Tweets From The Edge

I'm now on Twitter (@outofmygord if you're interested), which, to use the emerging verb of consensus, means that I tweet.  I'm not sure I'm a Twaddict (a la Todd Friesen) but I am moving through Rohit Bhargava's 5 Stages of Twitter Acceptance

1 . Denial  -- "I think Twitter sounds stupid. Why would anyone care what other people are doing right now?"

2. Presence --  "Ok, I don't really get why people love it, but I guess I should at least create an account."

3. Dumping --"I'm on Twitter and use it for pasting links to my blog posts and pointing people to my press releases."

4 .Conversing -- "I don't always post useful stuff, but I do use Twitter to have authentic 1X1 conversations."



5. Microblogging -- "I'm using Twitter to publish useful information that people read AND converse 1x1 authentically ."

My self-assessment has me currently lodged between steps 3 and 4, but with signs of promise. And so, through the phenomenon of synchronicity, it now seems that everywhere I turn I see signs of Twitter. One of the recent one's was Kaila Colbin's Search Insider column about Twitter's monetization strategy, or lack of same. Twitter is not unique; virtually every social network struggles with this issue. I would like to add two observations from my perspective.

The Curse of the Early Adopter

Social networks seem to be perennially stuck on the edge of the wrong side of Geoffrey Moore's Chasm.  They flourish with early adopters, who are by nature fickle when it comes to technology and any bright shiny object, but social networks have difficultly embedding themselves in the mainstream. I'm seeing signs that Facebook might successfully make the leap across the Chasm, based on my "Jill" litmus test. When my wife is familiar with a technology, it usually means it's crossed the Chasm.  Jill doesn't have a Facebook page, but she has visited it (due largely to the fact that we have teenage daughters -- 'nuff said).  

The problem in trying to track these things is that whatever the blogosphere is buzzing about bears little resemblance to what will actually gain traction with a mainstream market. We (and yes, I include myself) are exactly the wrong people to prognosticate about what may be the next killer app for the average Joe. We are all technology nerds. Everyone I know in this industry is a technology nerd. The ones who actually blog and emerge as thought leaders are the most hopeless of the lot. We exist in a rarified technological atmosphere and have largely lost touch with the real world. It doesn't mean we're inherently prone to be wrong about the marketability of new technology, but it also means we're not inherently right. We're guessing, and all too often we let our personal enthusiasm bias our forecasts.

Social networks are always held up to Google as the monetization baseline, and it's an unfair and misleading comparison. There were a number of circumstances unique to Google that won't be replicated with a social network. They include user intent, the nascent stage of the Internet during Google's introduction, lack of visionary competition and the luxury of developing a critical mass of usage on its own real estate.  The problem with monetizing Twitter is that much of the interaction with it happens on a third-party app.

Social and Market Norms

Perhaps the biggest reason why it's difficult to monetize social results has to do with how our online experiences are framed, and the concept of social vs. market norms.  Here's an example. You take your family out for an Italian dinner. The meal is fabulous. The portions are huge. After one of the best meals you've ever had, you hand $180 to the hostess. She throws it back in your face, storms into the kitchen and you're abruptly escorted to the door. If we were at a restaurant, this reaction would be rather surprising. But if we're at my mother-in-law's for Sunday dinner, it suddenly makes sense. The difference is the frame in which we view the scenario. If we look at it through a market norm, the rules that govern commerce and fair trade, it's entirely appropriate to offer fair compensation for a meal. If we look at it through a social norm, the rules that govern our family and friend relationships, it's an unforgivable insult.

This slippery slope between market and social norms is the treacherous one that a social network must tread. Here's another example. You're at a party and you've asked two friends about their opinions on the best car for you to buy. Another person at the party overhears this -- someone who just happen to be a salesperson at the local Ford dealership. Sensing opportunity, the salesperson whips around and immediately starts telling you why the Ford Mustang is the perfect car for you. How would you feel? How would you respond to the information?  How uncomfortable would the discussion become?

The challenge is that you moved from a social norm to a market norm and you weren't in control of the transition. The same is true when you use a social network to ask for information and suddenly the network uses that to present targeted ads to you.  Kaila was right to point to Twitter's search functionality as its only monetization opportunity. Google has conditioned us to accept a search results page as a place we can look at through market norm eyes. Also, we're searching all Tweets for mention of a product, not specifically asking our friends. The difference is crucial in how we accept the advertising message.

The confluence of social networking and search is exciting to contemplate, but expect a lot of trial and error in the quest to find the right business model. Personally, I don't expect to find it any time soon, and I also expect a lot of miffed users as part of the collateral damage.


13 comments about "Tweets From The Edge".
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  1. Tom Jeffrey from Hook, February 5, 2009 at 10:25 a.m.

    Your 5 Steps is a great insight into the evolution of a Twitter user. I can't stress enough to people what a valuable tool Twitter is. For learning, conversing, sharing and observing. I can honestly say that I've learned more about Social Media by immersing myself into Twitter than from any other source.

  2. Molly Fuller from Hands On Gourmet, February 5, 2009 at 10:36 a.m.

    how does myspace fit in? has it crossed the chasm?

  3. Martin Edic from WTSsocial, February 5, 2009 at 10:36 a.m.

    Gord, per usual you are right on target. Engagement in social media requires awareness of a fundamental difference between this form of conversational marketing and traditional marketing: In traditional marketing if someone does not like what you're pitching they will ignore it. In conversational marketing they will react in a public and negative way. They might, for example, tell their friends at that party what a jerk that car salesman was, busting into their conversation and pitching a gas guzzling Mustang when they were looking for a hybrid. Now he has not only not made a sale, he has irritated a number of people.
    This is the chasm that marketing people need to understand- and many are having a hard time getting it. When that understanding is pervasive, things will change and those of us selling social media monitoring tools and services will move past the early adopters.

  4. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, February 5, 2009 at 10:41 a.m.

    Added and "pimped you" on twitter.

    @molly myspace is good for entertainment.. they kinda have that niche down.

  5. Susan Kuchinskas from freelance, February 5, 2009 at 10:41 a.m.

    That's a really important point about early adopters being exactly the wrong people to figure out what mainstream users will want. I think this problem is seen clearly in the UI for a lot of these apps. Nerds love to fool with things and get them to work; mainstream users just want it to work.

    I'm not sure I agree with every point you make about monetization of social media. Certainly, if I used social media to ask for a recommendation and someone I thought was another user suddenly started selling to me, that would be a turnoff.

    But I think we've come to accept a fairly high level of advertising. I'm thinking of the anxiety when Gmail started showing ads; now, people may be bemused but they don't really care about seeing pitches tied to their personal communications.

    I think most social networks could take advantage of contextual or behavioral targeting for ads; I agree with you that Twitter is ripe for it. Although personally, I think its monetization strategy will be selling itself to Facebook.

  6. Terry O'malley from TOMA/PMI, February 5, 2009 at 10:56 a.m.

    It seems by the volume of use of friends, acquaintances and people, some of whom I have no idea who they are, are retiring to the social activity of electronic messaging instead of sending letters via the mail. Which there seems to be some truth to this based on the last request from the Post office that they are going to cut one day of service (Tuesday) because of ? budget short falls (the treasury still has the key to the cash box).
    Again, the populace is keeping itself busy getting instant gratification from communicating with one another.
    I wonder if this advancing trend is going to influence how business communicates since it can be a team oriented function, in this why there would be value added upside to this practice, instead of simply trading TV hours for social networking.

  7. Arthur Barbato from Advertising Database, February 5, 2009 at 11:05 a.m.

    Thank you Gord for your thoughts on Twitter's monetization strategy, or lack of same. We disagree though when you try to mix twitter with sites such as FaceBook, BeBo, and MySpace. Twitter is unique.

    Virtually every website with strong traffic struggles with allowing text search ads and ad networks populate their sites. Having an inhouse staff to populate actual video, expanding and other banner ads increases revenue streams and lack thereof can lead to failure. Moving beyond text ads is vital for logevity (imho).

  8. Tom Pick from KC Associates, February 5, 2009 at 11:31 a.m.

    Gord - outstanding post (and I just Tweeted it as well). Your observation that those of us immersed in online marketing and social media "exist in a rarified technological atmosphere and have largely lost touch with the real world" is painfully spot-on.

    But I think that just means we need to try everything, see what works -- what passes the "Jill test" as you put it -- and be ready to advise clients appropriately as well as sufficiently familiar with each tool to executive quickly and effectively on their behalf.

  9. Carolyn Schuk from Santa Clara Weekly, February 5, 2009 at 12:23 p.m.

    Maybe I'm out of step here about what currently passes for "authentic" conversation, but in my universe it takes more than 50 characters, or whatever Twitter limits you to. Personally, I went straight to number 5 - the usefulness seems pretty obvious. It's a great tool for a journalist, to let people know that I'm going to be at a show or conference.

  10. Keri Singer from Http://, February 5, 2009 at 6:18 p.m.

    We are seeking the same connections, emotions and things we value in the real world to be replicated online.

    In the future, will there be a retro movement to writing personal letters again, avoiding emails, text, and turning more opportunities to call a person, or shake someone’s hand? It seems we are forced into using new tools, spend more money on Blackberries, iPhone’s because it’s cool and everyone else is doing it. It’s not a bad thing to communicate in this manner, but sometimes we have to sit back and think for a minute, is this how I want to live my life? I find there isn’t already enough hours in the day to take on the next big social media craze! Yet, I’m going out there on a limb like others “twittering away” to see what could happen.

    As marketers, one should not dismiss the importance of marrying the information gathered from both the virtual and the real world to further engage others. Marketers must rely on new developments of metrics and understand how to use them to quantify their worth, as well as prove the ROI based on specific goals. The internet allows us to measure things immediately, but how do we determine the validity of those metrics without also relying on real valuable connections off-line.

    Some of the thoughts I wrote about yesterday on my blog Kerisma in regards to this very topic. I am interested in your thoughts as well.

    Cutting Through the Virtual Noise

    Twitter, Twitter-di, Twitter-dumb: What's Next?

  11. Rick Simmons from Dinkum Interactive, February 7, 2009 at 3:41 p.m.

    so refreshing - i find myself around the same place on Twitter and finding it easy to see the early adopters - hard to catch on to what they are doing or talking about half the time. Still not sure the buzz is accurate but at this point feel it is important enough to spend a bit of time finding out.

  12. Bea Rush, February 8, 2009 at 11:35 p.m.

    I still don't "get Twitter." I may have respect for Twitter, but I just don't get it. It may have to do with my being a "late-in-lifer" joining web-site work after retiring from 32 years in a service industry (ie, flight attendant). But I have learned and believe with all my heart that social networking is not just the wave of the future, it is the tsunami. Still, I still love to handwrite my thank-you notes (my children are required to do the same or lose social privileges) and receive the same. I love and need that human connection. We all do to some extent. In seeking connection, let us strive to find a real hug instead of a virtual one.

  13. C. Phillipps from Yoohooville, Inc., February 10, 2009 at 5:47 p.m.

    Interesting article. I'm probably on 2 and 4 at the same time - I've never done Step 3 and won't because I think its rude.

    I think certain sites are crossing the chasm but I'm not sure if Twitter ever will. There are far too many people on Step 1 of the Twitter evolution for people to really see a value in it.

    As for Facebook and Myspace, I think they're getting there. When my non-tech saavy mother knows what something is (and she knows what both are) and she asks me to do a page for her (not yet, but I'm sure its coming), then I'll know its there.

    As for the early adopters not being a good predictor of what mainstream users will like, I suppose it depends on the stage. The bleeding edge early adopters, who are into the "cool factor" and not very helpful to other users, probably are in that category. The people who follow *just* behind them, who generally make more suggestions and help other users, are probably much better indicators as to what will make a service work or not work. How to tell the difference between the two is probably why some people get the big bucks.

    I don't know if Twitter will ever cross that border, but dude, 140 characters is really limiting to having a deep, thoughtout conversation. Most of my Tweets actually start out at 150-160 characters and I have to abbreviate them down.

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