Why the Fortune 100 Is The Land Of The Tepid Tweeters

Sorry to break it to you, Fortune 100, but when it comes to Twitter, most of you really, really suck.

That's the primary takeaway from a study just released by Weber Shandwick showing that while many of you may tweet a good game, the vast majority of you may think you do, but you don't. Seveny-three percent of you have a Twitter account -- in fact, among that 73%, there are 540 Twitter accounts; however, 76% of Fortune 100 tweeters don't tweet much, and 52% are not what Weber defines as actively engaged.

Fifty percent had less than the 500 followers, which is even much less than a certain Social Media Insider I could name. Fifteen percent were completely inactive, with Twitter accounts acting either as place-holders -- so that some rogue tweeter wouldn't get to a corporate name first -- or simply abandoned after a particular promotion had run its course. (Fine friends those accounts make; sure, just drop the tweeting once your needs are no longer being served!)

No wonder Weber is calling for big business to have, as the report is called, a "Twittervention."

What is to account for all this tepid tweeting? Looking at the data more closely, it seems that most corporations, used to communications by PR or ad blast, don't understand a central tenet of social media: it's a conversation, stupid. More than three-quarters of corporations surveyed had 500 tweets or less -- though a particularly chatty 1% had more than 10,000.

I'd love more detail about that data, such as how long the Twitter accounts have been active; it would be better to analyze tweet data within the context of individual accounts. However, one thing should be clear: conducting social media as a conversation automatically leads to more tweets, so the number of tweets is an obvious indicator of whether the account is being used to converse.

I'd also speculate that the people running the active accounts are the same people who have a relatively unfettered ability to tweet. It's pretty hard to have a conversation when there's a CMO looking over one's shoulder and a lawyer looking over the other. Not surprisingly, many companies aren't willing to give their employees that degree of freedom.

Yet more evidence that many big corporations don't know how to converse in social media: the Weber data says that slightly more than half of Fortune 100 tweeters are bbbbooooorrrrriiiing. Fifty-three percent "did not display personality, tone or voice." The good news is that roughly a third did.

So, corporations need to learn how to turn marketing communications into marketing conversations. We may have known that already, but it's always a help when someone puts data around our gut feelings. The next question: Where does it go from here?

I wish the simple answer was that the tepid corporate tweeters could take a few social media courses, and suddenly, they would become the kind of Twit-izens that gain followers, brand advocates and essential learnings. But it's not that easy.

The deceptive thing about Twitter, and other social media tools, is that they actually have two learning curves, something I've become much more aware of lately as I've started to conduct workshops in social media. The first learning curve is easy, and logistical: becoming educated about followers, hashtags, retweets, how to create an account, whom to follow, and so forth. The second learning curve is much, much harder: that one is concerned with how to conduct oneself, and especially one's company business, in a social media environment. With individuals, it's still fairly easy to explain that you should act in social media as you do in any social situation, like a cocktail party. Most of us wouldn't have the temerity to start handing out business cards the moment we walked into a mixer.

But, historically, corporations haven't been invited to parties. Thus, for most of them, turning communications into conversations is a much, much harder concept to grasp. Cheers.

(P.S. OMMA Social SF is coming along sooner than any of us realize. If you've got panel ideas, or want to submit a speaker proposal, either get in touch with me directly or click here.)

9 comments about "Why the Fortune 100 Is The Land Of The Tepid Tweeters".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, November 18, 2009 at 3:55 p.m.

    I will say this for the 3 millionth time. Twitter is clutter. Not saying it will remain so but it is today. If a brand can get someone to actually visit their Twitter Account page regularly then Bingo! We have a winner. But don't they already have a website? I follow 58 accounts and only have time to read maybe 10% of the 400+ tweets I get per day. So if I follow 200 accounts I would be getting 1500 tweets per day. What if I followed a 1000? So why should a Brand or Fortune 1000 company focus on tweeting if it goes into empty space? And for the brands I do follow including the infamous Zappo's many tweets are drivel or spam, which you did cover. Shame on the Tweeters not Twitter for that. And Tweeting more compounds the problem. I know it is free so any ROI is massive. But getting through and being seen is very hard right now. And the fact that you can pay to have 1,000's of followers instantly or for buzz degrades the value of the site (shame on USocial). That all said Fortune 1000 companies should all be listening on Twitter to gain insight on the customers and target demographics. it is invaluable for that.

  2. Dana Webster from ParaPRO, November 18, 2009 at 4:12 p.m.

    Twitter finally clicked for me about 2 months ago. I really didn't understand it, and one day the lightbulb went off. For me, the easiest way to follow it is to use TweetDeck (or some other filtering tool).

    I don't have a ton of followers, some are very high quality (for whom I am very grateful to have their following), and others appear to be those that follow any account.

    What I can say is that Twitter has allowed me to gain incredible insight into our business (people like @swoodruff, @pharmaguy, @jonmrich, @shwen, @eileenobrien, @maverickny, @wendyblackburn, @pjmachado, @richmeyer and on and on.

    I see great business knowledge gathered by paying attention to what other people are saying. I don't use it as a personal tool (Facebook is for that).

  3. David Culbertson from LightBulb Interactive, November 18, 2009 at 4:22 p.m.

    If they're listening on Twitter (and other SoMe sites), I don't care if they're really using it they way the Social Media elite want them to. I'm wondering:

    Are these companies optimizing their existing customer communication channels FIRST?

  4. Mark McLaughlin, November 18, 2009 at 5 p.m.

    The Fortune 100 rush in because they need to lock up and protect their brand names. They deserve but do not get the luxury of coming up with a strategy first and then implementing the tactic. From domain names to search terms and now to a myriad of social networking opportunities, this is the only media channel that disregards the needs of big companies to protect their brand names.

    That said, Catharine, you are making some very good points. I just don't get why you make your points with a tone of voice that suggests that the Fortune 100 are dumb and those of us in the digerati are smart. They are not Fortune 100 companies by accident, they tend to be pretty good at using media channels to build and protect brands.

  5. Mamie Patton from Patton Brand Strategy. LLC, November 18, 2009 at 5:50 p.m.

    Well put, Howie. Just jumping on the Twitter bandwagon because it's the hot thing is precisely what brands should not do. Smart strategy is about being relevant to customers and prospects; being available when they want you, and staying out of the way when they don't. If Twitter is important to that strategy, they should be highly engaged there. Otherwise it's a lesser priority. And especially these days, few companies have the luxury to dedicate extra time and effort to what is at best a #2 priority.

    That said, they shouldn't just ignore it, either. The first rule of great conversation is to listen. And brands should be seeking every opportunity to listen to their consituents.

  6. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., November 18, 2009 at 6:14 p.m.

    Are you all still talking about Twitter? That is SOOO yesterday's news. Wake up and join the new microblogging revolution with Flutter! See the video here:
    Seriously, who has the TIME to read all those tweets?

  7. Matthew Schmidt from Small Planet Public Relations, November 18, 2009 at 7:43 p.m.

    Agree with Howie on all but one point; Twitter is not free. Like any communications resource, you have to invest valuable time to concieve, develop and implement productive conversations (or campaigns). If 52% of the survey respondents are "actively engaged" that strikes me as a pretty good figure for what is still a very new communication channel. And this research only appears to have looked at how Fortune 100 are using Twitter to reach out and start conversations. Would very much like to know how many of the same are just listening to the Tweetsphere (which doesn't involve posting very much at all), since it's the intelligence you can gain that matters.

  8. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., November 19, 2009 at 12:47 p.m.

    Hate to be a cynic here, but the last thing I want from the Fortune 100 companies I do business with is to have them send me tweets.

  9. Stephanie Sims, November 19, 2009 at 3:35 p.m.

    Twitter just created a list feature, which enables anyone with a Twitter account to organize who they're following. So, if you're following 900+ people (don't ask me why), you can filter the tweets you get my organizing them in lists. You can also see what lists people who follow you are putting you on, which can shed some light on if you're promoting your company well or not. If you're on lists like "business," "media," etc., that relate to your company or industry, great. If you're on vague lists, it might help to focus more on what you're putting out there.

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