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TWITTER AND THE PET ROCK

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Early in 1975, Gary Dahl a California advertising executive came up with the idea of the "Pet Rock" which quickly became a pop culture phenomenon and made him a millionaire. By Christmas of that year, the fad was over and the cute little rocks from a Baja beach went back to just being nuisances at the ocean's edge. I think that Twitter may be destined for a similar fate.

I must confess that as a small business owner, salesman and marketer, I haven't yet found a use in my business for Twitter and I've treated every encouragement to use it like a jury duty summons. Because my business resources are limited by dollars and staff size, the first question I ask about any new whiz bang idea is "how does it help me get the attention of people who are in a position to buy what I'm selling?" In my case those products are, TV and radio program sponsorship plus seeking partners for our non-profit, the Making It Institute. If I can't connect those marketing and sales dots with Twitter, I'd prefer to just read about it rather than invest precious hours in attempting to make it work for my business.

Here are some interesting numbers on Twitter from RJ Metrics that would interest marketers. The number of monthly new users dropped from 7.8 million to 6.2 million in mid 2009. That report also says that just 17% of Twitter users updated their accounts last December, an all time low. The Nielsen Company says that 60% of Twitter users don't return from one month to the next. While I'm not predicting the total demise of this branch of the social media tree, the digital world is littered with formerly hot ideas. You remember Friendster and Second Life don't you?

The words Tweet and Twitter imply something small. At a certain level, I think that Twitter is made for small businesses since we are always yearning for economical ways to put our messages in front of prospective customers. Because small business owners can say and do things that buttoned up corporate marketing types would have to get lots of signed approvals for, there are some success stories. I read a story that Someecards has about 1.7 million followers while the giant and legendary Hallmark Cards has around 2000. One of those companies has 14,000 employees and the other just 5 full timers. Part of the Someecards winning strategy is not being afraid to post some downright crass statements in their tweets.

How are the big marketers handling Twitter? Dell Computer seems to be riding a wave of success because they use the service to tell customers about bargains in their outlet store. In American culture having someone lead us to a good deal is very high on the "I love it" scale right behind our affection for the flag and long buffet tables! One of our sponsor clients, Verizon shelled out a billion in advertising dollars in 2009 but they only have about 5000 followers in their tweet parade. In other words you've got to have an offer that has some special appeal to your followers and consumers.

Even politicians (or their assistants) are thumbing their way through this fairly new form of outreach. This week the Los Angeles Times featured an article titled "Congress Keeps it Short and Tweet" about the legislators who are using Twitter. Just the idea of those folks on social media sites reminds me of the historic phrase, "Nero fiddled while Rome burned." I'm under the impression that the 140 character limit that Twitter enforces might not be compatible with the natural verbosity of politicians who are usually looking for a more spacious platform. Elected officials are probably the polar opposite of an ideal profile for effective Twitter marketing.

Here is my bottom line. The flood of messages showing up in my in-box these days has me dreaming of an electronic shovel to get rid of 100 or more messages per day. Add social media messages to that, and the whole thing is making me antisocial! If your life is being bombarded in a similar way, you too may be growing suspicious of all electronic message advertising. For any of the social media tools to really work for you, it had best be by spreading useful, compelling and beneficial information to prospects and customers. Just as before Twitter, there must be a strategy and good idea in your marketing messages. Sometimes you'll have to be snarky and irreverent to break through the clutter of clogged in-boxes, but small business owners can get away with that much better than large corporations. Despite some marketing success stories, something inside continues to tell me that Twitter is really the territory of those people named Hilton or Kardashian or Kutcher. I must confess that I often feel that everybody's talking but very little of immediate use or lasting value is being said.