Why Twitter is the Duct Tape of Marketing and Why Every Firm Needs to Know How to Use It

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Chris Curran & John Sviokla

Duct tape is universally useful because it is incredibly simple, almost infinitely flexible, easily available, and cheap.  Twitter shares all these attributes.  Twitter is a new layer of communication which can be overlaid on everything - just like Duct Tape can be used to repair a chair, or make an artificial flower.  Anyone can use the web and their phone to both send and receive tweets (messages of 140 characters or less) - for free.  It enables people to send messages directly to one person, groups to self form, or to send a tweet to everyone who follows you.  Some people only follow a few dozen compatriots, Guy Kawasaki follows over 100,000 people and has almost 100,000 followers, as well as creating (with some help by others) over 28,000 tweets!  By way of comparison, the Boston Globe had a circulation in 2008 of about 350,000 - falling at a rate of 8-9% per year.  As a pundit, Guy is using Twitter to build an ongoing audience.

But it is so much more as I’ve already discussed here; the range of applications is spectacular.  From online commentary for any off-line event, and the New York Times developed a great visualization of the tweets during the super bowl to Pepsi’s integration of Twitter with geographic information at the spectacularly popular South by Southwest music, film and interactive media festival to Whole Foods recipe tweets.  Almost every major media outlet is tweeting, the Apple App Store has over 100 Twitter applications, and there are over 100 free tools that have already bubbled up.

How did this seemingly trivial application that Jack Dorsey created in two weeks back in March 2006 as a way for him to know what his friends were doing grow into this global phenomenon?  We think it is because of three critical things: first, the design is simple, modular, scalable and cross platform.  Messaging used to be a youth dominated phenomenon, but just walk into any business meeting and think about how similar tweeting is to blackberry email.  As social animals, we humans are addicted to communication and understanding how our social group is acting and thinking.  In business this is very practical, and in social settings very entertaining.

Second, Twitter has an open technical architecture.  As I pointed out in another post, it is an example of an application that sits “in the cloud” and is available everywhere.  The interfaces to the capability are simple and well defined in their Applications Programming Interface (API), which makes it easy to plug into their messaging capability.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is very easy for people to join, and to self organize around topics, companies, individuals, and events.  In this sense it is an incredibly “democratic” medium - with all the control at the ends of the network.  Our Diamond Fellow David Reed wrote about Reed’s Law in Harvard Business Review many years ago about the power of self-forming networks and it is because of their very flexibility of organizing that makes them so powerful.

Twitter is, and can become so many things, we are suggesting three questions to think about - but they are only a start.

  1. What are people saying about my brand?  There are many tools that can help you track how people are talking about your company, or issues your customers are thinking about, or complaints?
  2. How can I connect and build a direct communication between my firm and all the customers who want to follow our tweets - on their phone, web, or other device?  It is cheap, direct, and growing.  There is no downside, as long as you put thoughtful effort behind the initiative.
  3. What capabilities should my firm have so that we can use the right tools to track topics and conversations being tweeted about in my industry, product/service area, and target market?

We believe - as other pundits have pointed out - that this current wave of the internet is becoming more real time and populated by many mini-applications like Twitter that will be assembled together to create functionality.  Senior executives should care because marketing and sales has always been about communication, references, and word of mouth, and Twitter turbo charges that hugely human process.

Furthermore, we believe that the new “links” that Twitter creates with its Tweets, among and between people and groups will some day be mined for superior search and attention management - just the way Google uses page links to power its search algorithm today.  It is only a matter of time before Google or Microsoft buys them and integrates the functionality into their platform - and it will be part of how every company communicates and markets.  Now is a time to get a jump on the competition!

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