Research snapshots: Twitter and social media
There are countless studies, philosophies and perspectives on Twitter available online. We reviewed the quantitative research and surveys from a variety of sources and found some common threads: most notably, that Twitter and social media at large are still catering primarily to early-adopter audiences.
According to MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Social Media Marketing & PR Benchmark Guide:
“One of the dangers to the effective adoption of social media as a marketing strategy is the large percentage of those who consider themselves knowledgeable but have no social media experience. Their overconfidence in unproven ability can doom social media initiatives to failure.”
How Knowledgeable are Marketers with No Social Media Experience?
As the chart above indicates, about two-thirds of marketers who said they had no social media experience still considered themselves to be up to speed.
These results also suggest that, while many of us know what we’re doing with our personal social media activity, many marketers are still in the dark when it comes to the business side and real ROI. It’s worth noting that social media is much broader than just Twitter; however, at the time the survey was fielded, Twitter was very much the big story, along with Facebook.
Other surveys have gained a lot of attention by suggesting that for all the attention paid to the “Twitterati” and social media rock stars, most people try Twitter once and leave or use it sporadically at best. Highlights from these surveys include:
From the Harvard Business Review:
- The top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production.
- Over half of Twitter users tweet less than once every 74 days.
From All Things Digital:
- 51% of people with Twitter accounts use the service less than once a month.
- 19% of Twitter account-holders use the service once a day or more.
From Nielsen Online:
- More than 60% of U.S. Twitter users don’t return the following month after sign-up.
Whether you perceive those statistics as a negative or a positive depends on your point of view. It may be true that, right now, most people aren’t using Twitter much or sticking with it. But if you’re trying to reach a tech-savvy, early adopter audience, Twitter is clearly the place to be.
Not all of the research is quite so bleak. In fact, social media service Pathable conducted a Twitter experiment of sorts and found that live events are an area in which Twitter proves its worth.
Pathable analyzed 797 tweets associated with a particular event, Wordcamp SF. The tweets collected were tagged with the hashtag #wordcampsf.
The verdict? More than one-third of tweets during the actual event were deemed useful – comments about speakers or sessions, people’s location at the event, and questions or announcements about the event. Combined with a steady stream of useful tweets, links and questions after the event, the review suggested that several followers derived some value from the tweets, especially those who didn’t attend but used the hashtag to monitor pieces of the conversation.
Research snapshots: Our live clinic audience
Knowing our live audience was deeply interested in Twitter, we took a poll to find out how experienced they were with it. Here are the results from 779 respondents:
What is your Twitter experience level?
These numbers don’t align precisely with the other surveys cited above, but there is a clear distinction between those who “tweet 24-7” (17%) and those who tweet now and then or haven’t really started using Twitter much or at all. Will they migrate into the 24-7 group, or start ignoring Twitter after a few weeks when the novelty wears off? Time will tell.
Key Point: Twitter certainly has its drawbacks. It can seem confusing or pointless unless you take advantage of third-party tools, and it can be yet another distraction in an environment already saturated with email, instant messaging, and constant connectivity. And if you’re not already a social media rock star, you’ll need to invest a fair amount of time in Twitter to build a following.
An opportunity to connect
Pros and cons aside, at the very least, marketers should view Twitter as another channel to monitor, join – or start – conversations about your business and brand. Chances are, somebody is tweeting about your organization, or soon will be, and that information can be vital to your business.
Surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of marketers either do not monitor social media or choose not to respond to negative feedback, according to MarketingSherpa research.
Responding to Negative Commentary about Your Brand in Social Media
This is a missed opportunity to join the conversation, learn what customers (or prospects, or non-customers) are saying, and to manage customer issues. What better way to engage potential clients than to reach out to those who are already talking about you?
Common misperceptions about Twittering for business
Some of the reasons Twitter gets dismissed as a business tool are the notion that it’s all about fluffy tidbits like what people are eating for lunch, which airport they’re stuck in, and so on. There are plenty of tweets floating around like that, but there is also plenty of useful information if you know how to find it.
Several organizations are already using Twitter to achieve business goals, and send tweets such as:
- Sorry you can’t find the product. Please provide the SKU and I’ll check if it’s in stock.
- Does anyone know how to work X?
- DM me your resume and I’ll review
- Mention this tweet for 10% off
By using it in the right ways, Twitter can become an extremely valuable communication channel for businesses. The thing to keep in mind is that Twitter should be used to impact your bottom line in at least one of three ways:
- Increase revenue
- Build brand or equity
- Decrease costs
Key Point: If you can’t see how Twitter will help your organization do at least one of those things, then it may not be worth the time and effort right now – especially if your executives won’t support the initiative. On the other hand, if you approach Twitter with a strategy for your business, you’re more likely to achieve positive results and get buy-in for further exploration.
Which Twitter strategy is right for your organization?
Like most other business initiatives, just having the tools does not mean you can execute against them. You need a framework and methodology.
Most marketers are familiar with the P.O.
S.T. methodology developed by Forrester Research strategic development in social media:
Marc Meyer and Jason Breed took the P.O.S.T. methodology, added a slight twist and came up with the “R.??.S.T” strategy:
- Research – Listen for discussions on your brand, company, and executives, as well as your competitors, your industry, and your geography.
- Objectives – Understand your business goals and your responsibilities and develop a clear purpose or objective. It must drive revenue, build equity, or decrease costs.
- Strategy – This is where you build a tactical action plan to execute against in order to reach your objectives.
- Technology – Once you understand what you want to accomplish and how you are going to get there, it’s time to start executing with your Twitter account.
How Twitter is working for businesses
Once you have figured out your goals and applied R.??.S.T., you can look to a few companies that are already deriving value from Twitter:
Sales: @DellOutlet – Dell is a great example of a sales strategy using Twitter. Earlier this year it was able to attribute over $1 million in sales coming from the Twitter channel.
Marketing: @HomeDepot – One way that the company could ease the process in stores was to treat their Twitter account as an answer center. Customers could tweet Home Depot to get information on products before going to a store – rather than having to ask an ‘orange apron’ upon arrival.
Customer Service: @JetBlue – With 600,000+ followers, JetBlue has used Twitter as a way to get information about its service to customers, such as delays and changes. But it’s done in a fun, interesting way, helping to soften the perception of traveling being a painful experience.
In the clinic, we also reviewed Twitter pages from pairs of industry competitors to highlight what does and doesn’t work for businesses.
This works …
Kodak CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett provides his followers with a glimpse of a day in the life of an executive. You can see what he views as important for his organization. He’s got a photo with the Kodak logo, a clear bio and he promotes interesting, relevant news. Most of all, he interacts with his followers.
Not this …
Our presenters looked up Fuji but couldn’t find any official Twitter presence; this was the best representation available. This is a missed opportunity for Fuji, particularly when there are tens of thousands of mentions of the brand on Twitter.
This works …
DellOutlet gets it right by not pitching all the time. They do promote great deals, including Twitter-exclusive promo codes, but they are also helpful and responsive to followers’ questions and concerns. It should also be noted that while they have a lot of followers, they seem to follow only other Dell brands. Setting up several accounts with different functions and strategies to suit different customers, and connecting the accounts to ensure that they are all visible, is a good way to connect with a variety of customers.
Not this …
Office Furniture Center has a Twitter page which at first glance looks pretty good. They have 275 updates, but that includes the same five posts repeated 55 times. This isn’t a best practice. More effort is required.
This works …
This is the design page for IBM. It looks good, but you must keep in mind that many people will not find your various brands and categories beyond the flagship. It’s a good idea to link them together.
Not this …
While Microsoft has many brands with a presence on Twitter, this is what comes up if people search for the official flagship name. While you may have segments, people don’t know all of the different segments themselves. Make it easy for people to find the “right” you.
This works …
Scott Monty is the head of social media at Ford. He tries to be engaging, and is often travelling and tweeting about his experiences with products and customers. He is also responsive to his followers’ questions and comments.
Not this …
Nissan is nowhere to be found, and it seems the only Nissan brands on Twitter are a few dealerships. If someone actively searches for your organization, is this what you want them to find?
Who is tweeting about you?
We searched for a few of our web clinic attendees’ brands to show examples of the conversations happening on Twitter, including ones that might be missed due to misspellings. Here’s one example that highlights the pros and cons of Twitter for a well-known brand:
A search for JC Penney turned up quite a few mentions – even a comparison against a competitor, Linens ‘n Things. This is a great opportunity for JC Penney to respond on a very personal level.
This is a reminder that your customers may often perceive you differently than you intend. JC Penney has been spelled incorrectly and there is just as much discussion going on. There is even a comparison against competitors Macy, Sears, and Target. Make sure to search for variations on your brand name.
Key Point: Even if you decide not to take an active approach with a Twitter account, at the very least you should have an official presence and adopt social media listening tools to monitor what is being said about your brand. With or without you, conversations about your brand are taking place – and your competitors may join the discussion if you don’t.
Applying Twitter to your organization
After exploring the strategy of other companies and brands, we wanted to get an understanding of our clinic attendees’ business goals for Twitter. We took another poll with our live audience:
What is your primary Twitter business objective?
Of the 651 respondents, clearly the majority of participants on the clinic felt that Twitter is best su
ited to their marketing activities. This is not surprising, considering most of our clinic attendees are marketers. But it’s interesting to note that the second largest group (13%) is still unsure of their objectives. It’s also surprising that the partnering objective result is so low.
Key Point: With the right approach, Twitter, like other social media outlets, can be an ideal place to develop relationships without a cold call. It provides a starting point to not only find people with shared interests and objectives, but to connect with them and cultivate discussions online and offline that can grow into a partnership.
Barriers to social media adoption
One other study by MarketingSherpa may help explain why so many organizations are still uncertain about how to apply social media tools like Twitter to their business plans, as this chart shows:
Which Factors Have Presented the Most Significant Barriers to Social Media Adoption for Your Organization or Client?
According to the Sherpa survey, a significant number of organizations simply don’t have the staff, budget or tools to manage and measure social media and justify the ROI. As the chart indicates, only a small percentage feels social media is not relevant to their market, which begs the question: If social media is relevant to your market, why isn’t it worthy of greater exploration and experimentation?
Key Point: By developing a strategic approach to social media, many organizations could overcome those stated obstacles and would be likely to see at least some impact from social media tools such as Twitter. It is certainly an area that companies should be testing, because even if the buzz dies down and Twitter is replaced by the next big thing, you may still be able to apply what you learned and bring a number of valuable business connections with you into other social media circles.
Key points to consider for implementing a business-focused Twitter strategy:
- Because you have used social media in a personal capacity, don’t assume you are an expert from a marketing perspective. There will be a learning curve, so take the time to research and learn from both the successes and missteps of others, as well as your own experiments.
- Despite the inevitable backlash spurred by Twitter’s popularity, what some of the negative research does not undermine is the clear opportunity for growth ahead, and a chance to get in on the ground floor.
- Make sure your social media strategy is linked to at least one of three objectives: driving revenue, increasing brand or equity, or reducing costs. Drive revenue through special offers and sales notices; build brand equity by presenting a positive experience that matches your brand voice; and reduce costs by addressing issues directly on Twitter, before clients need to call your company directly.
- Consider the R.??.S.T method: research, set objectives, develop a tactical strategy, and then approach the technology.
- After your research, if the analysis of your objectives does not tie into a tangible strategy and you choose not to actively engage in Twitter, at least use it as a tool to monitor and listen to what people are saying about your brand.
[Editor’s Note: You can also read the Q&A from this web clinic here.]