Tweets Are for the Birds

by , Jun 19, 2009, 7:00 AM
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Whenever I read anything about Twitter, I think of the off-Broadway show Little Shop of Horrors about a skid row floral shop whose hybrid Venus flytrap grows ever larger by eating people. Twitter had approximately 17 million unique U.S.-based visitors in April, and about 24 million worldwide, according to Nielsen. Its number of users is said to have grown by more than a thousand percent over the last year. It's too bad Twitter doesn't trade on an exchange somewhere -- it would be selling at a multiple of about 200, an extraordinary accomplishment given that it has no earnings to multiply.

Some say Twitter is gradually evolving as a valuable source of information crediting Twitterers with breaking the news of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and pix of the Hudson River landing of the US Air flight. Iranians (in between beatings, of course) are turning to Twitter to get the word out about their activities and the government's response in the current election dustup.

Some companies like Dell claim to be making sales based on promotional Twitters, and both Land Rover and Volvo have executed promotional campaigns. Among the many companies that now monitor Tweets for mentions of their products and services, Starbucks and Amazon apparently have quickly responded to tweets and fixed problems that could have become viral. Under the different business models Twitter is beta testing, businesses should soon be able to advertise directly to the Twitter community. Oh, joy.

Just this week, Dan Zarrella -- who describes himself as "a social, search, and viral marketing scientist with a background in web development who combines his programming capabilities with a passion for social marketing" -- launched a beta test of a service to build psychological profiles of people based on the content of their Tweets.

I just hope he doesn't track the folks whose Tweets I follow -- he might proclaim them all brain dead. One guy tells me every time he runs, bikes or swims. Compelling stuff -- if I were his mom or his coach. But I am neither. Another complains about his air travel experience. Join the crowd, my friend. Lots of them point me to stuff that they have written elsewhere that I guess they think I either can't find on my own or they are doing a little extra traffic-building. Often I see only half of a conversation, and I have to deduce what in the hell my guy was talking about with the other guy. And gosh, I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am when someone reports in that he is off to somewhere restful for the weekend. Or that they found a cool new place for burgers.

Gotta be honest with you, I see the day coming when everyone gets over it and Twitter is abandoned faster than those millions upon million of personal blogs and Facebook pages that lay perpetually dormant. There are just too many other more important uses of my time in a day than to keep up with Tweets, the majority of which are unworthy of the attention they require to keep up with.

If you make the mistake of turning on the updates to your cell phone and don't have an unlimited text plan, you will be in for one UGLY surprise on your next phone bill.

Finally, the ultimate proof that Twitter doesn't work: the day that my little league team played in the first round of the season-ending tournament, I sent out a note to my Twitter followers to think positive thoughts for victory, and don't you know we lost to a lower-ranked team and our season ended. Clearly Karma doesn't travel over Tweets.

0 comments on "Tweets Are for the Birds".

  1. Lucretia Pruitt from Social Media Matters
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 8 a.m.

    "I just hope he doesn't track the folks whose Tweets I follow -- he might proclaim them all brain dead."

    Why in heaven's name do you follow such boring people?
    Or is this supposed to be funny in some sort of sarcastic way?

  2. Alan Stamm
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 8:29 a.m.

    Once again, George, I nod in agreement, admire most of your writing style . . . but wince at an off-key note that's jarring even for "a lighthearted look" column.

    Events unfolding in Iran are still too fresh, too fluid and too deadly for a tone of whimsy that implies "Oh, those wacky Iranians are at it again."

    Call me a curmudgeon (oh, right -- you already did), but this just sounds w-r-o-n-g:
    "Iranians (in between beatings, of course) are turning to Twitter to get the word out about their activities and the government's response in the current election dustup."

    Dustup? Eight deaths, at least, and you crack wise?

    Over the Line, indeed.

  3. Mike Spring from Voice Coaches
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 9:06 a.m.

    I often wonder why writers complain about people who tweet about going out to eat or what movie they're seeing. "As if I care!" the naysayers shout! Okay, but, umm... last time I checked, you were VOLUNTARILY following that person. If you don't like someone's tweets or find them inane or boring, there's a simple solution: STOP FOLLOWING THEM! "Man, I don't like all the shows NBC airs on Tuesday nights! Why would I care about this programming?" Just change the channel, dude.

  4. Kit Kiefer from Delta Dental of Wisconsin
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 9:19 a.m.

    Despite all the buzz, Twitter strikes me as being the online equivalent of Monty Python's Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things. At some point the members in Staffordshire are going to decide the whole thing's a bit silly, we'll all go, "Right -- meeting adjourned forever," and we'll all be on our way, truly none the wiser.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 9:58 a.m.

    I am a techno idiot, so if you could clear up the following: It seems that it is not the twitting itself that have transferred the stories around the world so quickly, but the technological ability. At one time, email was considered the next great communicator.

  6. Am D from AMD Research & Marketing LLC
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 10:38 a.m.

    Interesting you should find it non-essential communicationin the future. As a business person the "Tweet" information has been valuable. There are articles I would have never found, I am now communicating with people from allover the wolrd and reading articles about our parallel businesses and getting ideas form them that I would not have normally seen AND they are good ideas. Reevaluate your opinion - better yet, delete those you are following and look for content and do not follow pople you feel "are not worthy" of your time.

  7. Oliver t. Hellriegel from digi:Marketing
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 11:41 a.m.

    I think you got something wrong. It's not about companies using Twitter as "just another media channel" to advertise stuff.
    It's about the people that use Twitter for their conversations (remember - it's called SOCIAL marketing). As such it is important for brands to listen and learn.

    Besides - Alan is right, when saying your comments on Iranians are over the line.

    If everything you read is that boring, just sign off or delete your account and leave Twitter to the people that see some value in it. Not that I believe Twitter will be the "master tool" in communications or advertising in future, but it certainly changes the way people communicate and that's why marketers should pay attention.

  8. Holly Hoffman from E W Scripps
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 12:09 p.m.

    Wow, this sounds really ignorant. You're joining the host of my advertisers who say (as if they are the first to have sneered it), "I don't care what someone had for lunch." These are the ones who don't get it. And you, sir, don't get it.

    Digital small talk is relevant. "Small talk, in a sense, is giving—giving advice, giving your ideas, giving your time. Ok, much of it is just chatter on Twitter and Facebook. But at its best small talk can build bridges and strengthen relationships, something most companies desperately need."

    Read up a little: http://www.mpdailyfix.com/2009/06/this_week_i_came_across.html.

    Then decide if you want to join the curmudgeony rank & file, or if you want to see how listening to & engaging in conversations of user & consumer experience is critical to companies. And it's not going away. Sorry.

  9. Luke Mcdonough from AirMedia
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 2:24 p.m.

    I agree with this premise. The contrarian comments here, in support of twitter as a business, reflect the arguments i hear elsewhere, and they are not compelling: "...see how listening to & engaging in conversations of user & consumer experience is critical to companies." How is Twitter "critical" to any business on earth? How has it ever been? I have read the "dell sold a couple million" worth of gear through a twitter promo stories, and the other PR stunts that a few marketers have done...this is critical? I think companies are right to pay attention to twitter for feedback, as in the starbuck's example, but how does twitter make that a business? How do you charge for following tweets without killing twitter? There seems to be a population of digerati that passionately assume and argue that anything on the web that gets big fast is by definition "important" and that anyone who says it might not be, "does not get it." Well I "did not get" geocities or broadcast.com as "businesses" ie: Profitable enterprises...and I do not now "get" Twitter as a profitable, independent enterprise of major importance...same goes for youtube, (which as far as i can tell = free co-lo), nor facebook, which is definitely important and will likely become a profitable business, but the current hysteria over its valuation and "web-revolutionizing, microsoft-killing, platform-dominating" future seem to be all out of proportion with reality. All businesse are nothing more than science projects until they turn a profit. That is the only test that matters, and none of these guys are even in the game yet.

  10. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 5:35 p.m.

    Love it or hate it, one thing is for sure: any post that contains the word "Twitter" in its title will generate a ton of responses, from both sides of the aisle. Twitter certainly has created buzz (and polarization). As an observer, it is at least as much fun to follow the conversation as it is to prognosticate the future of Twitter.

  11. Jim Gallant from LIcensed to Write
    commented on: June 19, 2009 at 6:07 p.m.

    George, right on. Hilarious article.
    Your comment about the Iranians is less a slap at those poor people -- who other than the Revolutionary Guard are in favor of "the beatings" -- than the media who have fallen over themselves to tout Twitter since bored legislators tweeted during Obama's first national address.
    Twitter is tremendously useful to some people, and I think the Starbucks example is spot on.
    But those who think it's as important as the telephone, brace yourself. It just may be the next MySpace.

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