Do you use Twitter? What are your motives for using it?
If you don’t know what I am talking about, Twitter is an emerging social networking phenomenon that lets anyone “tweet” in 140 characters or less their thoughts, opinions or just what they are doing, right at that moment. Anyone can follow your tweets, and you can follow others. By tuning into different people, you get a stream of thoughts and comments steadily flowing through to you, and you can participate in “the stream” by replying to people, or just adding your own thoughts undirected to anyone in particular.
If you have ever used a chat room, Twitter is kind-a like a “build-your-own” chat-room, where you choose the members you listen to, but they can’t necessarily hear you or each other. Sound confusing? Sound inane? Well it is a simple idea, which has strange addictive qualities that people all around the world are discovering.
Different people have different reasons for using Twitter. In it’s simplest form it is a tool for participating in conversations with your friends and associates. Some people manage only a small group of people they follow and the conversations are personal and relevant. For others it is a tool to build professional and personal networks. They follow industry conversations. For others it is a path to Internet stardom, and having large interested audiences they can entertain. For some it is a way to tap into the broad social consciousness, to get a feel for what people are thinking and talking about around the world.
Twitter can be many things to different people, but the common thread is that Twitter is a way to have a conversation with others.
Like always when a new idea starts to get traction, and a community builds around it, people inevitably starting to think how to make money through it, how to sell your wares through Twitter, how to “cash in”. If you say this to the early adopter users of Twitter, the initial reaction is “Gawd, keep those bastards out”, the bastards being of course the evil marketers and big bad corporates. Of course no one wants to be spammed through Twitter, along with everywhere else. But more and more companies are discovering that Twitter is a way to have conversations with their customers. Not selling to their customers, but talking with them. After all you can’t stop people from talking about you or your products bad or good, but you can choose to be part of that conversation. Besides, every person, as a user of Twitter, chooses who they want to listen to, so as soon as they get the sales pitch from a company they follow, they have the choice to turn off that conversation. For companies, the best way to engage with existing or new customers is to have genuine conversations that they want to participate in. It sounds pretty simple.
So having said that, is there any threat that Twitter will one day be yet another vehicle to be owned by the marketers? I think right now Twitter is in a bit of an “Age of Innocence”, it is becoming incredibly popular, and it is an interface to conversations you would not normally be a participant of. I can tweet with [business: Telecom New Zealand] (@telecomnz) and Vodafone (@vodafonenz), and if I am having a problem with a product or service they are most helpful, due credit to both. They respond with genuine interest but still in a casual Twitter way. To be honest this beats calling their call centres hands down. But then 20 years ago, if you emailed both someone within would have responded the same, with personal interest and enthusiasm because they probably only got one email from a customer each day, and it made a pleasant change. Will it be different when they have to respond to 5 tweets a second? Is the “We have received your tweet and will respond within 1 working day” message inevitable one day?
Today you can follow your favourite celebs, and tweet with them. You can quite often even get personal replies from them too. Is it the fan mail of the new century? Stephen Fry @stephenfry has a whopping 52,000 follows, and he is in the top ten twitterers worldwide (by follower numbers) so you may not get a personal response from him, but he does write his own tweets. But when Twitter reaches critical mass will it be harder to participate in conversations with these people, and will they be less genuine?
It will be fascinating to watch what happenes over the next 24 months, and to watch as different market segments adopt Twitter. Will it be the beginning of the end when after a TV news article, they invite you to “talk back” on their twitter address? Will print advertising invite people to follow products on Twitter? Will it be good or bad? At the end of the day, I feel it will be the Twitter users who will decide.
Today I get my news headlines through twitter, I follow interesting celebs, I get information about new product releases (not sales pitches) from companies I am interested in, I get blog feeds and finally, the random thoughts of many many different people (but mostly technology geeks). All my choice. My Twitter motivation is to connect with like minded people, and have genuine interesting conversations with them. As soon as the conversations stop being genuine and interesting I may turn them off. But right now, Twitter is the wild west/new frontier phase. No rules, no barriers, and find your own way.
So what are your Twitter motivations? If you don’t currently tweet, what would (or wouldn’t) you use Twitter for?