Twitter, the 140-character social media network, part news ticker, part party line, part celebrity cage match, and part message forwarding service, confounds as many brands on its tenth birthday as it did when it first sprang on the scene.
Its skyrocketing awareness, intense exchanges, time sensitive use patterns, and regular intrusion into the global news cycle keep us guessing about if, how, or when to embrace Twitter as a commercial channel. With 350 million unique users a month, Twitter works like talk radio. A minority drives the conversation while the majority watches and listens but doesn’t actively participate. Twitter embodies a basic human voyeuristic curiosity — FOMO. Millions don’t want to miss what’s happening.
The hashtag convention (#subject), Twitter’s unique contribution to social technology and culture, makes it easy to find and participate in any conversation. Hashtags have become a cultural meme; radar blips for monitoring conversations, scouting trends, and policing brand reputations. Hashtags make it easy to follow or participate in broad public conversations on a block, neighborhood, local, national, or global scale.
In ten years, Twitter has established seven key roles for itself.
News Ticker. Twitter is a news source, a barometer of reactions to breaking news, and a news distribution channel. Twitter is effectively a participatory global news ticker. People routinely tweet eyewitness accounts, videos, and images of breaking stories, often before traditional news outlets.
Significant volumes of tweets are about news stories, cultural debates, and industry or business issues. One in four includes a link to either the original story or to other content that complements, enhances, disputes, or counterattacks the topics at hand.
Political Megaphone. But Twitter gives political activists a way to work around government censorship and a somewhat tamper-proof communications tool to contact and rally followers or supporters.
It has become the go-to medium for Presidential candidates to punch and counterpunch and for advocates to telegraph their moves, reply to accusations, or rally support.
Event Companion. Twitter is a real-time, side-by-side, simultaneous group experience for live, broadcast, streaming, or recorded events. Who can forget Oreo’s famous “dunk in the dark” Super Bowl tweet, or Ellen Degeneres’ Oscar selfie? On Twitter participants, viewers, and wannabes comment, react, critique, free associate, embellish, or add complementary or contradictory information in the moment. Twitter expands the audience and amplifies events.
New research from Canvus suggests that when Twitter users are simultaneously watching TV and see or express strong emotions about the content of a show, ad recall increases. When a high percentage of tweets contain emotional words and reactions, viewers are 40% more likely to recall an ad in the show. Those actively monitoring Twitter during a show increased recall by 62 percent and those creating emotional tweets are three times more likely to recall ads. So, in theory, Twitter enhances TV viewing and improves advertising effectiveness.
Celebrity Promotion Platform. Everyone from the Pope to porn stars promote on Twitter. Movies, books, music, theater, TV, and gossip are routinely featured alongside celebrity shout-outs and slugfests.
Early Warning Radar. Twitter enables brands to assess social sentiment, establish benchmarks, follow or prompt viral transmissions, and measure market or message penetration and relevance. Many brands check the impact or resonance of TV commercials or important promotions by looking for reactions on Twitter.
Coupon Distributor. A third of registered Twitter users signed up to get deals and discounts. Brands regularly tweet coupons and discount codes. Others offer sneak previews or limited-time and exclusive access to new merchandise or discounted pricing.
Customer Service Channel. Twitter enables real-time praise and complaints as well as a channel to address and respond to either. Brands are engaging and monitoring the flow of positive and negative opinion, responding to operational or performance problems, recruiting new personnel, and engaging customer issues with credit, shipping, returns, and merchandise.
The implications of these seven dominant uses of Twitter are:
Be Prepared. Anticipate the conversations related to your brand. Prepare and pre-clear copy, images, video, and links to jump into the fray at the right moment. Twitter moves fast and the complexion of conversations can change in a nanosecond. You have to be ready, have a plan, and have a skilled community manager in place.
Monitor the Channel. Monitor conversations and subjects likely to affect your brand or offering a logical opening to associate your brand with an ongoing topic. Know when to hold and when to commit. Sentiment and intensity should guide you. Don’t get caught up in the emotion of the moment or get baited into a compromising response.
Pick Your Shots. Understand what conversations your brand can reasonably connect to. Stay close to how consumers have sorted or perceived your brand. Your tweets must be relevant in the moment and reflect the sensibilities of the people following it. This requires advance rules of engagement and clear guidelines on language, attitude, and brand posture. It’s easy to get dragged into an uncomfortable rant, to draw big volumes of negative and pile-on attention, or to be perceived as flat-footed and out of it.
Twitter empowers brands to harness immediacy, connectivity, and the sharing instinct. It encourages brands to find and engage active talkers and sharers in service to brand awareness, preference, and purchase intent. At ten, brands need to understand the channel and allocate time and resources to optimize Twitter’s value.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.