Now that the social media service Twitter has a daily reference in nearly every newscast, there is a rush of people trying the “next big thing.” Those of us who have been there a while are amazed at how many companies and individuals just don’t get where the power of Twitter originates.
A classic Bob Newhart comedy sketch has Abner Doubleday on the phone, if you’ll pardon the pun, pitching the game of baseball to one of today’s game manufacturers. Heard from the game company’s side of the phone call:
18 people? …
3 strikes and you’re out …
and three balls — not three balls, four balls? Why four balls Mr. Doubleday?
…Nobody’s ever asked you before?
Or he may hit it. If he hits what happens? …
He runs as far as he can before somebody catches it … as long as it stays what?
As long as it stays fair… .”
The more you try to explain baseball, the more stupid it sounds. To our friends around the world, I assure you, football (soccer) sounds as ridiculous, and so does trying to explain Twitter.
This plain truth made the 1960 “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” the first comedy album to hit number the number one spot on the Billboard charts. Twitter is like this album: You have to experience it to appreciate it. Unlike comedy, this takes more time to appreciate.
So, what is Twitter like? If you’ve ever been to a really good conference, you know the best, most usable ideas come in between the scheduled sessions. They are generated by people of like interests sharing and building on each others’ ideas. THAT is what Twitter is like: A conference with just the time in the halls with only the good people you choose to speak with.
Here are the basic rules of Twitter, according to moi:
Rule 1. Twitter is a two way street.
Remember the kid who always wanted to host a talk show on a walkie-talkie? Yeah. Don’t be that person on Twitter.
Twitter, at its simplest has a blank field that asks “What are you doing?” In 140 characters or less, you are really answering “What do you want to share?” Each comment sent is called a “tweet”.
The power of Twitter, just like the hallway conversations of a conference, comes from the power of conversations and collaboration.
It takes time to identify who you want to “follow.” Following someone is subscribing to their “tweets.” My rule of following: If it adds value to my day, I will follow them. If it doesn’t, I’m sorry. (They are probably lovely people, but it’s my time – and yes, I’ve gone back and followed people later).
On Twitter, you can ask questions directly of corporate executives and liaisons. Dell, JetBlue, and Zappos are among the more than 800 companies and non-profits using Twitter for a variety of reasons. You can find answers and ask questions of just about every type of subject matter expert.
People on Twitter don’t want to be sold or told about a product unless it’s new, cool, or being recalled. They want to talk to people at a level of responsibility to tell them good things (FTW = For The Win) or raise issues (FAIL!). Companies don’t tweet and solve issues, people do. (Please reread that last sentence out loud).
Rule 2. Gartner’s Generation Virtual and Forrester’s Groundswell
Industry analyst Gartner may have called it early, identifying Generation Virtual as a generation without an age demographic that spans standard demographics. The identifying factor of “Gen V” is that the virtual world is an extension of their real world. They would just as soon ask for advice from someone around the world as across the street. And to stress, age is not a factor.
Gartner may have called it, but Forrester Research wrote the book, Groundswell. The flap says it all: “Right now, your customers are writing about your products on blogs and recutting your commercials on YouTube. They’re defining you on Wikipedia and ganging up on you on social networking sites like Facebook.”
Rule 3. See Rule One.
The power of Twitter, enhanced by links to videos, photos, and blogs, has millions of people forming and reforming their ideas by the word of mouth of people they trust. THIS is the power of social media. THIS is what takes a few weeks to learn and appreciate.
There is an element of trust management as well as personal branding involved in Social Media. When you choose your handle (or screen name), you should maintain a level of branding – what you will and won’t talk about. And sure, be human. @CommunispaceCEO, @ToryJohnson of Good Morning America, Kodak Chief Marketing Officer @JeffreyHayzlett, @Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and even actor @EddieIzzard know to be human and personable. See rule one.
The world is changing. Newspapers and mainstream media is expensive and now, less effective. Taking part in the conversation is relatively cheap, and more companies are hiring full time people to run their social media programs. Dell has hundreds of people in different areas of the company.
You do not control the content or the conversation, but you have your say. The people decide.
And for goodness sake, never try and explain Twitter, baseball, or soccer.