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When good Twitters go bad

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Monday, June 01, 2009
ATSTwitterIllustration by Martin Gee
While Travel Portland has gotten national media attention for the digital concierge it’s calling a “Twisitor Center,” most Oregon companies have a don’t-know-don’t-care attitude when it comes to Twitter, the micro-blogging service where users update frequently with short answers to the question “What are you doing?” A survey of the local Twitter landscape shows companies from gDiapers to Intel hopping on the bandwagon, but our “Media Habits” survey in the March issue showed 76% of Oregon companies either have no plans to use social media or feel it does not apply to their business.

But say you’ve decided to join the Twitter few. You’ve just invested the 45 seconds it takes to sign up for Twitter. Now what? Here are examples of how Twitter can be a feather in your company’s cap — and how it can be a black eye.

CREATIVITY: Michael Buchino at Portland Center Stage updates @NixonLOLZ as a demented version of Tricky Dick to promote the upcoming production of Frost/Nixon. Buchino’s amusing tweets as Lady Bracknell, Scrooge and Nixon — characters from Center Stage plays — have attracted 890 followers. Twitter sends about 600 unique visitors to the Portland Center Stage website each month, and a Twitter-only Halloween special sold 100 tickets to that night’s performance, says public relations manager Trisha Pancio.

SPAMMING: One strategy for getting more followers is a kind of Twitter spam — follow as many users as you can, hoping they’ll follow you back. Visitors to the Twitter page for JELD-WEN, a window and door maker based in Klamath Falls, may be impressed by the number of followers: 1,416. But check out how many feeds @jeldwen is following: 1,995. The contrast in the numbers will make people wonder why JELD-WEN is interested in more people than are interested in them. It’s as if they sent out 1,995 invitations to a party, and 579 people didn’t bother to respond.

USEFULNESS: “In 140 characters, how can you tell if a pear is ripe?” Christie Mather from the Northwest Pear Bureau, based in Portland, has turned @USApears into an interactive pear encyclopedia by answering questions from Twitter users. (Answer: “Check the neck for ripeness by pressing the stem end w/your thumb. If it yields to gentle pressure, it’s a sweet, juicy pear!”) Mather has a calendar of topics to tweet about: name at least one pear variety on Monday, link to a recipe on Tuesday, “communicate passion for fresh pears” through song or haiku on Wednesday, and so on. The Pear Bureau’s research showed that 65% of people who saw an article about pears were motivated to buy. Mather and the Pear Bureau hope Twitter will work the same way.

TRASH TALK: @gorgebookstop doesn’t have many followers, but that doesn’t mean Cynthia Christenson should use it to complain about her customers at Gorge Book Stop in Hood River. Christenson tweets about customers who smell bad, say stupid things or linger past closing, and then gripes about business being slow. Who wants to browse at a book store where the person behind the counter is quietly but publicly judging you?

CONNECTING: @BurgervilleUSA tweets about new menu items and more than 800 followers eat it up. @BurgervilleUSA also tweets about online contests, customer polls and nutrition facts. Burgerville’s Twitter following is so sincere that one member recently proposed a “Tweetup” at a Burgerville in Vancouver, which is where the company is based. The Tweetup breached the online-real world gap when 12 people actually showed.

NEGLECT. More than 100 loyal Double Mountain fans are following the Hood River brewery’s feed at @DoubleMountain. But the company has only updated a handful of times and they haven’t filled in the only information Twitter asks for — a short description and their web site address. It’s the e-equivalent of letting customers walk through the door without being greeted.


0 #1 RE: Double Mountain, I'm not surprisedChris 2009-06-04 15:48:54
Neglect is the general feel I had when I went to Double Mountain this past weekend. The beer is excellent and I was surprisingly pleased with the food, but the service and demeanor of both the women tending the bar was terribly unfriendly.
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0 #2 Shilo Inns Twitters tooDklimke 2009-06-04 20:09:09

Give em a look.
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Carri Bugbee
0 #3 Provocative headline, but not quite accurateCarri Bugbee 2009-06-06 15:26:32
The information you’ve presented here is both misinformed and dated.

For starters, Twitter is growing so fast, any data you have from March is irrelevant in June. Twitter users quadrupled during March and April 2009 (http://blog.comscore.com/2009/05/twitter_traffic_quadruples.html). I would wager that if you polled businesses this month, they would be much more likely to embrace Twitter and social media. I train businesses in the use of Twitter (and other social media tools), so anecdotally I know that interest is astoundingly high right now.

Also, following people on Twitter is not considered “spam." It is the RECOMMENDED way to gain followers. How will people know you are on Twitter if you don’t follow them to let them know you’re there? Celebrities can talk about Twitter on their TV shows – but that’s not a strategy most businesses can employ. Even publishing your Twitter handle everywhere that you’ve placed your company’s URL won’t necessarily reach people who are on Twitter. Connecting with them ON the platform does.

Moreover, Twitter has a degree of built-in spam protection because it’s impossible to follow more than 2,000 users until the number of your followers reaches 90 percent of the number you’re following. That ratio stays constant for all of us except a precious few who where “white listed” in the early days of the platform.

The disparity of JELD-WEN’s following/follo wer ratio isn’t necessarily a sign that people aren’t interested in JELD-WEN (people might not be, but the ratio doesn’t tell us that.). A cursory look through the history of the JELD-WEN account indicates it’s more likely they have a disparity because they haven’t been very active tweeters, they talk about themselves too much and engage with others too little. This is a common mistake for a lot of business tweeters, but is easy enough to remedy.

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0 #4 What Carrie says...PDXsays 2009-06-06 16:27:57
easy 1st:

1) I'd have to agree about JEN-WELD. tried to converso at one point, gotta get it to share it... this company could really use a community manager or consultant to get them on the right road. Damn, they're just throwing potential friends and return customer s out the window with almost 2k followers.

2)but following a *lot* of people all at once, and *not* conversing, talking all about you, you, you instead is close enough to spamming that I'll say it is splitting hairs not to give 'em that. JEN-WELD never intended to do anything but accumulate a list to blast. Once again, that can change, with an authentic and transparent use and understanding of SoMe | SN. (*JEN-WELD... call Carrie cause your gonna need a good PR person to field the flak off this posting.)

3)I'm gonna have to go with the almost 80% are oblivious- you know, that 15% - 5%-80% theory I have about SoMe|SN? It's like motor oil in more than name; some things aren't mixing, shake thoroughly. How to do that? It's Plato's Cave - you go out see the sun, come back and try to tell ppl who have only lived in the dark. How do you describe daylight? So it's true; 80% of people - 80% of biz - are not turning like a field of flowers to the sun of SoMe.

Yea, verily, that field does not even exist in their minds. That's *why* marketing is in such a quandary, devoting so much focus to bring analysis and metrics to management and decision makers that support captured value, and how that works.

Why shake thoroughly? Most everyone is below the water line... The iceberg is bigger than it looks - lots of people need to learn yet about how the world is changing. It's evolution... Mammals vs. Dino's First there was electricity (the internet) then there was the telephone (SoMe | SN | SoWeb). Biz will sort itself out as folks take the easiest path, path of least resistance. Change is here. Use it or lose it.
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Linnet Woods
0 #5 Slight misconceptionLinnet Woods 2009-06-07 14:36:13
The difference between the number of people I follow and those who follow me is a few hundred. Many of those are people who are of great interest to me but to whom I can offer nothing they want or need - news entities, comedians who make me laugh, all sorts of people whose tweets I would miss and whose failure to reciprocate doesn't offend me at all.

You mention people judging others in book stores but you just did exactly that in your assessment of @jeldwen under SPAMMING and I'd say an apology to @jeldwen (whoever he or she is) is in order!

It might be an idea for you to research your next topic just a tiny bit more carefully before opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, so to speak :-)
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Adrianne Jeffries
0 #6 Thanks for the commentsAdrianne Jeffries 2009-06-07 20:19:57
Thank you all for the comments.

Carri makes a good point that the survey from March is probably outdated by now -- the number of Twitter users keeps growing (although more than half of new Twitter users wait months before their first tweet) and probably the interest in Twitter among Oregon businesspeople has increased as well. Perhaps we'll do another survey or include a Twitter question in the online poll.

As to the issue of whether the follow-follow back strategy that JELD-WEN seems to be employing constitutes spamming or not -- seems like there's a difference of opinion on that. I read somewhere that 17% of Twitter users will follow you back if you follow them. @JELDWEN has a higher percentage than that, so they must be doing something right. However I maintain that it's bad for appearances to have a large disparity where the number of followers is much fewer than the number following. Additionally, Carri pointed out that they are making some other mistakes -- talking about themselves too much, not updating enough, and not engaging... So basically they're blasting people en masse and trying to get them to sign up for something with little utility. Also, the fact that the number of people they are following is just under 2,000 shows they're bumping up against Twitter's built-in spam protection. To me, the spamming analogy is appropriate.

Of course people on Twitter can join opt-in groups or figure out other ways to pad their followers, so it's not always a reliable metric.

Thanks again to everyone for the discussion.
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Cynthia Christensen
0 #7 Really?Cynthia Christensen 2009-06-12 18:18:35
I write the @gorgebookstop Tweets and I feel you need a little clarification. I tweet for friends, authors and publishers I know, friends, etc. I don't market my Tweets and the things I do Tweet on are the same things everyone else says and thinks in their everyday life. Have you never had something happen or encounter a situation that makes you say "really?" If a guy walked into your business wearing wind chimes like a shawl saying "You must has" would you not call someone and tell them. That's what I am doing. Twitter is not just to drum up business, sometimes it's the way we talk to our friends and family. Oh, by the way, lighten up.
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Adrianne Jeffries
0 #8 Professional/pe rsonal blurring onlineAdrianne Jeffries 2009-06-14 17:11:27
Cynthia: Gotcha, but your user name and the fact that you link to the business web site make @gorgebookstop the online face of Gorge Book Stop. Perhaps it would more sense to make those comments on a personal Twitter account.
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running shoes
0 #9 running shoesrunning shoes 2010-01-05 17:33:13
Cynthia: Gotcha, but your user name and the fact that you link to the business web site make @gorgebookstop the online face of Gorge
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