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.

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