The Golden Rule of Twitter Marketing

Para hablantes de español, leer Le Regla de Ora de Twitter Marketing.

You know Twitter, right? It’s the social network that ties people together in a pervasive conversation about whatever is happening at a given moment. Sort of like Instant Message. Sort of like Blogs. But in 140 characters or less. From Blackberries and Cell phones to desktop apps and the web. Twitter is the manifestation of a cool new trend of microcontent.

I love Twitter. I’ve been using it since February and while I was not the earliest adopter, I was an early adopter. I’ve seen Twitter emerge as the de facto “back channel” at conferences, the catalyst for impromptu meetups and yes, as a marketing device.

More and more, I’ve watched marketers jump on board the Twitter bandwagon but I wonder how many people really “get it”. See, Twitter cultivates transparency. The same people who drop daily nuggets of profound insight into Twitter during the day, might Tweet about taking their kids to the mall. Increasingly, folks are Tweeting their locations as they take roadtrips with special commands meant to plot their location on a map. These same people in the next breath are explaining why it is that this company or politician is the real deal.

Twitter’s power is in authenticity and transparency. I’ve often said that brand is not something that can be controlled by companies. Brand is controlled by customers. Trust is controlled by companies. If customers don’t trust a company, their brand is useless. If they do trust a company, that company has secured a marketer for life. Trust is built by authenticity, by transparency. It is the thing that allows companies to function in the 21st century.

So how does Twitter work for marketers? Well, for some marketers, they are oblivious to transparency. For instance, you can always tell who is “in the conversation” and thus more transparent and trustworthy, by looking at the ratio of “Followers” to “Friends”. Never trust anyone who has a significantly disproportionatly higher number of friends to followers. Friends are defined as people who you are listening to. Followers are those that are listening to you. One way conversation is never a great catalyst for communication or transparency.

Other marketers might follow lots of folks and have lots of friends following them, but if the entirety of their Tweets consist of promotion of their products, you have a one way street. Again, never trust one way streets. There’s dragons in those hills.

I always find tremendously compelling products via Twitter simply by engaging in conversation with people. There are a number of folks on Twitter who have recognized the power of Twitter as a medium for promotion, yet they engage their followers in conversation – sometimes unrelated to their product. The amazing dynamic here is personal brand.

As an example, NewMediaJim is an NBC cameraman. He is not really promoting NBC in what he does, yet everyone is accutely aware that NBC is his employer and based on that knowledge, it’s very insightful to read his Tweets about his various excursions into his career life – interviews with folks, drives to military bases to meet with military folks coming back from the war, etc. This is compelling content.

On the flip side of the NBC game is TodayShow, the official Twitter source connected to the NBC morning show. Here is an example of Twitter marketing gone bad. There is no conversation. There is no appeal to join into the community opf conversation. It is a public relations office releasing press releases over Twitter in 140 characters or less.

If I had to detail a Twitter Golden Rule it would:

Tweet about others at least as much as you Tweet about yourself.

Make sure that your marketing efforts on Twitter engage in conversation. Ensure that you are promoting someone else’s content as much if not more than you are promoting your own. Make sure people know who you are. Twitter is personal, so build your personal brand. It will only help your business. Trust me.

16 Replies to “The Golden Rule of Twitter Marketing”

  1. I disagree. :)

    You can use Twitter as a messaging channel, to an audience that does care about the message. Yes, you can also respond to people, but it does not have to be a full conversation. How often do you talk to the Techmeme or Wesmirch Twitter channel?

  2. Hey Jeremy-

    What you’re referring to is actually valid. I did not actually touch on that dynamic. More oversight than anything else. However, I think you’d agree with me on how many traditional marketing types are using Twitter, wouldn’t you?

  3. Well, since I am getting ready to launch a Twitter channel for The Point (, I will be using it to promote campaigns. But, yes, I will also listen.

  4. As someone who is relatively new to Twitter, this is a great example of some of the often overlooked “rules” to effective Twittering. I find Twitter the most interesting when I am able to see what the people I am following are commenting about, and also what they are doing personally – it’s like combining an AIM away message with a blog link post.

  5. I think Pepper-pants is kinda wrong. Here’s how:

    There are services we sign up to and just take them as a pulse. Techmeme was a perfect example. And then there are times when someone wants our attention. Something out of the blue. Not just a normal thing. Something where you want us to take action.

    If Gabe got on the Techmeme twitter feed and asked me (us) anything at all, would we even notice or answer? Not likely.

    So, if the goal is to ping, fine. We can opt out. But if the goal is to keep us coming back for more, we’d better have a strategy for staying human.

    Keep up the good work, Aaron.

  6. Aaron, you summarized it nicely – and Jeremy, you did point out a valid exception. I don’t mind a one-way channel if it makes sense, like Techmeme etc. It’s just more efficient for me than going to my RSS reader. On the other hand, I stopped following The Today Show because: 1) they’d publish a whole bunch of tweets simultaneously, which I find annoying, 2) they seemed to be unaware of the 140 character limit, so these would be a series of incomplete posts, 3) stylistically they were like broadcast promos that we see on TV. That just seems to rub me the wrong way on Twitter.

  7. Your golden rule is a good minimum standard, but I think a better goal is 1:3 Self-Tweets v. Tweets linking to or responding to others. The other intangible factor in effective Tweeting, I believe, is the originality of the voice. @Vaspers and @AnnOhio as well as @newmediajim are examples of Twitterers who, just because of their language, come across as human and recognizable voices. Perhaps the key is to write those 140 characters with an ear for how they _sound._ The best Tweets sound completely natural, as if the person is in the room. That’s what any good writer or poet spends years struggling to achieve: the artless sound of the natural.

  8. I’m a cross section of Brogan and Pepper.

    I think a company can use Twitter for marketing, but it is only a tool in the overall picture of social networking and media. I think I would talk to Gabe if I thought it was him on the other end of the Techmeme channel. This was a big reason I opted out of Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter channel. I was tired of getting nothing more than URL’s for every Truemor submission. I want to know what other stuff he is reading and interested in as well.

    A company can be human on the Twitter channel. They can submit articles about their industry, their people, their products and even their competitors. As long as I connect with them in some way I’ll follow them. Now if it is a knitting company or yarn manufacturer, I would probably pass, but I’m sure in the knitting world, they could have a nice niche.

    I would like to see more dialogue on this Aaron so I hope we get some more comments here.

  9. Love your post Aaron. I’m really looking forward to seeing how marketers handle Twitter. I like the example of New Media Jim (who i follow on Twitter). He isn’t officially twittering for NBC but i learn a lot about the Today Show (which i don’t watch) by following him.

    Tried to send a track back to this post of one I wrote recently talking about using Twitter for marketing. Going to link it here in case your interested.

    Also, it should be noted I found your site through Twitter (Chris Brogan’s tweet).


  10. My 2 cents: Marketing or not, do the tweets on the whole add to my twitter experience? And I define that pretty broadly. Surprise me.

    Frankly, marketing on twitter doesn’t bother me in the least as it’s wholly opt-in. Your twitterstream brings nothing to my party? I stop following. Simple. You can do or say whatever you like. I’ve seen “content” sources that are just as twitter-dumb as the most annoying marketer.

    Tweet about whatever you like, but give me something to play with or you won’t be in my sandbox for long.

  11. Great post, I’d extend it further and say that relationships cannot develop until you ‘expose’ yourself a bit more than may be… um… ‘prudent’.

    I like to relate to you not as a caricature of your company or business, but as a human being – and that’s possible only when you let a bit of ‘human-ness’ show in your online communication.

    I blogged recently about this, in “Get Out There And BE Yourself”:

    All success

  12. Nice post Aaron. I think Twitter is definitely an acquired taste and mainly because as you pointed out, a lot of people don’t “get it”. Hell, I have days I don’t “get it” or completely forget about using it as it isn’t intertwined into my daily routine still. I think your golden rule is sound for most people. There are other’s though that can get away with just talking about themselves, although it would benefit them more if they branched out a bit :)

  13. I think anyone looking to use Twitter effectively needs to take 3 steps:

    1) Download a Twitter client (Twitterific is what I use on Mac, Twiteroo is one client on Windows)
    2) Set it to start automatically on startup
    3) Don’t ignore Tweets coming in. This is conversation. Engage it

    This comment is totally off the topic of the post but this is what I recommend to people who don’t get it. The pervasiveness of conversation is NOT going away. It’s silly to pretend that it can be ignored. Engage it instead and use it to your advantage.

  14. ————————————————
    Dave Winer, father of RSS says “Twitter, as it was conceived, was never meant to live.”

    “It’s very possible with better engineering its architecture might have gone on for a few more years, but eventually it would have hit this wall, where there were too many people posting too many twits to too many followers. The scale of the system as conceived rises exponentially.”

    So is the end of Twitter getting near? I hope not. Twitter I hope that you are listening and you better start taking things more seriously.

    Here’s my two cents.

    For instance there are about 100m users of yahoo messenger and usually 2-3 of them talk at a time that means scalability of 300m conversations. On the other hand with 100m twitter users who usually send messages to 100-10,000 other users the scalability required is 10,000m to 10^6m I have never known any current architecture based on webservers to handle such a scale. So according to me Twitter was never meant to live. It is like a concept car that will never see production. Users of twitter don’t understand this and they don’t care.
    They don’t know whats happening when the website is down. The sad part is that the best analysts claim that Twitter is a billion dollar company in one year of operations. There is an old saying before the days of when people understood permutation combinations. One peasant asked a king to give him rice equal to the total amount gotten by placing double the number of rice grains on a chess square than the previous square, starting with one rice grain. There are 8×8=64 squares. We seriously need to visit grade 7 mathematics.

    I know of only one News/Messaging system that supports around 1 billion users sending messages to all 1 billion users each. Thats a scalability of 10^12m. It is not Web based but rather on a massively scalable serverless P2P architecture based. The team is soft spoken and when I last talked to them I was told that they don’t care about money or hype or fame but rather for just the passion of next generation global systems that will stand the test of worldwide use. Its called Mermaid News Mermaid

    They have other softwares too but this post is about Twitter and Messaging. Once everyone comprehends basic mathematics that goes behind scalable algorithms they would go past the flashy screen and hype to actually want a system they can trust. To the analysts I would say it is easy to create a business plan, create a hype and raise $20m funding it is far more difficult to create something of use.

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