Monday, May 4, 2009

Davenport fires a shot across Twitter’s bow

Arguably no one has laid out a more compelling case for customer data and its resulting analytics than Tom Davenport. In fact, I challenge you to name a more influential business book over the past five years. He does not consider his words lightly, so for him to take a serious shot at Twitter deserves consideration.

Here’s what Davenport said on his April 9 Harvard Business Review blog. “Do serious marketers spend a lot of time and energy on Twitter campaigns? I doubt it. Sure, go ahead and play around with it — it doesn't cost much. But I defy you to do serious brand management in 140-character messages. I defy you to prove that Twitter users are your typical customer — unless you sell bubble tea or something similar — or that their tweets are a true reflection of their relationship with your company…..Let's face it — Twitter is a fad. It has all the attributes of a fad, including the one that people like me don't get its appeal. It has risen quickly and it will fall quickly. It's this year's Second Life — which, you may have noticed, nobody is talking much about anymore.”

Tweet on that for a while. I don’t think Twitter is a fad. It is a community that allows people to get on and off very quickly. It is the circulation department for personal brands. Over the past few weeks analysts have become very brave about pointing out its limitations. At the risk of piling on, I’d like to add one more voice to that, one that takes Davenport’s concerns a little further.

Twitter is not customer-centric and will not produce any meaningful data in its current form. It shrinks self-promotional messaging into its simplest bites. Just because a brand Tweets on its most recent ad campaign, and just because I click on it, or even decide to be a follower, doesn’t show a lot of engagement. It’s a bit of a lark. You can follow Madonna. You can follow Harley Davidson. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a customer, and it doesn’t provide any more metrics for by the extent of my interest, purchase intent, or even what my behavior might be after I Tweet out.

As I mentioned I think Tweeter is the new circulation department and for that is a publishing force to be reckoned with. I don’t have to follow Fox Sports, but I can follow Tim McCarver. There I’m saying I’m not as interested in the overall brand as I am in reading the opinions of a respected sports analyst. In fact, while Davenport took some healthy haymakers at Twitter, it’s not so tough to find him there. He wants readers, he wants attention, but he won’t sell a lot of books there.

As Davenport suggests, I don’t think marketers should invest heavily on Twitter, because it’s lightweight marketing. Customer retention, acquisition, purchase data – these are essential for recovery. But if you have compelling characters that can command an audience, get’ em out there. Just don’t expect much more than some cute anecdotes.

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