I’ve given Twitter an honest effort, and am finally prepared to pass judgment: it’s ineffective for some people, and utterly useless for the preponderance of the population. Here’s why:
Time Suck 2.0
I can hear the cries now: “But there are some real gems posted on Twitter!” Sure there are, but how much detritus did you have to wade through to find those diamonds? For every compelling insight from a business leader or truly witty nugget in Exhibit A, Exhibit B has 7,423 cat-related tweets, 19,743 tweets about what someone ate for breakfast, 954,235 tweets lamenting Monday and/or celebrating Friday, and 6,278 tweets that are so deeply encoded with tweet-speak that no human actually understands them (#RT @patgrayjr #lol #failwhale http://a.b.cd.efg.net.com.is.not.so.gd/hHjh34x).
While you can certainly find an occasional needle in a haystack, I’d rather just pull one from a sewing kit.
The “great man” theory of the Internet
When I started on twitter I followed the Twitter 101 textbook, and listened to all the breathless admonishments that “you simply must follow [Guy Kawasaki/Jeff Pulver/Laura Fitton/Robert Scoble/twitter celeb du jour]!” While I enjoy reading articles and commentary from some of these folks, 160 character insights into every aspect of their life, delivered with an annoying beep or pop-up window every 6.34 seconds gets old really fast. Do I want to read an insightful article about effective presentations from one of these folks? Sure. Do I want to hear about the author’s bowel movements? Not so much.
But your customers are out there!
Most of us have been told our customers are lurking on twitter, dying to interact with the makers of their toothbrushes, autos, and favorite ice cream. “Get on twitter, and you’ll get a great view of your customers,” the pundits say. The problem is that twitter gives you a narrow, self-selected demographic. If the only customers you care about are young, tech-savvy, moderate to high wealth individuals who are obsessive, bored, or deranged enough to interact with you constantly, by all means, do your customer research on twitter. You’ll get a skewed and outlier view (funny how everyone on twitter is really mad, or really excited about nearly everything), but it’s worth about what you paid for it.
Where twitter can be powerful is pushing out promotions, early news about your company and products, or other “broadcast” style communications, but as a tool for market research and customer interaction, realize you’re working with a very narrow base.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t retweet at all
In addition to wading through cat tweets, the retweet feature further reduces twitter’s questionable value. Essentially, retweeting is just passing along the work of someone else, creating an electronic echo chamber that soon drowns out any semblance of value.
Why the twitteratti are so interested in making other people look smart eludes me, but in effect, by retweeting someone else’s work that’s all you’re doing. If you don’t have something original or compelling to say, silence may be far more golden than shining the spotlight on others.
So, should I care about twitter at all?
At the risk of sounding like a total curmudgeon, I won’t harp on the other entropy created by twitter, from the (thankfully dying) trend of “live tweeting” meetings and conferences, to that friend who can’t pry themselves away from diddling a digital device rather than participating in a live conversation. So is there any value to twitter?
If you’re shilling products, or what the cool kids call a “content creator,” twitter is one more channel to promote your stuff. Use it to push high-value content, and it may shine up your brand, or perhaps even entice someone to do business with you, but twitter is certainly not a business strategy (unless you’re a “social media consultant” who makes money tweeting all day, trying to convince companies to spend more time on twitter), and shouldn’t consume more than 3% of your day.
It may also fill some deep-rooted void with the illusory “personal connection” of following a famous CEO or celebrity, and if you want a twitter hobby in your spare time, be my guest. Just don’t kid yourself that those 6 hours you spent twiddling are any better than if they had been invested watching The Real Housewives of Peoria.
Now to go tweet about what I had for breakfast…