Next month, I'll be attending the Search Engines Strategies 2010 Conference and Expo here in Toronto June 9-11. One of the sessions, entitled Twitter Nation, includes Paul Madden on the panel. Paul is the owner of Crea8 New Media and he was nice enough to answer a few Twitter questions for me.
Toronto Mike (TM): As a blogger, I originally saw the benefit of Twitter as an RSS alternative of sorts; a way to push content to subscribers. Then, after using it for a few weeks, I realized it was a great deal more. Why should people be on Twitter?
Paul Madden (PM): I also came to look at Twitter initially as a distribution method for my work and there is little doubt that it does that task in a great way. RSS offers an easy way to distribute content but Tweets offer not only a distribution channel but also an opportunity for people who enjoyed the content to further distribute the link onwards.
But as you say its so much more than simply a method to promote content, its a community where people can feel connected to others who they wouldn't be able to reach out to in normal ways, its a brand builder for companies to put forward their message as part of the conversation. Its also a real time customer service tool and reputation management suite.
And away from the use in business Twitter represents a profound shift in the real time spread of news and comment in a way that the search engines and traditional media have struggled to replicate.
So in answer to "Why should people be on Twitter?" I think its hard to find many good arguments for why people shouldn't be on Twitter.
TM: It seems every good and services company has a Twitter account these days. If a company isn't on Twitter, are they missing out?
PM: Twitter offer companies so many advantages that I feel its very short sighted if they aren't taking advantage of them today. From offering a way to reach out and converse with their customer base to a way of promoting their brand and growing new business Twitter is an effective tool. Many companies have learnt quickly that by offering up someone to act as their representative on Twitter they can put a human face on their brand and start to join in with the conversations about their niche and brand in a way that provides them with the sort of feedback that they wouldn't realistically get through any other medium.
TM: What role can Twitter play in B2B marketing strategies?
PM: I think that if the company can open up and become more transparent in their plans and workings then Twitter offers an opportunity for them to truly learn what their customers want and need. It also allows companies to form direct personal relationships with people regarded as influencers in their niche and can therefore offer a powerful method for any brand to launch and promote their message in a cost effective and efficient way.
TM: I love the real-time aspect of Twitter. A Twitter search gives you a great reading of the current zeitgeist. Is search the future of Twitter?
PM: I am not sure it represents the future of search, I do think it represents an important component of what search will become. I think that Googles rushed attempt to integrate real time results into their search results really docent do that well though. I still find that if the search I want to do is about a news or topical subject searching Twitter directly has now replaced Google as my default place to start.
Normal searches and research still relies for me on Google and their link and trust based algo. I can understand though why Google rushed to incorporate the real time Tweets into their results but the current implementation is rather poor.
I do agree that Twitter has recognised the power that search provides them and whilst it isn't their reason to exist it probably represents their best option for profit in the coming years.
TM: I've got to know, how does Twitter eventually make money, considering so many of us use the service without ever visiting twitter.com?
PM: That is their biggest challenge in my opinion. I cant understand why they haven't started serving Adverts in an Adwords style in their search results on Twitter.com. Given the volume of traffic and the fact that people are used to seeing ads in the context of search this seems a no brainer to me.
The challenge though, as you rightly point out, is that a large proportion of users never actually use their site directly and instead access their data via clients like Tweetdeck etc.
This means that to get any revenue from their data they would either have to charge the clients for the data and they would therefore have to move to a subscription or ad supported model (Dangerous for the growth of the platform). Alternatively they would have to find a way of getting revenue from the data itself, serving ads into the stream, charging business for use on verified accounts etc.
There is a huge amount of danger in any of those options for them but they will have to face up to the revenue question soon, for me it probably makes more sense for them to sell to someone interested in acquiring their user base.