Found: The Point of Twitter

By: WebProNews Staff - April 22, 2008

Hopefully, we’re over wondering what the point of Twitter is and we can move on to how, exactly, using it or other social media can be good for business. Sometimes the biggest obstacle is just wrapping your head around something.

The short and skinny of what is to follow is this:


Understanding humans better benefits business
Think overall strategy, not just tactics
Twitter has good search placement (tactic)
Twitter is a goldmine of permission-based marketing (strategy)
Building relationships also builds trust and opportunities
Niches are inevitable (and present); find yours
One-to-many communication is efficient and on your terms


Previously, I and others suggested Twitter was destined for spamminess, or at least some kind of deceptive marketing. Indeed it is and indeed it has already begun. That’s not a reason, though, to avoid it. Use it while it still has value.

Also previously, I waxed existential about Twitter being, for me, a place to observe and learn from humanity. While that doesn’t seem immediately useful (if you’re old school, it seems like a real waste of time), a very large part of marketing is not just identifying your market, but understanding it better. Twitter provides a perch from which to observe and learn. A new app called Twittearth makes that perch that much more intriguing.

Search Engine Guide’s Jennifer Laycock referred to it as "acceptable eavesdropping." From this perch, you can exercise a novel concept in marketing: listening. This is the difference between you and a spammer or spaghetti-against-the-wall message-pounder, always with his mouth open and his ears shut.

"Personally," says Enquiro’s Gord Hotchkiss in a blog post on the difference between strategy and tactics, "I’ve felt that by providing glimpses into user behavior, I can help provide a lens to help see things from the outside in, an essential perspective for strategic evaluation. Part of any strategy in marketing always depends on gaining a deeper understanding of the common denominator, humans."

So what’s the difference between a strategy and a tactic? A tactic would include actions like ones used by the aforementioned loud-mouth spammer, who, if we’re just talking Twitter, would either never be followed to begin with or would be unfollowed as soon as he betrayed a Twitterer’s trust. Or, it could include utility of the knowledge that Twitter, like Wikipedia, now ranks very well in Google’s search results.

Rocketboom’s Andrew Baron showed us this when he noted that only eight people ranked for "I got a call from eBay." Sure enough, there’s more to it than the one freak occurrence. At Shoemoney, AJ Vaynerchuk shows how well Twitter users’ personal brands ranked in Google’s search results. Twitter profiles appeared on the first page almost without fail. Tactic: Establish a brand on Twitter, a site with high trust (the creator is a Googler, by the way), and you could establish some visibility in the SERPs.

What good does that do you? None if you don’t have something to offer. But it could fall into the greater strategy of connecting with people and building relationships. The deeper, harder to crack usefulness of Twitter is via the oft theorized but little focused on concept of permission-based marketing. Twitter followers and followees are in your network by choice, and if you’ve earned it, they’ll listen.

"It also gives you some insight into who companies and bloggers are as people; their likes, their dislikes, their personalities," says Ms. Laycock. "This can be invaluable when it comes to putting together pitches and building relationships both inside and outside of your industry.”

In a small survey of online marketers done by SmallBizTrends, two social networks popped up most when asked which were the best for small businesses to use: Twitter and Facebook. That’s because they allow you to unobtrusively interact with your market to build relationships and trust within – and here’s the important part – your niche. You’ll see more and more niche-based networks pop up and those will be useful too, but in the meantime, there’s a good chance your niche is already hanging out at Twitter or Facebook or even LinkedIn.

Messages are short and to the point, which people like, and those same people have given you permission to interact with them. It doesn’t have to be a marketing message (besides, nobody likes a pitch they can smell), but a genuine relationship to build trust. Think carefully about trust: When buying a car, you’d be more likely to deal with the guy your dad has dealt with for 30 years than you would with the kid that just shook your hand on the lot, right? It works the same way. People are more likely to do business with people they are already familiar with.

And you don’t build that familiarity with on-message bombardments people are likely to ignore or resent. You build it by understanding them better and by helping them understand you better. Tweet to tell your audience about recent successes, about what happened on the way to dropping the kids off at school, about your thoughts on current events, about a really kick-butt blog post.

Really, that’s the best part about these sprouting one-to-many, permission-based communication channels: It’s your message on your terms. Just ask the Prime Minister of Britain, whose team has a Twitter account to deliver his messages without the media’s filter/translation/supposed bias. You can wax about whether you can trust anything coming out of a governmental office, but the idea makes a lot of sense. Others have used it for free giveaways and to answer customer questions.

Hopefully, this illustrates how businesses can use Twitter and other social networks in a meaningful, strategic way; hopefully, how you apply the knowledge will foster two-way, permission-based relationships, not marketer-versus-customer tactics. Remember that box you’re supposed to think outside of? Welcome to the outside.



WebProNews Staff

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  • Catfish

    Thanks for an insightful article about the value of Twitter.  Until you do it for a while it isn’t that apparent how powerful of a tool it really is.  And trying to explain that to others (like clients and co can be challenging.   This article does a nice job of helping to convey the message.

  • Guest

    :0)  Sorry, I always find it a bit amusing when people try to analyse this kind of thing – I’ve been using Twitter in exactly this way for months, I didn’t realise it was worthy of a socio-economic debate!

    I often sell something within hours of announcing it on my Twitter network, with a link to my Etsy shop. My Tweets are in my blog too and people go to my blog to see what I’ve been doing, so even if they are not linked to Twitter they can still see if I’m selling. I mean, everything you’ve written is true, and I do find statements like ‘what is the point of Twitter?’ annoying to some extent, especially when I have found it to be so beneficial to my business, networking-wise. Small business people will take up any new tool, and run with it, even Facebook –  this kind of taking it all apart seems to me to be pointing out the blindingly obvious…not meaning to sound rude or anything. :)

  • Guest

    Thanks for the timely and thoughtful post.

    And ditto to previous comments. It takes a bit of imagination and creativity to realize the potential of Twitter. I’ve been developing some ideas around”>how individuals and businesses can make the most of Twitter on my blog, TwitterThoughts.

  • Hyena Cialis

    Twitter ultimate reality will be likened to ffa or "free-for-all" links…

    Eventually more and more people will not read and see its
    contents anymore.

  • eFABE

    I feel embarrassed to admit this, but I have no idea what "Twitter" is or what it means in simple terms. 

    Please can someone tell me?

    Many thanks.


  • CSSteve

    I am assuming this 2nd article only exists because you were chewed out for writing an article that could be construed as negative about twitter. A little editorial pressure perhaps? Hehe, just a guess.

    For me the question isn’t so much what’s the purpose of twitter, it is who is it for? I have to ask who would find the reward in using it. I am thinking it is good for high school kids who want to text to everyone they know at once about a topic that is not time sensitive. Kind of a public "sound byte" diary. I can’t imagine busy professionals finding enough value in it to spend the time using it. I could be way off here but I can only consider the base word in twitter: TWIT.