I’ve never been a work-the-room kind of gal. Early on I learned my nature is better suited for one-on-one conversations.
When I go to a party or a networking event, my goal is to make a meaningful connection with two or three people. That’s my definition of success for attending.
You might think only two or three connections is not worth the effort, but you’d be surprised how fast they add up. Over time I’ve gained hundreds of new contacts, some of whom turned into clients.
After fumbling my way initially on social media, I’ve defaulted to my go-to engagement strategy there too. Each time I show up I try to make two or three substantive comments in addition to liking posts and posting my curated content.
As a solo professional I long ago decided to focus my efforts on just two social media: LinkedIn and Twitter. LinkedIn seemed intuitive. Twitter was not and I participated inconsistently for years.
Last spring, despite Twitter’s negative press from fake accounts and snarky conversations that happen there, my curiosity overcame my ambivalence. I decided to focus on the medium and see if it was worth my time.
I began to research Twitter.
Twitter Began as a Pivot
The first thing I learned was that Twitter had celebrated its 12th birthday in March and in its 12 years it had exactly one profitable quarter, fourth quarter 2017.
Since then the company announced a second profitable quarter (first quarter 2018). But before I sank any time into building a Twitter following, I wanted to see if it would still be around in the future.
Twitter began in early 2006 as a second-choice project among a team including Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Evan Williams and Biz Stone when their attempt at a podcasting platform was thwarted by Apple’s iTunes launch. Dorsey had the idea for a “status” check where you could send a message to a particular SMS code (Short Message Service, a.k.a. text) and it would be broadcast to all of your friends.
Hmmm…a status update to friends. Sound familiar?
The name Twitter was Noah Glass’s idea, based on the Oxford English Dictionary definition, “a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds,” and was originally spelled Twttr.
A bird was then the logical choice for their logo. Biz Stone, a Massachusetts native, named the bird Larry.
In addition to the bird logo, Twitter’s other most famous feature was its 140-character message limit. That came from its founding on SMS technology which limited the length of texts.
A Shaky Start
Twitter opened its service to the public on July 16, 2006. At the time Facebook was only open to college and high school students.
Twitter had a few hundred users on August 2, 2006 when a mild earthquake shook the San Francisco area, prompting those users to share the experience. The sharing made those people feel less alone and was the first clue to Twitter’s potential as a news-breaking network.
Twitter’s user base grew to a few thousand users.
Facebook opened its service to the public in September 2006. Coincidence?
Twitter’s first breakout moment happened at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin in March 2007. The team negotiated to put High Definition TV screens in the hallways and ran Twitter feeds on them. They also created an event-specific code to facilitate sign-ups and following news at the event. People used Twitter to meet up with friends there too.
Anyone Can Be A Reporter
While celebrities and influencers got accounts to get in on the action, it was the average person reporting events that propelled Twitter into the mainstream.
Local observers reported on Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s successful landing in the Hudson River in 2009.
https://twitpic.com/135xa – There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.
— Janis Krums (@jkrums) January 15, 2009
And on something that was happening in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1, 2011 (the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden).
Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).
— Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) May 1, 2011
Organizers used Twitter to get people to assemble in 2011 for the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
Can we get 20,000 people to barricade Wall Street until their demand for real democracy is met? https://bit.ly/re9ENL #occupywallstreet
— Adbusters (@Adbusters) July 14, 2011
Navigating Brand Adolescence
Twitter found itself as a brand in adolescence with an identity crisis in 2015.
It had 4,100 employees in 35 offices worldwide, its market value had plunged to $16.5 billion from $40 billion at its IPO just two years before and the 2016 election was approaching.
Twitter brought Jack Dorsey back as CEO (he had been fired in 2008). Dorsey laid off 336 employees and tried to sell the company. After suitors such as Salesforce, Google and Disney were scared off by the nasty reputation of some Twitters users, he laid off another 350 employees and killed the company’s 6-second video app Vine.
The brand then proclaimed itself “the people’s news network” and made improvements to set it up for a self-sufficient future.
Improvements have included quality filters, a safety council, locking millions of suspicious accounts and efforts to dissuade people from buying followers to overstate their influence.
Twitter has also moved to shut down fake accounts and announced last Wednesday that follower counts will no longer include locked accounts.
Twitter’s content has moved into video, streaming many live sporting and entertainment events. In a deal with Bloomberg News they also have an exclusive 24-hour news feed that includes live reporting.
In November 2017 the brand acknowledged that its reliance on SMS software was long gone and doubled the allowable character count per tweet to 280.
Will Twitter Make 20?
For all of its progress to bolster credibility and provide live content, Twitter’s future will still rely on its ability to sell advertising and grow its user base.
eMarketer forecasts that Twitter’s net digital ad revenue will be $1.16 billion this year, down from $1.21 billion in 2017 and paling by comparison to Facebook’s $21.57 billion and Google’s $40.08 billion.
Twitter’s user base, however, is growing. The number of daily active users grew 10% in the first quarter of this year and 12% in the last quarter of 2017. Their monthly active user count is 336 million, with 69 million of those in the U.S.
The user numbers say to me that people are engaging more on Twitter, and where the people go, the advertising will follow.
At 12 the Twitter brand has already had a rough adolescence. But I’m bullish on it making 20 and beyond, and here’s why:
- Twitter has gone all-in on its news/what’s-happening-now brand definition, clarifying what the brand does and investing in content that makes sense.
- Management has pared unnecessary side businesses and focused on rebuilding the brand’s trust with its audience. For a news-based business, credibility is everything.
- Management takes responsibility for the brand and seems to have learned much, including how to operate profitably.
Improving My Performance on Twitter
I like what Twitter is doing, especially their efforts to be transparent and credible.
I decided it was worth more effort.
But I needed help.
I found it in Mark Schaefer’s book The Tao of Twitter. Mark is a social media expert and marketing strategist who believes in keeping humanity in marketing. I love that approach and the idea that there could be some Tao to Twitter intrigued me.
Mark says the Tao of Twitter consists of three elements:
- Targeted connections
- Meaningful content
- Authentic helpfulness
These seemed well-suited for my nature so I started implementing Mark’s easy-to-follow recommendations along with my one-on-one conversation, nab-two-or-three-engagements-at-a-time strategy.
You know what? It’s working.
In the three months since I’ve taken Mark’s advice, I’ve gained about 230 followers and am gaining new followers every day.
More importantly, I’ve connected with people I admire and with people who enjoy the content I post. That’s meaningful.
You and Your Brand on Twitter
You and your brand can make meaningful connections on Twitter too if your audience is there.
Twitter shines for:
- Personal interaction – Twitter can get you on someone’s radar better than any other platform. It feels more direct.
- Customer service – Because of Twitter’s ability to be direct, adding Twitter to your customer service tools can allow you to address issues quickly, making customers happier and having better conversations with them. Listening on Twitter to conversations about your brand and proactively addressing complaints wins big points with customers too.
- Influencer marketing – Influencers are people with large followings whom you can hire to talk up your brand. If you decide to engage influencers, vet them carefully as their actions will reflect on your brand. Better in my mind is to invest the time to engage customers regularly so that they have a great brand experience which they then share with their followers. In my 25 years of marketing research, “friend’s recommendation” has consistently shown up as a top reason for purchase.
- Advertising – Because Twitter gets less advertising than Facebook and Google, its rates are cheaper. Yes, it only has 336 million users, but that is still a large audience for most brands! If you know that your target audience is on Twitter, consider advertising there via promoted tweets. Mark has a helpful chapter in his book about Twitter advertising. Video advertising does especially well.
Whatever you do on Twitter, don’t just automate your posts and ignore it. That does nothing. It’s like going to a cocktail party and sitting in the corner by yourself.
If you find it intimidating, try my goal of two or three engagements each time and see how they are both more meaningful and add up over time!
P.S. Do you know what tweet went viral during the Super Bowl in 2013?
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Thanks for an insightful and informative article! I have been intimidated by Twitter and not sure it makes sense for my business, and you have inspired me to check it out.
You’re welcome Wende! I would caution against putting in too much time on any one social medium, and advocate trying to make meaningful one-on-one connections when you are there. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the quantity of connections but the quality that both makes Twitter fun and good for business.