Putting Twitter into Perspective

    July 16, 2009

Brett Tabke was among the speakers on the ‘Mega Panel’ at SMX Advanced this year. This session essentially consists of a panel of established industry experts fielding questions from the crowd of conference attendees. It never takes long in these type of sessions to get a feel for what’s on everybody’s mind. This year, to the surprise of exactly no one, it was all things social media and Twitter that dominating the Q & A.

I caught Brett Tabke, founder of WebmasterWorld, shortly after the session to get his take on some of the high points of the discussion. It looks like this social media thing is doing nothing but growing and it’s impact is being felt across the board in ways most of us never imagined.

Realtime Search:
Realtime search is one of the biggest concepts to talk about in terms of social media. Brett brought up the example of the French airliner that crashed in South America recently. Information about the incident was available instantly through Twitter.

Realtime SearchMore significantly, this information wasn’t simply in the form of Tweets about the crash, there was new content being created and linked to in Tweets. This new content, created on the fly and accessed in real time, wasn’t available through Google, Bing or Yahoo yet, but it was in Twitter.

The concept of content discovery in realtime hasn’t really been done (at least not very well) to this point. This is why you’ve been reading weekly rumors of this company or that company being interested in purchasing Twitter.

Social media marketing is entering a whole new level. Business interest in social media started out a lot like business interest started in blogs. When blogs were first coming into vogue, businesses were, for the most part, looking at blogging from a public relations/reputation management standpoint. Of course, as blogs became more and more prevalent businesses increasingly incorporated them into their marketing mix.

The same thing is happening with social media, just a little faster. Take a look at BestBuy and their ‘Twelpforce’ Twitter strategy. They have over 500 people signed up, scouring Twitter looking for folks with questions about plasma TVs and various gadgets.

Social media, particularly Twitter, is moving more and more out of the realm of the ‘optional’ for business. Managing your identity in social media is becoming just as important, if not more, than managing your .com domain. GoDaddy is even going ahead and registering your Twitter accounts along with your domains now.

Just like with your domains, if you aren’t ‘you’ then somebody else is apt to become ‘you’. Twitter registration has evolved to the point that account creation there is just another step in responsible brand management.

Evolution of Twitter:
TwitterNow that Twitter has become too big to be ignored and (for many) too important not to use, what comes next? Just as with anything else new on the web, it hasn’t taken spammers long to get into the mix. Spammers have hit Twitter like 7 year locusts. Anyone who has been using the service of a significant amount of time can tell you that the peddlers of porn, mortgage ‘deals’ and pharmaceuticals have arrived en force.

Twitter by nature is completely opt-in so you would think that the spammers would have a hard time with getting much done. Fortunately for the spammers however people are, by nature, just greedy.
The currency of Twitter is (for the most part) your follower count. Whether it’s to increase the effectiveness and reach of your tweets or just to stroke the ego, for many, the Twitter game is largely about growing the follower number.

This has given rise to countless "add 500 followers per day" schemes and mechanisms in order to game the system. The rationale being, if you find somebody with 3000 followers, you are apt to think, "hey, this guy must have something cool to say". It’s logical enough but unfortunately not necessarily the case.

So, how can you tell if somebody is worth following? That’s a question a lot of people are asking. What is authority? How can you tell if someone is an authority? How do you know the person you are following is even who they claim to be?

Twitter has started verifying accounts for some of the A list set. Celebrities are finding their way onto Twitter in increasing numbers. Prompted in large part by a lawsuit filed by Tony LaRussa, Twitter has started a program of verifying the accounts of celebrities. It’s a step in the right direction which will likely make it’s way from celebrities to businesses soon enough but it’s really just a start. TwellowWhat if you want to find twitter people to follow within niche industries, or within your local area? 

Finding people to follow is easy enough. We have Twellow and Twellowhood (shameless plug alert) just in the way of examples of sites you can use to find interesting people. How do you tell who is worth following though once you’ve found them?

Brett and I talked about this a bit in the interview. We are starting to see some sites and services pop up to ‘grade’ Twitterers in an attempt to assign some sort of authority or rank to accounts.  Sound familiar? It should. This is essentially what search engines have spent years trying to figure out for websites.

Personally, I think there is something a little unsettling about the concept of having rank or some arbitrary authority assigned to Twitter accounts, but I suppose it’s probably inevitable to some extent. You can check Klout.net for an example of such a service. Here you will find an algorithmic number value assigned to Twitter accounts.  The ingredients and factors of the algo are (of course) secretive and mysterious, but we’re all used to that by now aren’t we?

So in some regards, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. There’s still a lot of ground to cover with this whole social/Twitter thing.  Remember search? How many search engines did we go through before we got Google? How many Google-killers have come and gone since then?

Social Media is still an area very much in it’s development. There will no doubt be plenty of twists and turns as we move along. However, there is one thing you can absolutely take to the bank: if aren’t in it, you need to get there. For better or worse, "wait and see" strategists have no place in this world.