Problems and opportunities in up to 140 characters – Twitter and business networking (written long)
This is a topic I have been thinking about for a while now, and one of the big questions I have had is simply deciding how to approach it. A lot of people love Twitter and use it all the time, and just as many, at least, see it as a complete waste of time. Interestingly enough this is not simply an age distinction as I hear just as many college age and older users expressing each of these views, at least when only counting people who regardless of age are actively online and involved in online social networking. So this is more a matter of the tool itself and what it can and cannot do, than of the age or other demographics of its potential user market.
The single word I probably should have started this blog posting with is short and terse, just like a tweet and it is haiku as in the 17 syllable Japanese poems. OK, traditionally a haiku is a triplet of lines containing five, seven and five syllables respectively so there is a bit more to it than simply that magic number 17, but for the purposes of this posting the number 17 is enough. Here, think of business-oriented Twitter and its tweets as haiku marketing when it is done effectively. But tweets do not come with a centuries long, incredibly rich tradition and context so anything you tweet has to be able to stand on its own, unless you create and effectively share a context for your tweets to work in.
This brings me to the second word I probably should have started this posting with – context. And it is a lack of context that makes this both so difficult to use effectively in business, and so irritating to people who see tweets as short spams – contextless, disconnected and therefore irrelevant to themselves.
I was looking around the Twitter site yesterday, and thinking about this posting while doing so. I am fairly sure (and hoping that someone will address this in a comment) that there are basically only two ways to see/receive tweets. One is if you agree proactively to follow the tweets of some individual person, group or organization and the other is if you go to the site, click one of the hot topic links or use their relatively anemic search tool and simply browse on your own.
I will start with the second and simply say you do not get a lot of value out of what you find – short, context-free phrases that for the most part do not catch your attention or imagination, or a couple of words plus a URL to get you to go to richer context but without offering real reason to bother with that 140 character limit. This is the turn-off zone for Twitter and even at its best.
The other is where you start with a context and get others to catch your tweets, and here they at least have an opportunity to know the context for them. They know you or your group or organization and have a context with you through that. But of course you still want to offer your tweet followers some value in what you say and too often that is not done even with this context advantage. There is a reason why haiku is considered both a beautiful and an incredibly difficult art form and why bad haiku is considered so very, very bad.
I admit, I enjoy taking this 140 character maximum tool and writing an outsized large posting on it. (I have to add that I don’t currently use Twitter for my marketing even if I do see how it can be of real value if done right, in sharing short updates to a carefully targeted audience, that are well written, timely and really focused.)
I just came back to this in a re-edit to add that I will post on tweets and viral marketing (re-tweets). This can be an incredibly powerful tool in the right context and when compellingly done.