In January of this year The New Yorker ran an article called “The End of Twitter” (coincidentally around the same time as the hashtag #RIPTwitter was trending online). The article argued that the changes being made to the product, a declining user experience, trouble verifying sources, and the growing problem of online bullying and abuse, was making the platform irrelevant (well duh, who wants to read half truths from a bunch of Twitter trolls?). Even worse, other social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, were gaining popularity, sapping Twitter’s user base and social media engagement, and leading some of the smartest folks in marketing and technology to ask, is Twitter still relevant today?
Well IMHO the answer is absolutely Y-E-S. But you need to know how to use it.
REAL-TIME FEED & THE POWER OF TWITTER
The best part about Twitter is its real-time feed. Twitter delivers information as it’s happening. It’s basically a live stream of what’s taking place around the corner, in your city, around the world. It’s like a huge network of people connected by tin cans and a piece of string, yakking at one another across thousands of miles, except replace the cans and the string with binary code and digital networks, but you get the idea. It’s life, as it happens. No other social platform comes close. #hatersgonnahate
Users feel like we’re plugged into a global hive of connectivity and information. At any time we can check to see what’s trending in politics, pop culture, weather, safety, and global events (not to mention what our favourite brands and personalities are reading, doing, and thinking at any moment of the day – @katyperry, @justinbieber and @taylorswift13, are the top 3 most followed users on Twitter don’tcha know).
Twitter is an enormously powerful platform. As of the second quarter of 2016, the microblogging service (a fancy name for a medium with short, frequent posts) averaged 313 million active users per month. The info generated by that base is used by companies worldwide to track engagement, improve services and make breakthroughs in fields like medicine, health and safety, marketing, journalism, and more.
Need some examples?
The US Geological Survey is using tweet data to speed up alerts and expedite response time for earthquakes. Because, contrary to what Carole King said, the earth should not move under your feet.
Researchers are working with Twitter data to better predict flu outbreaks, a method that could be applied to things like the current Zika virus, making mosquitos everywhere quake in their boots.
Twitter data has been used to track and respond to environmental crises, to monitor political movements and civil unrest, to predict crime in the U.S. (and we’re guessing other countries too).
Financial service firms are looking to Twitter to monitor trending topics, which can help predict market activity. #kaching #payday
And of course almost every consumer goods company has a Twitter presence because they recognize that Twitter is good for more than just keeping up with cultural trends; it can also spread the word about your “new and improved most powerful stain remover yet!”.
Basically Twitter is kind of a big deal. So why does it feel like the medium is dying a slow death?
AUTOMATED POSTS & A LACK OF AUTHENTIC ENGAGEMENT
Transformers had Autobots – a “faction of sentient robots from the planet Cybertron led by Optimus Prime” – we have Spambots. Spambots may not have the evil leadership of Optimus Prime, but they’re just as big a nuisance. Why? Well let’s have a look.
Twitter is cool when: it’s used as a tool for interaction and conversation.
Twitter is not cool when: it’s used as a broadcasting system.
Twitter is cool when: I tweet my favourite comedian to share a funny line from their new book and they tweet back a response.
Twitter is not cool when: my favourite comedian tweets to promote their new book, then goes AWOL to frolic in their pile of money.
See the pattern? Twitter is cool when we interact.
The problem is, where Twitter was once used for real-time two-way (or multi-way, depending on how many users were engaged in a tweet) dialogue, today the platform is full of automated posts. Essentially it’s gone from a community forum, where people used to engage and discuss, to a community bulletin board, where lame flyers are layered on top of each other, each shouting “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!”
Today, apps like Buffer, Hootsuite, Crowdfire, etc. make it possible to schedule and automate a Twitter presence for your brand, meaning that followers never actually engage directly with a human being on the other side of that tweet. Instead, we’re on the receiving end of a barrage of posts, promoting whatever your marketing message is that day, without responding, engaging, and adjusting to the audience.
If we imagine it as a conversation, it might go something like this:
BRAND X: Get 5% cash back on all purchases with our Super Cool Name credit card.
USER Y: @BRANDX, amazing! Is this available in my country?
BRAND X: 100% of parents think university education cost too much. Read more: bit.ly12345
USER Y: @BRANDX, I’m still interested in that credit card. Do you know where I can get one?
BRAND X: Our mobile banking service will be unavailable on May 4, in the year 2032, due to scheduled maintenance. Thanks for your patience and may the ‘fourth’ be with you.
USER Y: @BRANDX, you’re the worst! Why won’t anyone answer me?!? Bueller? Bueller? Hello?
If that conversation looks ridiculous it’s because it is, but it’s what’s happening millions of times a day (thousands of times every minute in fact).
What makes Twitter so great (and what’s missing in its current form) is authentic engagement. Without it, Twitter becomes nothing more than marketing noise; advertising to be skipped over, ignored, and unfollowed (like junk mail, only more annoying); a broadcast channel where everyone is talking and no one is listening. When this happens, the audience stops interacting, engagement declines, and pretty soon, Twitter is caught in a downward spiral toward total irrelevance that no amount of Twitter marketing can fix.
But it’s not too late.
HARNESS THE POWER OF TWITTER
There are 500 million tweets sent every day, 6,000 every minute. Those represent a gigantic opportunity to engage with followers, customers, and the world at large. Twitter is still a powerful tool for communication. But only when it’s used for good. Use it to:
- reach a new audience
- track followers
- drive traffic to your website
- promote your brand
- engage in social media analytics
- boost your SEO
Just don’t forget Twitter’s golden rule – use it to engage.
The more you engage, the more your users will engage with you, and the greater the potential of the platform becomes. Don’t just queue up a bunch of tweets and then head to happy hour. Open your eyes and your ears and take note of what’s happening that day, that hour, that minute. How can your message fit into the overall context? What are people talking about and, more importantly, saying to you? How can you respond and interact? Twitter is unequivocally still relevant today. The question is, how will you use it?
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