, can interact with the campaign and feels a sense that what they did, no matter how large or small, was a direct impact on the success of the campaigns awareness and overall success.

So what Viral Campaigns have sparked your interest or ire? What do you like or dislike about Viral Marketing? I want to know. Actually, I want to challenge you to participate in a little Viral Marketing with me. If you like this message, as I see a few of you are following this blog, I would love to see a comment from you on it. I also want you to share this blog and have several of your friends comment. For the person who has the most people comments mentioned they were sent by you, and subscribe, I will personally send the winner a prize.

I’ve reached out to my audience, I’ve announced my strategy and I know my goal. Now it’s up to you. The deadline for this little slice of potential Viral Failure is one week. So”¦in the immortal words of W.O.P.R. “œWould you like to play a game?”

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