Aug 05

The Trouble with Twitter

In jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, many communicators are forgetting communication basics.

Surveying the use of Twitter by organizations shows many, if not most, are using Twitter exclusively as a one-way communication tool. A prime example of this is when an organization’s Twitter strategy is limited to tweeting its news releases. Hello, guys, this is what an RSS feed is for!

The significance of Web 2.0 is that it’s social. That means the strength of the medium is in conversations, not one-way bursts. Company news releases, or happy talk factoids spaced throughout the day don’t add significant value to the social media universe and are generally unlikely to coalesce into conversations. This isn’t to say that an organization shouldn’t tweet its news releases, just that it should also have a more mature, robust Twitter strategy.

Another common Twitter tactic has been to develop Twitter “events,” especially those that capture media attention such as tweeting during surgery. The first organization to create such an event will certainly get some buzz in the Twitterverse as well as in traditional media outlets. But such an approach is not a really great strategy because it focuses on what the organization wants to talk about and not necessarily what consumers are interested in discussing.

The First Step is to Shut Up

The first step in a mature Twitter strategy should be to shut up and listen. Many organizations recognize the importance of brand and public relations monitoring, but it is easy to push the significance of these efforts aside in the rush to “do something.” Yet listening has value and is the first step toward a true two-way communication strategy.

Tools that can help with Twitter monitoring include Twilerts, TweetBeep, TweetScan and Monitter, or Twitter’s own tracking feature and search-related RSS feeds. At a minimum, organizations should set up basic alerts to monitor their brand name and keywords of significance to their industry or location.

Stop Thinking of Tweets as Sentences

Next, in order to stop monopolizing the conversation, communicators need to stop thinking of tweets as only sentences. One way to do this is to look for ways to ask “Twuestions.” In other words, tweet engaging questions that prompt a discussion (see TwiTip’s How to Ask Effective Questions on Twitter).

Or tweet a survey (like twtpoll, for example). Then think about tweets as useful links and tweet about the survey results — or combine your findings in a blog post worthy of tweeting about. Focusing on questions can help force the one way/two way communication issue, making tweets potentially more conversational. Focusing on links can add value and expand the conversation from 140 characters to something of more depth.

Another approach is to develop separate Twitter accounts or hashtags that will help your organization better focus on an narrower audience or topic. It is unlikely that people will see the value in following @BigConglomerate, but they might find value in following narrower conversations such as suggested by @greencleaningproducts, @coolsportscarmodel or @cholesterolcontrol. Healthcare non-profits may want to pursue a similar approach and segment their conversations on specific diseases or conditions. Of course this requires focus, and some parts of the organization may not get as much attention as those on the priority list – unless, of course, one can train and democratize those smaller units to become their own social media communicators. In general, multiplying the number of Twitter accounts has potential to increase the tweet-stream value as people perceive you are discussing topics of targeted interest to them.


The cost of entry is low for Twitter, so marketing and public relations managers might be tempted to think that not much return is needed on their investment. But to be effective within this new medium will still require a focus on two-way communications. To benchmark Twitter’s effectiveness has to come back to metrics of engagement. One-way tweets don’t count as a conversation. And only conversations count as effective communication.

Additional Links

Twitter in Plain English by CommonCraft

Trouble with Twitter from Current TV

Quantcast Audience Profile of Twitter

Graph of Twitter Usage (A downer for those with Twitter obsession)

How Hospitals and Health Systems Should Not Use Twitter

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