Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nobody gets Twitter

"Nobody gets Twitter." This was the opinion of Evan Williams, Twitter cofounder and chairman. during an interview in December 2008.

He confirmed what is apparent to many of us and true for most of us - the value of Twitter is not self-evident. With use you start to get the hang of it and at some point the light bulb goes on. His observation is not restricted to Twitter or social media or even technology, though tech examples seem particularly easy to find.

First time users of word processors and spread sheets not to mention such “time savers” as content management systems are usually thwarted by their first attempts to use these technologies. “Easy to use” is easy to say. The same applies to myriads of products from digital video recorders to kitchen appliances.

I once did some field research for a maker of high end appliances. My in home investigations showed customers struggled mightily just to set them up. The manufacturer responded by including an instructional video. The video proved to be so unhelpful, that it increased the return rate. Apparently it convinced customers that the product was too difficult for home use.

Even the fabled iPhone is sufficiently non-intuitive that Apple sells supplemental training. Indeed there is a healthy market on how to use iPhone books – a search Amazon.com’s book section for “ iPhone” returns 1,613 results.

It’s not just the products. Suppliers compound the problem with opaque instruction manuals (if any at all); unsupportive product support (what easier expense to cut in tough times); and compounds these with marketing communications, which fail to communicate.

Making stuff, whether on line systems or garden tools, easier to figure out isn’t easy. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. If I were, helping customers, readers, or partners get it might be one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The $0 Gift Card

A-list blogger Chris Brogan in is involved in a controversy.

Unlike his usual commentary on marketing and media, Chris blogged about shopping at Kmart. On the shopping trip, he used a $500 gift card provided by Izea, a marketing agency retained by Kmart.

Chris began his post by stating that it was sponsored by Izea, though it was not clear that the sponsorship was his getting the $500 card.

Sponsored posts aren’t new. For example an influential blogger may be given a computer or appliance to review. Many journalists would hold this compromises independence and so decline gifts or any sort. Most bloggers, on the hand, don’t have sponsoring organizations to buy them products. They may advocate a standard of full disclosure of any gifts or compensation.

Chris could have visited Kmart without spending $500 or indeed anything at all (unlike, say, a restaurant review). His post would have been different, but it could have been done with a $0 gift card.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fish Where The Fish Are

About seven million iPhones and six million Balckberrys were sold in the third quarter of 2008. To this add a million and a half Android phones and growing “smart phone” (the dumb phone begin the one you currently have) sales from Sangsung and LG and you have a significant number accessing the online world not from the desktop or laptop but the palmtop.

How are you going to attract and retain these potential customers? You might start by trying to access your current online presence – email newsletters, web site, blog etc. – from a handset. Chances are their appearance and usability range from ungainly to unreadable. Your fancy design work just gets in the way.

Some web sites really get mobile. Google.com, for example, apparently senses that you’re coming from a mobile browser and serves a page formatted for a phone. This is the exception. A simpler, though workable, approach is to have a mobile presence with a different URL.

A common practice is to use the subdomain name m. For example,
m.cnn.com or m.flickr.com take you to versions of the parent site, which are much more readable on very small screen. Alternatively, some firms have created sibling web sites with the new top level domain .mobi. Working examples include time.mobi, msn.mobi, fox.mobi, hertz.mobi and zagat.mobi. Other attempts such as businessweek.mobi were less readable on my iPhone as well as having some problematic links.

For sites requiring more interactivity, special client software may be needed. For example, the full functionally of Twitter is not available through m.twitter.com, though I suspect it could be. Instead you need special client applications such as Twiterfon and Twitterberry.

What’s an over worked marketer to do? Until you can get a site designed for mobile The exercise of distilling your message, format, and content for a simplified handheld site might be just what makes your brand or products standout from the usual suspects.

Monday, December 01, 2008

When The Client Doesn’t Get It

Twitter, is a light weight online service. It is limited, like text messaging, to messages of 140 characters (called Twitters or Tweets). It has the potential to afford rapid two way messaging either broadcast or personalized conversations among customers and partners.

In two years Twitter has grown from nothing to an estimated six million registered users. Other estimates are half of that. Whatever the actual number, it has moved beyond technologists and early adopters and is mentioned in mainstream publications such ad Fortune, Business Week and the Wall St. Journal. Twitter has become a channel in its own right.

The service is free to both individual and corporate users and can be accessed through the Web, mobile phones, or computer software. The potential is there to inform, intervene, monitor and connect with far less overhead and start up costs than email, web, blogging, Facebook, or other social marketing tactics. Its rapid response and low bandwidth make among the ost immediate and compelling of a new crop of mobile applications.

Yet when I suggest Twitter to marketers, who are not already users, their responses range from indifference to rejection. They are seldom even interested in trying it. Why is this?
They ask for clarification - so, what is it? And that’s the problem. It has been described as:
  • Light weight social networking
  • Micro-blogging
  • Instant messaging
  • Many to many texting

Visiting Twitters home page and viewing the torrent of passing traffic isn’t compelling. Twitter messages, they can indeed seem like self absorbed babbling.
  • It doesn’t fit well in any established category
  • It seems at least as much abused as well used
  • It demands creativity and a degree of innovation from its users. Success will require experimentation and evaluation
  • It has the danger to degenerate into online drivel
  • Good business cases and “best practices” are just starting to emerge
Twitter’s business model has yet to be developed. It has yet to figure out how to make money. At present, that’s more Twitter’s problem than yours; but you don’t want to invest thought an effort into a medium if it is not like to stay around.

Our old friend ROI is hard to measure. Actually the investment in a Twitter campaign or marketing program can be trivial - no money and Much less effort than say a blogging or Facebook strategy. However it will take some thought, time, and inspiration. It you start a Twitter conversation, be prepared to maintain it.

Twitter is, of course, just one of many media. It has been used successfully by Barack Obama, but less so by Hillary Clinton, and still less by John McCain (based on followers and traffic). Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts use Twitter; Peets Coffee, Folgers, Maxwell House and many others in the category appear not to. Dell and HP use it; Lenovo, Toshiba, and Sony don’t.

Among marketers, technologists, and some media cognoscenti Twitter is cool. This of course is no reason to use it.

What to do:

See if your firm, industry, products or issues are actively discussed on Twitter by searching at search.twitter.com.

Track and follow discussions of those influential in your industry.
Respond, when you have something to contribute.

Even Twitter fans admit it may take some getting used to. It looks quite different after using it for a week or two.

Are a significant number of your customers, or those who might influence your customers using Twitter. If you don’t know, you should to try to.

If they do, Twitter is worth a try. You may gain valuable market insight, test a concept, or launch a guerilla promotion campaign.

Otherwise, you would do better to reach prospects where they are through media they are acquainted with. Leave the cool to someone with venture capital to burn. Even if you’re sure Twitter could be a useful part of the marketing mix, let it go. In the words of the late LL Bean, who left no opinion of Twitter, “Nobody ever won an argument with a customer.”