What do you do when you build a strategy around something that won’t work?
Twitter is getting a lot of buzz, but there are also recent reports indicating that it isn’t getting return users. That’s led some to suggest that Twitter’s future is limited.
I smile when I see people who believe Twitter will magically generate a community – a real community with meaningful conversation, stave off newspapers dying of attrition, or let a politician to show his or her real side to his or her constituents. Twitter: the magic pill that solves all of your problems.
Here’s the problem: People are looking at Twitter as a tool unto itself. Twitter’s usefulness is being driven by a number of extensions, widgets, websites, and other programs that make the system easier to use. Twitter The Website simply won’t be useful to tens of millions of people. Even augmented by all of these utilities, Twitter will struggle to be useful once its fad phase is over.
It’s simply a chat room without walls. You select who you want to private message. You sort through the noise to hear them back. Following is just how you select who you’re exchanging private messages with. Except that you don’t private message. You write an endless stream of thoughts that are posted to the world to see and hope that people find you interesting enough to subscribe to your brain’s witty thoughts or to the articles that you promote. (If not, you’re talking to yourself.)
Sure, I use Twitter. You can see the recent updates in the Lifestream on the side of the front page. If you peruse my whole history of tweets, you’ll see a lot of junk in there. Some of it is idle chatter and noise simply because I hadn’t posted in a few hours. (How sad is that?) The truth is I’m continuing to play with Twitter the same way I’m playing with accounts on Flickr, Goodreads, and Digg. Each network specializes in something – they each have their own niche. And none will be the single solution. You’ve got to learn to drive each one.
These sites work best when you break down the illusion that you do everything on one network. In my job, I’ve seen our success where we’ve broken down the imaginary walls that divide social networks into individual rooms. Otherwise you’re trapped in a room where there may be nobody to listen.
It’s frustrating to build a room – or a profile – that you spend a lot of time developing, but that can’t a solution. Don’t look for a lasting audience on a site with so many people who don’t come back.
So we’re in a time of iEverything where we broadcast our every thought on Facebook and Twitter. Stake out your spot and move with the tribe.
But is it really best to run from Room to Room – or network to network – in an attempt to stay current with what’s cool? Isn’t it better to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each network and make that part of your strategy? (Note: a “Facebook Strategy” is more than “we should do that” just as a “Twitter Strategy” is more than “OMG can I Twitter all day!”)
Isn’t it better to use the real-time broadcast capability of Twitter, the scale of Facebook, and the embedding capability (and brand name) of YouTube when communicating? Only by breaking down the walls of these networks, can we use their full capability to communicate as widely as possible. Think of the sites as real world infrastructure sites. You’re taking on big infrastructure upkeep costs if you don’t want to be seen as an absentee landlord.
MySpace will continue to hold avid users, but will it be worth your time and effort to dedicate the resources needed to have a vibrant presence in that network? (Would you remain in Friendster if you had joined it in 2002?) Shutting down – or significantly scaling back – in these networks can alienate dedicated users. Don’t tell me that it’s expected to lose some people, and that you’re OK with it. You joined these networks to chase these people – you’re not OK with getting them angry at you.
Whatever you build or whatever you join isn’t a magic bullet. They offer something – even if it’s a unique way to connect to your audience. Figure out what that unique strength is, and incorporate your strategy around that. Jump on the new opportunities quickly, but know that you’re leaping at the capability and not the shiny toy.
Shiny toys are tossed aside when the next cool thing comes along. And in such a rapid environment, the next cool thing will be out before you build a big following in the old thing. Watch the Did You Know video as a reminder of the speed of change. (Then, think about how much that video reminds you of Sprint’s new What’s Happening commercials.
Now, think about how both videos reflect on individuals and what you’re doing right now. That’s kind of what Twitter’s about. What are you doing to use the things happening now in your communications?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing for web, broadcast spots, or print – or whether you’re delivering a speech, leading a meeting, or writing a release. You’ve got to keep in mind the main rule.
Whatever fascinating message you’ve delivering, it will fall on deaf ears if you don’t say it the right way.
Think about your audience – what messages and values will resonate with them – before you draft your copy. But make the audience test part of your editing – just as you check for grammar and precise wording.
Communicators are leaders – at least the good ones are. Keep Melissa Raffoni’s suggestions in mind.
Just wanted to take minute to clarify this post from earlier this week.
I think social networking is a wonderful and entertaining tool to get in closer contact with people. I’ve personally learned about so many people who now have children, homes, and spouses that I wouldn’t have known about before – people who I had lost touch with years ago. I’m really happy for them, and it’s great to get that chance to catch up with people who had inadvertently fallen from my list of colleagues.
Just as I can get more done with a word processor than hand writing everything, I expect programs can help me know a bit more about a larger number of people. But I don’t think I’ll truly know hundreds of people – I think I’ll have trivia about most of their lives.
The larger point behind that entry is that social networking is an interest for some people in the same way that I have a passionate interest in genealogy. Some folks will be really connected and plugged in to the newest sites. They’ll move on when too many other people join the site and it loses its hipness. And if they’re not coming back, were they truly engaged with – and listening to – your message? Or were you just playing in the right medium for a few months?
It’s a question for a communications professional who believes social networking is The Solution. It might only be one tool to get one segment of people. It’s a service – not a strategy.