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Test Tube Twitter – Should You Experiment?

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For the past three semesters I persuaded, coaxed and begged some 50 digital marketing students to start using Twitter – just do it! About 10% made an earnest attempt and remarked that they were really getting the swing of it. Then the course ended, and poof! they disappeared into Ethernet air.

Twitter is the micro-blogging, social media-hyped, information superhighway broadcast tool that is now used by a measly 1.45% of the Canadian Internet population (some 350,000 people). In contrast, 19% of Americans tweet representing about 55% (19 million) of the 45 million worldwide users.

Believe it or not, 72% of users joined in the first five months of 2009. And the majority of broadcast posts (90% of all tweets) were from a small 10% minority of prolific users, while just 1% use Twitter more than once a week. Twitter quitters are the more than 60% of U.S. users who fail to return the following month after signing up.

Twitter remains in its infancy of adoption in Canada, with its usage both sporadic and concentrated among a small group of active, enthusiastic users. It seems that the digital marketing students were representing well – for better or for worse.

Experiments and Results

None of these statistics though necessarily detract from those businesses and individuals who are thriving while experimenting with the Twitterati. Companies touted as having made the best use of Twitter include some major brands like @DellOutlet, who attributes US$3 million dollars in converted sales through their Twitter account. Others include @ComcastCares, @VirginAmerica, @JetBlue and @Zappos.
Small business successes include a Korean BBQ taco truck that drives around Los Angeles, California serving hungry followers through @KogiBBQ – they tweet locations and times where the truck is parked. Even an exceptionally creative home-based cake decorator from Mississauga, Ontario @CakeorDeathCA has grown her custom cake business to be a supplier of some 300 “pill box fashioned” cakelets for last month’s LG Fashion Week in Toronto.

These companies have chosen to use (erm, test) Twitter – early adopters experimenting with the broadcast site without the benefit of best practices or measured success to guide them. For this reason alone, they deserve our attention so that we too can learn when and how to add this emerging social media tool to the marketing mix.

Three Main Ingredients

If your company is evaluating conducting a Twitter experiment, here are some essential ingredients to be mixed in the beaker: strategy, content and resources. Taking a closer look at each will help you gauge your readiness and probability of success:


One is advised to take direction from Jeremiah Owyang, a Forrester Research Analyst, when he wrote, “Successful social media marketing is 80% strategy and 20% technology.” When considering whether or not to Tweet, step back and define the business objectives by answering the following questions:What are you hoping to achieve?

What measurable business results do you want?

Who is the intended audience? are they on Twitter?

How will you measure success?

Do you have, or can you acquire the necessary resources?

Companies have found many varied objectives where Twitter is having effect, while other business use cases are emerging: whether for media relations, customer service, sales, marketing communications broadcast, recruitment or driving traffic to a website, blog, webinar, promotion, event or retail location. In addition, individuals and professionals find Twitter to be a gem of a networking tool.


The category of micro-blogging that Twitter has been labeled with is ambiguous – I suppose the company was compelled to create a new category, but this does not describe its core capability. Rather, it is a live (real-time) communication broadcast tool, not unlike E-mail, Instant Messaging, Telegrams or Radio broadcast systems – mashed up and online 24/7/365.

Twitter allows you to broadcast up to 140 characters at a time, as many times as you want, either to everyone (and anybody) or to one person or selected people. You can also send direct messages (akin to chat) to any one person. The micro-blogging tools live nature is dependent on followers being signed in and attentive/alert to posts as they are sent. As a consequence, the more frequently that you post on Twitter, and the more content that is posted, the more chance of your intended audience actually reading and responding to the posts. In contrast, if your followers are offline when tweets are sent, they will most likely never read them – this is the real-time nature of Twitter.

Content frequency and relevancy to your audience is key to success. Net, you need a content plan in order to make a dent in achieving your defined business objectives. And content is not easy, it entails a lot of consistent, continual effort to research, create and manage.

For this reason, it is well suited to businesses that have rich content and high frequency communications with stakeholders – whether employees, customers, suppliers, investors, media or partners. It is not coincidental that social media smart brands, those with an existing blogging strategy, information and media companies and those with frequent updates are embracing Twitter. If your business is one of those, then Twitter may be an effective broadcast channel worth experimenting with.


Despite Twitter being a free Web tool that is overly simple to use, there is no “free lunch” since its going concern operation is dependent on adequate, perhaps dedicated resources. Depending on your strategy and expected results resources may also need to collaborate across business functions. For example, representatives from corporate communications, customer service, marketing and sales, to name a few, may need to provide input and content. And that requires a communication plan and governance model to guide cross-functional efforts.

Even with first phase initiatives some amount of resource – whether internal or external – will need to be allocated to plan and post content, as well as conduct regular monitoring and measurement. Staffing skills, traits and pre-requisite experience are likely to include a mix of excellent communications skills, digital technical competency, and marketing and business acumen – not to mention project management.

Lowest Barrier to Entry

If these strategy, content and resource issues are intimidating there is one least common denominator use, and that is monitoring. Even if your company balks at Twitter or chooses a more prudent, risk averse approach you can start using it right now to monitor and listen to what customers, media and competitors are saying online about your company. You do not even have to open an account or engage directly in the conversations in order to benefit from gleamed brand, market and competitive insights.

All you have to do is Search to find what may turn out to be actionable information you can use to improve customer service, product development, corporate communications or competitive intelligence. And while you are actively learning by monitoring and listening online you may eventually be inspired to add Twitter to your marketing mix.