behind the streams: twitter games
  • FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

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Twitter: The perfect megaphone — but not the vision.

In the last few weeks the press have been talking about the failure of Twitter to take over as a mainstream phenomenon. I wonder what mainstream is if the 145 million registered users of Twitter don't count. Research does shows that only 20% of registered users have tweeted more than 10 times and have more than 10 followers, but regardless, 30 million active users for the company is pretty impressive. Twitter is a triumph even if it appears to break several times a day. What other business has been able to brand its own daily failures (e.g. "The Fail Whale", pictured above). These guys created something entirely new — mass social SMS. It already existed with SMS lists in people's phones. Their win was that they took SMS to the web and then made it better, more ubiquitous, and fun.

Twitter in the music space is a true force. One loose lipped engineer at Twitter admitted that at any given time 3% of the micro-blogging service's resources were consumed by Justin Bieber related tweeting. Hype Machine converted itself into a Twitter game and quickly doubled its traffic. We know from the extreme example of Justin Bieber that people who use twitter actively tweet relentlessly about the music they love or are listening to.

Along the way they created a marketer's dream, although they continue to be coy about it. Twitter is still dancing around what the ultimate business model might be. It's is the single most powerful tool for direct messaging to mass audiences other than state-run large scale emergency notification systems. I know from sitting through Hurricane Earl — Suffolk County NY Emergency Services literally called all East End residents to tell them to sit tight.

In the early days of the web in the stock photo business (a previous life), we were frequently asked whether the web was going to disintermediate us by connecting directly the buyers and sellers of images and knocking our jobs as aggregators into irrelevance. Not yet understanding what Google had up its sleeve, the answer we gave was no. Twitter has proven to be a powerful agent of disintermediation and given those lucky few media brands, celebrities and musicians their own direct connection to their audience, free of any need to buy media or show up for a talk show to mindlessly plug their product. One music manager, on talking about a client's Twitter account, viewed it as insurance, as it was the artist's and not the label's account. Surely enough, the artist and label soon parted ways and the artist has continued communicating to his audience, engaging them and keeping himself relevant in their lives. This artist is one of the lucky ones. His managers discovered the utility of Twitter early and got him on the list of suggested followers when you signed up for Twitter, much like our good friends at Pitchfork were able to do. Being a suggested follower in the early days before it became algorithmically controlled allowed huge followings to be built for a select lucky few very quickly. These giant megaphones have served the lucky few well. Today huge followings are largely celebrity driven. I am shocked that 5 million people really care what "fun sized" Justin Bieber has to say. This "first mover" advantage and intense celebrity focus of Twitter has led me to question whether Twitter is really useful to small and emerging businesses.

The largest referrers to our site are Facebook and a waning MySpace, but Twitter is a notable part of it. We dutifully tweet all of our posts (and other people's posts that we notice and find interesting). It consumes time and energy every day from the Baeble staff to try and build a following here without getting our account suspended (again). In an unscientific poll of the companies on our blog roll 34% of them didn't use Twitter. Is the faux-preciousness of the current Twitter model (really only being able to direct message to "followers") too hard for most companies to deal with? The marketing winners right now are celebrities and well-established media brands that can leverage other media to drive Twitter "follows" (which reminds me of the frothy and ultimately useless AOL sales tactics of selling major brands AOL Keywords ten years ago, who can forget the tag at the end of every commercial or even newscast "find us on AOL Keyword Tide").

We at Baeble would love to see Twitter become more of a useful marketing tool. Twitter users, in their music tweets, reveal and identify music preferences in real time. Twitter's search allows us to see all the individuals who have tweeted about an artist or song as soon as the tweet is made. This is a marketers dream there are masses of people revealing brand preferences and themselves, on a global scale, in real time. We can find these people and communicate directly to them with a personalized and relevant brand offer seconds (watch this video or read this post) after they tweet. Do this without these people following you repeatedly and you will find your account suspended. We would pay willing for this type of feature in Twitter, let's call it "Sponsored Tweeting". I am sure, inversely, a wider audience would be interested in learning about our artists and videos directly from us as well as receive other relevant information around their tweets — remember 80% of registered users have tweeted less than 10 times. Couldn't this be a way to encourage and engage these folks as well as build revenue for Twitter?

We look forward to the day when this functionality comes to Twitter. Perhaps a change in the rules (and tools) will lead the media pundits to finally call it a Mass Market product. -david moffly

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