How much does Twitter really matter ?

Twitter - Dangerous for a brand's health

I like Twitter – really, I do – it’s one of the best ways i can think of to lose a couple of hours amongst a world of interesting links. And I’m a strong supporter of using Twitter as a customer service channel – we actively advocate monitoring and responding to users who are using it as a brand contact platform. The are I question is whether or not it should be used by brands as an active “campaign” channel – as a space to “reach” customers with brand messages.

It would seem that it is significantly easier to “Fail” in Twitter than in any other social media space. Looking at the Top 10 Social Media Fail lists from last year (eConsultancy, eModeration, etc.) , Twitter dominates as the platform for brands, politicians and celebrities making mistakes. The media is featuring yet again at the moment, this time it’s McDonalds in for a hiding for daring to run a campaign about the quality of their produce.  It must be a big story, because it’s in the SMH, not just the marketing press.

So are these massive stuff-ups (as reported by the media) really that massive, and should marketers who get Twitter wrong be black-listed for ever more ?

On the face of it, no. Twitter has around 1.8m Australian users, according to Nielsen in August 2011, or Social Media News’ December 2011 report. The AIMIA Sensis social media report from May 2011 puts Twitter penetration at 8% compared to Facebook at 97%.  That’s pretty small in terms of reach –  Bubble O’Bill’s got 1.15m fans on Facebook all on it’s own. Add to that the timeline nature of Twitter, where if you follow any decent amount of people, stuff flashes by pretty quickly, and at best you’re dipping into and out of the river of news. So how come there are so many examples of Twitter failures ? Surely it can’t be that much harder than Facebook or YouTube ?

It’s all because Twitter is public, it’s easy to search and it’s open. Slow news day ? Have a look at Twitter – someone’s definitely doing something stupid, it’s just a matter of doing a few searches to find it. It’s the journalists new best friend because it’s pretty easy to turn 5 tweets into a “bad news for the brand” story and run with it. There may be a massive backlash happening against a brand on it’s Facebook page, in front of hundreds of thousands of fans, but it’s never picked up because it’s too hard to find the needle in the haystack.

It’s also uncontrollable for brands – if you’ve got a campaign that’s being poorly received on your website, on your Facebook page, even as banners, you can quickly pull the ads or respond to each any every negative post and settle it all down. In Twitter, all you can do is Tweet back and doing that too many times is not a good look. Added to that,  a quick search on the hashtag brings up your public mistake forever more.

And for brands, that’s why Twitter matters. Far more from a negative perspective than from a positive one. As McDonald’s said, the negative tweets were only 2% of the total tweet volume and the overall reach of that negativity probably very small, but the ease with which journalists can exploit Twitter for an easy brand beat-up means it’s somewhere to tread very carefully indeed. Unfortunately, it’s all bad news – thousands of people all extolling the virtues of your brand and their personal experience won’t catch any journo’s eye, but a few witty negative comments against a campaign hashtag makes for easy column inches in the marketing and technology sections of sites with much broader reach.

So until we can get journalists in “reputable” publications to stop publishing these Twitter derived non-stories that are the equivalent of a few friends gossiping at a bus-stop, we’ll keep seeing brands and marketers getting thrashed in public by people expressing negative opinions about their products.And until that point, consider very carefully the value added vs the risk of “campaigning” in Twitter.

Do you think it’s worth the risk ? Should you run campaigns on Twitter when you know there’s negativity about your product out there, or should you stay in the relatively un-journalist-infested waters of Facebook and LinkedIn. Let me know what you think…

Mike Zeederberg
Mike Zeederberg
Mike Zeederberg is the Managing Director and joint owner of Zuni and oversees the development and delivery of most client strategic work.

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1 Comment

  1. Holly Galbraith

    I think they normally pin out the ‘big brands’ rather than the small to medium sized so I think most of us are safe – plus most people forget about mishaps pretty quickly. One thing I love about Twitter is that ability for smaller players to join a pretty even plating field with the big guys. Twitter is here to stay for me!!

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