Time to plan how you use Twitter and Facebook?

It used be that you had to be in the news to be important.  Now you have to have a huge Twitter following and hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook.  Indeed if you can get tens of thousands of people to follow you on Twitter then you have the publishing power of the New York Times or a lifestyle publication such as GQ.  In short, with the right following your pages become the media you’ve always wanted.  Of course, if you are already famous getting that following is far simpler than if nobody has ever heard of you.  So ironically, to get a large following on Twitter (so that you can rely less on the media), you are probably best getting some great media exposure.  But if you do that then you will need to pay attention to your media profile and that will dilute your ability to manage your online profile (unless you have unlimited resources).  Regardless of how you build your following on Facebook or Twitter, what you cannot avoid is creating content of at least 140 characters in length that people want.  Computer programmers like to say: garbage in, garbage out.  This is essentially the law of social media and networks.  If you don’t participate by creating a point of view that is entertaining, interesting or educational, you are likely to find your following dwindle and your profile plummet.  Yet so many companies plan what they are going to say to the media with military like precision and then tweet and give Facebook updates as an after thought.  Is it time that got reversed?  Perhaps not but it is time that brands mapped out the conversations they want to have with their social networks in ways that made gave those conversations real depth and value.  Random tweets are all well and good but they do little to build the brand and could even do more harm than good.  What’s more you can use these networks as central part of your comms plans, not as bolt-ons.  In other words you can create communications activities that were DESIGNED for Facebook and or Twitter, rather than comms that were designed for the media and then simply echoed by these social networks.  Why am I making this plea?  Quite simply because I’ve realized I now spend far more time reading comments on Twitter and Facebook than I do with the media.  Sure I often get directed to the media by these networks but more often than not, if it’s not on Twitter or Facebook it’s not getting anywhere near as much of my attention as it could and I’m sure I’m not alone.

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Who will buy Twitter?

Sooner or later Twitter will get serious about an IPO and or someone will try and buy them.  My guess is that various firms have already made offers but that they are shrewdly holding out.  After all, YouTube sold early to Google for what seemed like a lot at that time but now seems a bargain.  Let’s assume that at some point suitors are able to offer enough money to entice the founders and investors to sell.  Who is likely to get the prize?  Well here are my candidates:

  1. Facebook – could decide that ‘Places’ is OK but not great and that a second property makes sense.  If they did they may be able to offer an interesting alternative for investors, whereby they get to take part in what is likely to be biggest IPO in a decade or more when they themselves go public.
  2. Google – Google has a search engine, a content library, email, IP comms and great mapping technology.  But Bing is catching them up,their email isn’t the best, there’s a lot of competition in their IP comms areas AND it doesn’t have a social platform that rocks people’s world.  Twitter would fit into the Google empire much like YouTube has and they have the cash to make an outrageous bid.
  3. Microsoft – they have the cash and REALLY want to be a player in the Internet world.  They’ve stumbled but Bing is proof that they are turning things around.  They may well be smart enough to leave Twitter alone and have enough server farms (as do Google) to make sure Twitter outages are a thing of the past.
  4. Apple – they are a left field option.  We’ve already seen that Apple wants to play in the social network space with Ping.  I don’t think they get it though and would likely screw up.  That said, they effectively invented the small app world and could make Twitter the center of a massive app world.
  5. Skype -If Skype does an IPO they could have the platform to do a deal.  Imagine a Skype version of Twitter with thousands of short videos on your desktop, iPhone etc each day?  I can’t see Twitter going this route but it could happen.
  6. Amazon or eBay – these are also outsiders but both could use this technology very effectively within their businesses and could therefore justify a big price tag.  That said eBay bought Skype and later sold it at a loss, so they will likely pass on this one.
  7. IBM, Oracle, HP etc – any one of the big IT vendors could make a play as they have the cash.  They’re not likely to though.  Twitter is not a good fit culturally and they would probably rather spend their money on more obvious Internet targets such as Salesforce.com.

What’s clear is that WHEN Twitter looks to realize the value they’ve created, there are plenty of deep pocketed options for them.  Don’t you wish you’d got founder stock?  I certainly do.


Twitter as a crisis management tool

We all know that Twitter is great at getting the word out. Celebrities use it to announce new roles, marital breakups etc. Corporations alert people to pending announcements and editorial coverage that puts them in a good light. But the chatty nature of Twitter makes it less suitable to crisis management and more suited to crisis generation. Or does it? We all know that when a crisis breaks, people start tweeting like mad and in no time, thanks to the power of Twitter, the world knows about it. Against this hailstorm it’s hard for people to fight back and ‘get the truth out’. Interestingly having looked at recent crises that have been in the media lately (eg BP), it’s clear that Twitter is rarely, if at all, used to counter a crisis. Conventional crisis management is all about getting control of the message and perhaps many view Twitter as an environment where you can’t necessarily control the message. I’d argue that Twitter offers a great way to get your message across and that it is no less ‘controlled’ than any other vehicle. If anything it offers you the chance to create an authentic, timely mouthpiece for the company. It also offers a way to get important information out quickly. This gives Twitter the advantage of enabling you to show those affected that you are acting responsibly by sharing information they may find beneficial in real time. Of course one of the real disadvantages Twitter has is that most Fortune 500 board members don’t use it and probably never will. It therefore takes a huge leap of faith for them to accept using it as a tool to manage a crisis they are at the heart of. I hope as communications professionals we don’t let that prevent us from giving them the right counsel. IMHO Twitter isn’t just for the good news, it’s also for those times when you really wish your phone would stop ringing.


Are Facebook and Twitter the virtual Starbucks?

Look at any major retail area and you’ll find a Starbucks somewhere in the mix.  Starbucks was, for some time, such a draw that mall owners would give them incentives to open stores.  After all, with a Starbucks in their complex other retailers would benefit from the people seeking a latte.  Facebook and Twitter are becoming online equivalents.  Imagine you launch a new smart-phone and you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter app?  Well you just wouldn’t.  There aren’t many apps that are essential for smart-phone vendors but access to Facebook and Twitter top the list.  Imagine that Facebook decided only to offer an official version of its app to say Microsoft.  It wouldn’t hurt Apple much right now but it could be the kind of move that could put Microsoft back in to the smart-phone wars.  They wouldn’t do that surely.  But imagine if they did.


Why Facebook needs to take a break

TV shows like 30 Rock, The Office, Modern Family etc have all come to an end for the summer and will kick off again in September. The break is a well established system for sitcoms and drama series.  It gives the actors a chance to have a break and the writers a chance to create new material during the months where viewers spend less time in front of their TVs and more time outdoors.  For those still glued to their screeens there’s plenty of reruns to keep them happy.  At least that’s the theory. But with more and more people spending time online versus sitting in front of their TVs and with more people using their smartphones as a means of accessing the internet, there is a real danger that during this summer hiatus, viewers will find more reasons to avoid their TVs and unlike migratory birds, not return.  After all, Facebook and Twitter don’t show rerun updates and tweets over the summer.  Can you imagine of they did?

For this reason I wonder whether the networks need to rethink the summer hiatus.  I can see it being tough to change and it brings with it a fresh set of challenges.  One of the benefits of having short seasons and breaks is that low quality content and production values get the boot.  We’ve all noticed when a show runs out of ideas – Happy Days, invented the expression ‘Jumping the shark’ which means a show has taken things too far and lost the plot, when it had the Fonzie, literally jump a shark on water skis.  We can also tell when actors tire of a role.  So perhaps there is a role for the break.  Perhaps the formula is what needs a rethink.  Instead of putting all the best shows in the Spring and Fall, they could experiment by putting some of the stronger shows during the summer to keep the eyeballs on the TV and off their computer screens.  After all, I’ll say it again, can you imagine if Facebook and Twitter took a summer break?  Bring on the re-retweet.  Not.


Twitter – tweets versus trends

I am user of Twitter.  Most of the people I follow are sensible about their volume of tweets.  I used to follow Robert Scoble but I found all I got were pages of his tweets that told me about his daily routine and little else and it annoyed me.  A few hundred people are foolish enough to follow me and they get a mix of inane remarks and links to content I find interesting and amusing.  In short I’m a pretty average user of Twitter.  I got followed by someone today who follows literally thousand of people.  I tried to imagine their Twitter inbox.  It would be updating every second almost, making it all but impossible to really follow anyone.  The only real purpose I can see for following such large numbers isn’t to really follow a person but to follow either a group of people or a conversation.  In other words you are not trying to see what Tim Dyson is tweeting about but rather to find out if a topic is popular on Twitter.  I can see why this is valuable but it made me think that Twitter should develop a different kind of inbox/account for these users of Twitter.  Their feed shouldn’t show the tweets but instead simply the trends and the data behind those trends.  In other words the trending topics section should be the main part of the page.  I also feel you should be able to tell which users are really following and which are ‘trending’.  I’d be curious to know how many of the 480 or so people that follow me actually read my tweets and how many of my tweets are simply used to help create stats.  Maybe these trend scoopers could be called flockers.  I know I’ve called them something similar.


Is social media here to stay?

The rise of social media is stunning.  Back in 2004 sites like MySpace were emerging but Twitter and Facebook hadn’t yet appeared.  Blogs were around but few read them.  Today Facebook and Twitter are household names and every consumer brand has some form of social media strategy.  So is social media a permanent part of the sales and marketing landscape moving forward?  It seems hard to imagine that people will stop wanting to interact online unless of course they find something else more interesting to do.  This is key though.  The rise of social media is like the rise of the TV that it has usurped.  Social media, it turns out, is interesting, entertaining and somewhat addictive.  Yet if you had asked people back in the 1980s if they thought they’d spend more time on computers in the evening than they do watching TV, they’d have laughed.  That’s because computers back then were… rubbish by today’s standards.  They had no such thing as Internet connectivity and had monitors that were mainly monochrome.  Fun eh?  So assuming social media is a permanent fixture may be premature.  Of course it’s unlikely that social media will go away any time soon.  But to assume its place in our lives and our children’s lives is assured would seem potentially naive.

That said it seems certain that the likes of Twitter and Facebook will dominate for some time to come as more and more people find ways to use these technologies.  But let’s be really clear, the idea that in 10 years time you will be looking at 140 character Tweets and four line Facebook updates seems unlikely.  Surely we will have moved on to a very different world?  I can still see people wanting to interact and get perspectives, ideas and thoughts.  But the idea that this will be a largely text-based environment is hard to imagine.  Video/pure audio will surely play a larger role and it would seem logical that the way we access today’s equivalent of social media will change.  Right now we access sites like Facebook from PCs, notebooks, smartphones and of course tablets.  In the near future accessing them through TVs will become commonplace.  Now imagine Facebook on a 50″ flat screen TV.  Surely you’d want to use it differently to the way you do today on a handheld device?  For one thing you have so much space to play with and the potential to use video in interesting ways is obvious.  Yes it seems clear that Facebook and Twitter (assuming they are still around) in 2020 will be VERY different and will get used in ways that seem hard to imagine today.  Of course it could be that they get usurped by another social media technology in way that MySpace did.  Regardless it seems logical to expect social media to continue to grow as new opportunities arise for people to use the technology.

The only cloud on the horizon for social media would seem to be ‘the next big thing.’  By that I mean the equivalent of TV coming along in the 1950s and changing society in ways nobody had envisioned.  I’m hardly the one to predict the next big thing but I certainly wouldn’t bet against there being one.  Until that happens, have a sound social media/digital strategy would seem essential.