Saturday, May 16, 2009

Religion, politics...and Twitter

Twitter, I have decided, joins religion and politics as subjects best avoided by well-mannered conversationalists. This past week, I found myself embroiled in no fewer than three separate debates on the subject, with friends who I count among the smartest marketers I know.

“I really don’t care what some teenager in Omaha had for breakfast,” said one.

“It’s a testament to narcissism,” said another.

“Passing fad, and a giant time suck,” said the third.

All three cited a widely-reported Neilson Online study ( which found that 60% of Twitter first-time users never return. Twitter Quitters, they’ve been dubbed. The staggering number of Twitter Quitters proves my colleagues’ points, right?

Right…and wrong.

At the risk of critiquing the emperor’s new clothes, the fact is, joining Twitter – and figuring out how to use it – can cause frustration of epic proportions. It’s not the least bit intuitive. If a new user is not armed with a helpful news article about how to use Twitter, they’re sunk. Twitter becomes something to conquer…after much time-consuming research and a whole lot of trial and error. Along the way, you will inevitably feel stupid.

What successful business attracts new customers by making them feel stupid?

The other thing one quickly learns is that Twitter itself is not particularly useful. The usefulness comes from related programs, such as Tweetdeck, WeFollow and Twellow. Twitter won’t do what these applications do, and there is no link to them on Twitter. You have to go find them yourself.

The Neilson Online statistics come as no surprise to me.

And yet…

If one actually does get past the painful process of joining Twitter -- figuring out how to use the related programs, building a respectable numbers of followers, and following smart and interesting people -- it’s an invaluable tool. Yes, there are teenagers in Omaha tweeting about what they had for breakfast. Yes, there are narcissists who produce literally hundreds of tweets per day – I hope they get professional help. I don’t follow these people.

I do follow various breaking news sources, and enjoy being kept up-to-date on events around the world. It saves me time. I follow leaders in my field and get interesting bits of information, all in 140 characters or less. I have found ways to research companies, products, and customer perspectives that can’t be duplicated by conventional search engines. I get links to articles and blogs that I would never have found on my own. I’ve made important business contacts and developed “virtual” friendships.

I am a fan of Twitter: The End Product, but certainly not Twitter: The Process. And although I’m not a Twitter evangelist, I do find it extremely useful.

But what is it about Twitter that evokes such vitriol from so many people, whether they are Twitter Quitters or simply social observers? Certainly there are those who are uncomfortable with the way social media – including the monstrously-successful Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn – lays bare many of the details of our professional and personal lives. Those folks may never get on the bandwagon, even as the bandwagon leaves without them. But Twitter commands a uniquely hateful response from millions of otherwise savvy internet users, and the reasons for that may be more complex. Is it fear of a technology that moves just too fast? Is it the realization that, as we get older, we may become this generation’s version of Grandpa trying to master the cell phone? Or could it be the frightening vision, in the extreme, that we may someday find ourselves chained to a computer, tweeting our thoughts, while no one is listening?


  1. Kim - great questions. I find it difficult to pinpoint why I get extreme, twisted face reactions from anti-twitterers. And I get this response from the early 20 somethings, right up thru the ages.

    Sure, there is this sense of feeling chained to the computer if they start, plus I also hear folks saying, "I have nothing interesting to say." Which blows my mind - I meet really, really interesting folks every day and in person they have tons of interesting things to say.

    I think the more we share Twitter success stories and also talk about how we use the apps like TweetDeck, PeopleBrowsr (high learning curve but really good platform), the more we can help people develop a greater comfort zone and then the light bulbs will go off on the value of joining the conversation - and this will only benefit everyone with better conversations and more connections.

  2. Your thoughts are always thought provoking and interesting even if I do not agree with you all the time. The manner in which you have embraced Twitter and all social media is quite impressive!


  3. A point should be made that I found this blog via Twitter. Credit or Discredit that as you feel fit.

  4. I agree! I get so frustrated by the comment "why do I care what people ate for breakfast"! It's not about that!!

    -Rachel (@bostonmarketer)

  5. My first reaction to Twitter was: I'm too old for this. And that was it for the next few months. One evening I was lying in the easy chair, totally unable to do anything "productive" and did the nutty thing: I registered at Twitter. My first Tweet was: "I'll have supper soon." From there the conversation developed and I never looked back in anger - but in utter surprise.