FTW Media

Thoughts about New/Social Media

Alright you primitive corporate Twitterers, listen up!

with 2 comments


As sure as spam follows mail, so will PR and Marketing follow the hype that is Twitter. “Let’s get on it,” I can hear the media planners say. “It’s what the cool kids are doing these days. Let’s make up new innovative ways of communicating our products and services to our target demographic, bla bla bla”

A couple of weeks back, on my debut — and hopefully not final– appearance for netV@lue’s Week In Tech (WIT), writer Aishah Mustapha and I talked about how corporations and Big Media would adapt Twitter into its communications strategy. I gave it a skeptical six months before they truly understood how to use it, mostly because I imagine it to be proposed and run by a bunch of 30-something corporate hacks who think that Facebook is still the cool bananas.

Though Twitter can be described as a “micro-blogging” service, it goes much deeper than that. When I first signed up in 2006 (thanks, Sarah), it took me a good few months to understand what the medium can do. So before any corporates wish to kick-start a social media marketing campaign (*cringe*) using such cool-kid tools like Twitter, consider the following points:

1. Understand the medium before the message.

A colleague of mine asked me if Marshall McLuhan‘s theory of “the medium is the message” still applies to Twitter. Of course it does. For those unfamiliar with McLuhan’s theory, here it is: “The form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” My simplistic (media theorists, don’t crucify me) is this: the nature of the medium determines the nature of the content delivered through the medium.

In the same way a blog isn’t a blog until it contains dynamic elements of links and other rich media — otherwise it’s no different than a static printed page — so is a Twitter post without its defining elements that make it a unique medium. Though Twitter is part of digital media, it behaves very differently than a blog does. Calling it a “micro-blogging” platform is largely inaccurate, even though it did start off as a “I ate a cheese sammich” concept.

Consider the following: Blog posts come in long and relatively well-thought out, while Twitter posts are fast and instinctual (“I found a parking space! w00t!”). Via retweeting, virality of links spread fast. #tags work on a much more collaborative nature than blog tags. A blog can’t “@other people”.

Most corporate late adopters would go through a similar learning curve: First, they’ll think of it as a micro-blog — communicating on a one-to-many level with their audience, only now, it’s 140 characters or less. This leads to bad, though well-followed examples like the NYT (which treats it as an RSS feed),  and Britney Spears (who twitters in occasionaly about her shopping experiences with her kids). Bah.

To som: A Twitter account is not a blog. It’s not an RSS feed. It’s a different medium. Focus on putting out content tailored to the medium’s uniqueness.

2. Have a personality

Don’t let PR/Comms folk come up a social media plan that includes “setting up a twitter account” without revealing what they’ll do with it. Chances are that they won’t know how to work it beyond spewing out press releases, product launches, and self-linking. Boring.

One great example is how the Chicago Tribune works its twitter account (@ColonelTribune) — though several people are working the account, the tweets come out as a single voice. Don’t be stiff, get with the lingo: retweet your follower’s links and opinions, use #tags to highlight a topic, get in on the #followfriday train, etc. That way, you won’t look like a noob. Also, a simple “thank you for the follow” note goes a long way in making a follower feel appreciated and involved with someone rather than something.

3. It’s not all about you, stupid.

Aside from developing a personality, be a pal to your followers: throw out links to other sites that are relevant to your business–if you’re a bookstore, link it out to book reviews on The Guardian; if you sell vintage clothes, link out to your fashion-trend blogs; if you’re a business paper, link out to Marketwatch and WSJ. Whatever you find relevant, your audience probably will to. Don’t treat a Twitter account as an RSS feed for your website’s latest updates.

4. Go beyond the character limit.

While it’s great to pump out 40 tweets a day, you need to think beyond the character limit. Already, local twitterers have gone on to organise the first KL Tweetup, but there’s no need to wait for an “official” gathering of twitter followers. The large and growing number of local Twitterers have made it possible to organise these mini-tweetups, that are attended by more than two single dudes angling for @sweetcaroline21 to turn up at the party. (and then proceeding to get drunk and tweet out “crap. Sausage fest again. =( “)

5. Innovate the marketing campaigns.

Recently a bunch of us (@joonian, @limyh, @kathiasya and myself, @johnlim) paid a visit to the Cziplee bookstore in Bangsar. “Hey, we’re going down to @cziplee later” we tweeted, and we got a reply back instantly: “Come on down @joonian, @joonian, @limyh, @kathiasya @johnlim !”. We headed down and introduced ourselves by our twitter handle to @cziplee. Great, if not incredibly and embarrassingly geeky.

The thing that struck Lim was how it could’ve been so much better if, besides the instant acknowledgment, it could be used as a promotional tool. For small and medium businesses, it’s not impossible to run mini-promos like “Hey, the first 20 people to DM us will get a 20% discount”, or “The first person to DM the answer to this question will get something for free”–it’s not anything new, but it’s something I haven’t seen yet.

For those of you who are veteran tweeters, these tips may sound horribly dumb to you–but be assured that there are plenty out there who are just getting a handle on this. Through this post, I can only hope that there won’t be major suckage on the Twitterverse when the marketing guys start hopping on.


Written by John Lim

April 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Social Media

2 Responses

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  1. Hey John, love your thoughts. I’ve got to add though, that the reason Facebook is still cool beans for marketers today is because it’s barely at the point where it’s making it into the mass audience. Just like how blogs became cool beans to most marketers only last year. Twitter is still highly niche for the tech industry, and for the few in the know. It’s not going to generate 5,000 views let alone the 100,000s big media usually spins.

    Also, whilst the monetary investment to twitter might seem small, in order for the marketing manager to convince his boss that Twitter is worth hiring one more headcount to do, he’s got to invest a lot of his own time into it. Plus, returns might take months to materialise. It’s usually easier for the marketing manager to just sign off on a big media deal. Saves him a lot of time. Of course, one day, it’ll possibly be such that you might have a guy in the office that’s the Twitter Manager.

    I’m not saying times aren’t changing, but just to point out why the mass marketers are slow behind the curve.


    April 7, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    • Hey David! It’s great to read some insights as to why the machinery is slow at adapting to new social mediums. I’m rooting for the corporations to hop aboard–just hope that they do it right sooner rather than later. It’s my hope too that media planners would incorporate social media into their metrics so that its impact can be measured quantifiably, but from what I can see so far in Malaysia, there’s been little or no progress on that area.

      Or is there?

      John Lim

      April 8, 2009 at 3:29 pm

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