Every time I log on to my RSS feeds recently, I seem to be greeted by a score of stories about Twitter; and never more so than in this past week.
The news that the social site had hit 20 billion tweets last Saturday – doubling its volume in just five months – was followed by proposals to allow tweeting of court cases, an announcement that Twitter would now pair you with your ideal ‘stalkers’; and what’s been hailed as the first anti-celebrity in the form of student Steven Holmes.
So it’s interesting to see that a study from US/UK digital agency 360i has concluded that Twitter is still a long way off claiming a place in the marketer’s kit of essentials. Twitter & the Consumer-Marketing Dynamic examined a statistically significant sample of 1,800 tweets over a six-month period, and found that just 12% of tweets sent by individuals included any reference to a brand – and most of the time, that brand was Twitter itself.
Admittedly, if you consider the study’s finding that 94% of all tweets sent by real people were personal in nature, the figure becomes less surprising. Consider this: how many of the personal emails you’ve sent in the past two weeks made mention of a brand? If you end up with a figure that comes in much above 12%, I suspect you’ll be very much in the minority.
Just as with other new media channels, Twitter has been hailed as a ‘bright new path’ for brands to communicate with consumers. Again just as with those channels, early adopting brands have tended to use it as a broadcast medium rather than to establish any form of dialogue.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that tweeting will never be a useful medium for brands. Nor am I saying that there isn’t any interesting brand activity already taking place on Twitter. As we saw in the early days of the internet, email and social networks, any new technology will gain immediate advocates and naysayers from within the marketing community.
The polarity is not unexpected: we marketeers have long been haunted by the idea of a ‘holy grail’ of communication: a tool to teleport our brands directly into the minds and repertoires of consumers. Perhaps the only revelation is how much people want to believe each new development will be that tool; naivety from an industry that prides itself on a reputation for hardbitten cynicism?
Actually, there’s support here for something I began to suspect some time ago: that we marketers are actually more susceptible to messaging than other people, rather than less. Talk to enough consumers and you’ll see a growing unwillingness to articulate any connection with the vast majority of brands. Even the hard-core loyalists feel a need to ‘justify’ their loyalty with rational explanations around value, quality or service.
But all that is by the by; a topic for another day, perhaps. In the meantime, the fact remains that Twitter is still very much a consumer-to-consumer medium, not brand-to-consumer or vice versa. Will that change? In due course, I’ve no doubt. After all, as the new British Gas radio campaign has reminded us, it’s not so very long ago that people were claiming that the telephone could never be a brand medium…