Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Twitter - More Questions than Answers!

I hope it's clear from my title that if you are looking for advice on how to use Twitter to maximum advantage, you probably won't find it here. What you will find are more questions than answers.

A few weeks ago I signed up to Twitter, something I'd instinctively resisted until I was advised that it was a sure-fire way to get sales for the products in my online stores. Opening an account was very quick and straightforward compared to my experience of other social networking sites but what followed was anything but 'straightforward'!

First there were the unfamiliar terminology and concepts - again! - such as 'retweet', 'lists' and 'trending' (what are we doing to our language!) and odd little conventions like the use of @ and #, FF and RT.  Add to that the speed of light with which everything happens, so that the 'tweets' I might have wanted to actually explore disappeared before my eyes as floods of new ones came pouring into my homepage, I felt confused and, before long, quite overwhelmed. But those are practicalities which I can adjust to, just as I've had to with facebook and blogging.

On reflection, I think what has most bothered me is that I'm not altogether clear in my mind about the purpose and function of Twitter. It calls itself a social networking site, one of the newer social media, so its purpose is clearly putting people in touch with one another quickly and easily. But is it? There are articles and blogs that I've read that claim that Twitter is really a search engine in disguise, not a social networking site at all, and what's more, it's the fastest growing search engine - though it still has a long way to go to catch up with Google.

So which is it - a Search Engine or a Social Networking Site? Is it possible for it to be either - or both! - according to what its users want from it? And more importantly, can it really help me with my Zazzle sales and if so, how can I make it work for me?

Seth Godin, the US entrepreneur behind Squidoo Lenses, doesn't seem any more enthusiastic about Twitter as a marketing tool than he is about it as a social networking opportunity.

I agree that it's rather a vain hope to build real relationships using messages limited to 140 characters. And one of the drawbacks of Twitter for short messages, as compared to other similar media, such as Messenger, facebook and even Skype, is that you can't see when the person you're chatting to goes offline (unless they make a point of saying that they're leaving!) This hardly makes for a natural ebb and flow of conversation!

The other drawback, that some may see as a benefit, I suppose, is that, by default, the 'tweets' are available for others to read. The reams of, to me, meaningless @soandso tweets that pour into my homepage are one of the things that makes the whole Twitter experience somewhat irritating and at times, bewildering, to me.

So why not just use email to build relationships? It's free, quick and easy - not as quick as a 'tweet' of course, but at least in an email, you get the chance to express yourself naturally and genuinely and in a way  appropriate to the recipient!

But then again, is it really necessary to 'build a relationship' with a potential customer in order to 'convert' or otherwise persuade that person to buy what we're trying to sell them? If you are selling cars or computers or any sort of major purchase, especially if after-sales service is part of the deal, I would say 'yes, it probably is'. It's always encouraging to sense that we can trust the person who is selling us an expensive item. One of the assistants in the office supplies shop that I frequent regularly, is very persistent in trying to sell me expensive equipment, such as printers, without even finding out first what my specific needs are. So I don't trust him and it's unlikely I'd buy any of the things he suggests that I need! But greeting cards? Or T-shirts, or mousepads - I don't think so! For the most part the only thing I know about the people who have bought my greeting cards and other products through my online stores, is where they come from, information supplied by the online stores. A couple of friends have bought my greeting cards to give me a start but on the whole, I wouldn't want to mix friendship with business. I'm pretty sure that in most cases, I'd lose friends that way, without gaining any sales!

So if Twitter isn't really about building relationships, and if some kinds of sales don't necessitate much of a relationship between buyer and seller, maybe its usefulness lies mostly in the fact that Google picks up the tweets and makes them widely available?. Maybe that's why some Twitterers are simply tweeting their 'products' en masse, not caring whether their followers even bother to click on the links to them, as long as they get them 'out there' as fodder for the search engines? In that case it makes sense to acquire as huge a 'following' as possible but that has nothing to do with 'relationships', social or otherwise!

Having mercilessly picked Twitter to pieces, I should just add that I have found an upside! For me it's been a good source of interesting articles and blogs, mostly, but not entirely, on the subject of Search Engine Optimisation. If only they were easier to find amidst the stream of irrelevant other stuff'!

I'm wondering as I write this, is there a collective noun for 'tweets' to replace the expressions, 'flood of tweets', or 'stream of tweets' that I've used? A 'barrage of tweets' or a 'spate of  tweets' come to mind but my best suggestion would probably be, 'a babble of tweets', from the 15th Century meaning, 'to repeat oneself incoherently, speak foolishly' - maybe you can come up with something even more appropriate!

Or maybe I should 'tweet' that question to the Twitterworld? It's probably no less interesting than tweeting about the weather and my progress on cleaning my house!

'Twittering' chicadees courtesy of Country Mouse Studio's Greeting Card Universe Store. Click on the images to see the greeting cards in greater detail and from there you can browse Carole's many other lovely wildlife paintings as greeting cards.


Ulla Hennig said...

I once compared twitter to a crowded pub where lots of people were talking at the same time. It is loud, and sometimes overwhelming, yes.
But with hootsuite I managed to break that overwhelming stream of "babble" into groups (or lists). I sometimes even pick up one or two persons and focus on their tweets.

JudyAdamsonArtandDesign said...

I'm relieved to know it's not just me! In fact it does seem to be getting a bit more manageable as time goes on. But I still wonder about it...

Christina said...

Hi Judy,
Best to learn by example from successful tweeters.

Follow Sock Dreams on Twitter for a while.
See the patterns of how what they post and how often.


They post coupons but they also keep people up to date with new sock arrivals

If a customer sends them a tweet saying they loved socks they ordered, Sock Dreams will RT(re-tweet) the message, and say thanks!

(I'm just a customer of the online store. Reading the tweets makes me WISH I could shop at the Portland store.)


JudyAdamsonArtandDesign said...

Thank you for the advice, Christina - I'll do as you suggest.

Christina said...

I've had the most fun following The Daily Coyote


Since I've read her book on her coyote and follow her blog,when Shreve posts this, I really enjoy it!

"Charlie, you truly are a coyote of leisure. You're supposed to EAT all those grasshoppers, not bounce around after them!"

So when she later posts that elk antler chew toys are back in her etsy shop, it gets my attention.

Nicki said...

Hi Judy,

This was so interesting to read. I really don't understand the whole Twitter thing. I almost get Facebook and a year in, I am now feeling pretty good about blogging! With certain things (read: techy) I am slow on the uptake!

Thanks for your nice comment over at "my place".


Jean said...

Judy, Thanks for posting this subject. I have had so many questions about twittering. This has helped.

JudyAdamsonArtandDesign said...

Nicki and Jean - thank you for your comments. I may not have answered any questions but at least I may have inadvertently helped others to realise they aren't the only confused ones!

There's more about Twitter on Scottish Photographer, Norman Young's blog: