Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Seducing the twittering classes

Some very interesting analysis from Robin Goad at Hitwise here about the downstream traffic from Twitter versus Google, Facebook and Hotmail. It shows that traffic to retail sites is relatively low from Twitter and that most of it goes to news or entertainment sites.

This fits with Twitter’s pure, raw conversational style. It may be verbally transactional, but it isn’t a shop. Because it is hyper-networking (you can be talking with many at the same time) mood also spreads amazingly quickly. The community is very spam averse, as evidenced by the Habitat story this week (Habitat were said to have attached unrelated hashtags – a way of categorising tweets for easier consumption - to commercially orientated tweets with the sole objective of getting a bigger audience for their message and thereby driving traffic to their site. Instead, Habitat was driven into retreat by a none-too-happy community and the story made the national media.)

There are a few interesting lessons emerging from the Hitwise data and the Habitat experience.

Firstly, overt promotional tactics will never work in the Twitter community. It’s a bit like interrupting pub chats with enforced commercial breaks. It just won’t happen.

What’s as interesting is what this says about how brands and brand advocates work on Twitter. It’s too early to say perhaps, but my feeling is that the only promotional tactic that will work in the Twitter universe is the expression of genuine opinion, and then:

a) only if expressed in a raw and compelling way, and
b) only if Twitter is seen to be a secondary or even tertiary influencing tool rather than something more overt and direct.

If a shop sets up a Twitterfeed, for instance, who is going to want to follow it if the content is just about products on offer, however compelling they are? That’s advertising.

The shop needs to create an unspun voice, offer genuinely interesting content and build a community of advocates over time – and time really is the killer punch. This is no overnight medium. Anyone who believes that Twitter will pay rapid commercial dividends for their business is mistaken. It’s a long haul project, based on nuance, as anyone who is familiar with it will know.

The sensitivity with which Twitter must be handled was brought home to me the other day. I was interested in gauging the reaction to a programme on television that had focused heavily on a brand (a sort of crowd-sourced TV review, if you like). I searched all Twitter for references and looked at them chronologically. During the minutes prior to the programme and immediately after it started there were plenty of tweets pointing to the fact that Twitterer A, B, C, etc was about to sit down and watch, to paraphrase, “an interesting programme about brand x on channel y.” These died off after the first 10 or so minutes of the programme to be replaced by reactions to the programme, which in the main were less than favourable and had some pointedly critical reactions to the brand. The point is that the change in mood was very clear - moving from what looked like the staged tweets of relative automatons to the real views of people watching the programme.

I can’t be certain, but it seemed to me that a highly paid digital media consultancy was probably stacking Twitter with references to the programme in order to promote it. And then the real voices came in. What all this says to me is that the raw and unfiltered world of Twitter will be un-exploitable by brands unless their advocates are truly interested in, and able to express a candid, interesting and engaging view about whatever brand they are advocating. Only the unvarnished truth will stand any chance of applying any gloss to a brand’s bottom line.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Bad taste

Another cautionary tale, this time involving Gordon Ramsay the chef. He was interviewed on one of Australia’s leading current affairs programmes recently and in the days that followed is alleged to have said some unsavoury things about the programme’s presenter.

This video is the prologue to her next programme, during which she took the opportunity to respond to Ramsay’s alleged comments. Her response has attracted the support of the Australian PM.

Whether the furore will turn Ramsay’s trip down under into more of a demotional tour than the promotional one that he had intended remains to be seen. Some argue that notoriety is a pretty efficient way of promoting your product. By any measure, though, his alleged comments appear to have been in particularly poor taste, which, let’s face it, is not a happy brand association for a purveyor of fine food.

So-called celebrity is a dangerous affliction and needs to be managed carefully. When arrogance creeps in, there is a temptation to believe that people will like you “warts and all”. Trouble is, most of us are more discerning than that. We’ll see the warts and skip the main course.

Monday, 8 June 2009

A masterclass in handling a confrontational interview

Here's a textbook example of how to handle a potentially difficult interview. Peter Mandelson performed quite brilliantly on the Andrew Marr programme on Sunday morning. From the outset he was in complete control of the interview, setting the mood and the pace. Andrew Marr is a fine interviewer and the subject matter provided much scope for confrontation, but Mandelson was controlled, precise and unflappable throughout. His use of language is forensic and he does a great job of setting the pace, asserting his right to control the length of his answers and of deflecting those questions that he chooses not to answer. A classic.

The consequences of passivity

Carl Popper's much-paraphrased definition of democracy is "the ability of citizens to get rid of their Government on a whim". I've always struggled with the idea of whim when it comes to important democratic choice, but whim exercised in the ballot box is infinitely preferable to staying away from the electoral process altogether.

I now think the Government ought to add consideration of compulsory voting to the melting pot of electoral reform. The system worked well in Australia where I grew up. The penalty for not voting wasn’t terribly high, but it was sufficient incentive to catalyse strong turnouts.

Voting is a privilege and a responsibility. The outcome this weekend shows the cost of stay-on-the-sofa passivity. If we need any example of the importance to all of us of our right to vote, we need only look at the consequences of this week's inaction. We pay through our taxes for ALL elected politicians.

The exercise of holding a pencil over a ballot sheet is an important and clarifying experience. All of us should at least turn up and weigh the consequences of our decisions, even if some of us choose to spoil our papers.