Despite The Hype, Twitter Isn’t A Mainstream Social Marketing Tool

Every so often a site comes along that, in the amount of hype it generates, blows away everything that has come before it. Not so long ago it was Second Life, then Facebook came along and now Twitter is scattering all before it in a blizzard of press-coverage that many of its start-ups peers would give their trendy offices & table-football sets for.

Here in the UK it seems like the BBC & The Guardian would cover the opening of a paper bag if it somehow included Twitter, whilst in the US it has caused enough of a stir to earn a dressing down from Jon Stewart. Meanwhile here on Search Engine Land the top three stories are all about Twitter at the time of me writing this, while Sphinn’s homepage also appears to have been hit with a Twitter bomb. And it’s not as if I’m not guilty of hyping Twitter myself. However I am slightly worried that in recent weeks things might have gone slightly out of control.

gapingvoid History of blog image

This fear was prompted by the tidal wave of coverage generated by Skittle’s recent decision to give over its homepage to the micro-blogging service (a decision which was soon revoked when, in an entirely predictable fashion, many people took the opportunity to fill the candy brand’s homepage with swear words and worse). Now, I’m not going to take this opportunity to explain why I think that this move was such a bad one. But I do want to use it to highlight the fact that Twitter is still very much a niche interest. And while this isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, it can be when people are making decisions on whether or not to invest in marketing on Twitter based on the hype rather than the facts.

Thus the the headline of this post. While I was thinking about what to write today I decided to find out what Twitter’s audience is and ended up on Quantcast. It gives the audience in the US as 6 million which, considering the fact that this is unlikely to include all those using third party services to interact with Twitter, is a pretty healthy number. However what really grabbed my attention was the small bit of commentary next to Twitter’s rank (165 in the US): is a top 250 site that reaches over 6.1 million U.S. monthly people.The typical visitor reads Techcrunch.

That second sentence is so true it hurts and you only need to go back to Skittles to prove this. Even now, weeks after the move, a large proportion of the chatter taken from Twitter is about how Skittles used Twitter, rather than ‘real’ consumers ‘discussing’ Skittles: as social media experts use social media to discuss a social media marketing campaign, it’s like there’s an echo of a reflection. And that’s simply because not that many real consumers are using it yet.

To give some proportion to the audience figure of 6 million, Quantcast gives Facebook a monthly US audience of 79 million. Now that’s what I call mainstream and, for many brands, if something isn’t mainstream then it simply isn’t worth getting involved in, no matter what all of us social media experts may say. Unless something has a certain level of cut-through the investment necessary just won’t be worth it.

None of this is to say that Twitter can’t be used or indeed shouldn’t be used as a great marketing tool. It can, is and will continue to be. But as Sky News announces that it now has a ‘Twitter correspondent’ we should remember that Reuters’ Second Life bureau is now closed and be careful that, when marketing on Twitter, we don’t end up just talking to ourselves.

Cartoon by gapingvoid

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Head of Digital for Mindshare Ireland, as well as holding a global role for the media agency as Director, Emerging Media. At Mindshare he works with both local & multinational clients, helping them to integrate on & offline, and to utilise search, social, mobile & video in their broader marketing mix.

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  • davidconnell

    This is a good reminder not to get too caught up in the Twitter echo chamber. But really it’s about audience and knowing who you’re reaching with what channel. If I want to target enviro. blog editors, Twitter is a great channel to get my content onto. If I want to target a casual web user with an interest int the environment, I’ll use Facebook.

    Ultimately, I probably want both. It’s just a matter of knowing which channel is going to reach your target audience. Twitter is useful in certain circles, but yeah, it’s probably not useful for marketing Skittles.

  • Xtian

    In response, I share this with you; seems to perhaps disprove what you’re saying about the effectiveness overall of the Skittles stunt.

  • chris.leone

    @davidconnell is right. Brands focus too much on the medium, not the effect. They need to think of twitter as a connecting medium, not a marketing medium.

  • stuartpturner

    Excellent post Ciaran, this is an issue we’ve been thinking about at our agency a lot. Knowledge sharing is a key use of Twitter, but any other commercial applications seem a bit of a mystery at the moment.

    I know a couple of agenices who have replaced messenger with Twitter, to ensure that:
    (a) conversation is limited to direct relevant messages
    (b) make all staff communication public (as everyone follows everyone else)

    The comment we seem to get a lot is that if you’re in SEO, or online marketing Twitter is great. If not, it’s easy to get bored and kind of forget about it.

    Phase or craze? Who knows…

  • stuartpturner

    @Xtian I’d have to disagree. As per davidconnell and chris.leone’s comments I don’t think this stunt has sold any more Skittles. Of course the online ‘buzz’ will increase – but until you can download a packet to your desk I don’t think this is going to increase sales ;)

  • http://skinner skinner

    These are valid points, but I would like to remind everyone that when Google started many people touted it as a ‘flash in the pan’ and a common sentiment was that it could never replace Yahoo. I feel strongly that Twitter is only just getting started.

  • Ciarán Norris

    @Xtian I’m afraid all that proves is that lots of marketing types are talking about Skittles and many of them are saying that it’s great: but then so did the citizens proclaiming the brilliance of the Emperor’s new clothes.

    @skinner – I’m not arguing that Twitter won’t go mainstream, or that it is a flash in the pan. I’m just concerned that at the moment the hype overshadows the reality. I still encourage brands to use Twitter but don’t want to see brands turned off when unrealistic ambitions aren’t realised.

  • seanhecking

    It’s important for everyone to take hyped technologies in stride. There are great benefits to using Twitter, but I think we are seeing the peak of the hype curve:

    As the technology begins to mature, business models will be refined. It’s natural for people to jump on this technology not understanding the true benefits. Since it is free, there is very little risk involved in trying new things with Twitter.

  • andreas.wpv

    Talking to ourselves! So true.

    And on top of that, it is mainly repeating what is communicated via facebook, msn, blogs, and whatever!

    Yes, I use it too, and I am happy with it, for communicating in and out.
    For communication in, I filter heavily what I read, hardly scan and in doubt search.

    Good post.


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