As part of this odd road I’m on towards self publishing success I’ve learned that part of my job is to dive into every new little social networking thing on the planet.
In that vein, last week management and I took the plunge into Twitter (I’m @josephdevon, he’s @cpasadena). For those who don’t know what Twitter is…I am not the place to find answers. But I’ll try and explain it anyway.
Imagine you can send text messages into the ether using your computer. And imagine that anyone who wants to can pluck up your texts and read them. And you, in turn, can pick people whose texts you want to read.
And that’s it. Millions of people sending 140 character long messages to no one in particular, but anyone who wants to follow you can and they will receive every text you send out at their Twitter homepage. Likewise you can follow anyone you want and you will receive every text message they send out on your Twitter homepage. So you wind up with this stream of consciousness barrage of messages about what people are eating and what they’re selling and articles they like and who’s feeling gassy and what the weather is like in England.
And, of course, there are tons of bells and whistles added on at this point. There are ways to tag things in tweets so they’ll show up easily in searches, ways to attach pictures or music, and ways to search for Twitterers (I refuse to use the word Tweeple) whose streams might be pleasing for you to wade in.
So that was last week. Management and I finally started Twittering in earnest to try and figure out what Twitter is all about. After a few days I started jotting down the various Twitter thoughts that were coming out of our mouths. Then this morning I went over to Wordle and turned those thoughts into the following cloud. Reactions, obviously, varied.
As the artistic end of JosephDevon.com, I found myself rather enjoying the odd underlying social experiment of the whole Twitter thing. I can see what Tony Hawk, Eddie Izzard and Neil Gaiman are thinking about while they wait for flights or head to work. As the person in charge of Customer Relations here at JosephDevon.com, this strikes me as a great tool to provide more value to fans. The thought process being something like, “Well, I enjoy following artists I like on this thing, so fans of mine might possibly enjoy hearing my odd ramblings too.” Not to mention some of the innovative things I’ve seen people doing. Tony Hawk, for instance, is currently hiding signed skateboards in various places that he visits and then Twittering their locations to his fans. The first fan to find the skateboard wins the skateboard. Not only one of the cooler things I’ve seen in the Twitterverse, but one of the cooler things I’ve seen anywhere.
Moving away from my reaction and more towards management’s reaction is the middle ground we both occupy in which we have found a simple joy in always having something new to read while, say, waiting for the bus. We are both starting to settle into nicely personalized twitter streams; people we find annoying have been dropped and new people we find interesting have been added so that checking in on Twitter has, largely, become an enjoyable experience. At first this wasn’t so. In a frantic effort to jump start things we both followed tons of people willy-nilly resulting in a very muddy stream with lots of jagged rocks and irritating bugs. Take warning, potential Twitterers, you are in charge of your stream and it requires constant, though not particularly intensive, maintenance. The goal, to push this stream analogy further, is a Twitter stream somewhat comparable to a stream you might go tubing in. Lazy, slow, comfortable, with maybe a few bumps and scary parts but nothing you need a helmet for and nothing you can’t manage after six beers.
Finally, at the other end of the Twitter spectrum, is management’s attempts to utilize Twitter as a marketing tool. This is nothing short of baffling. There are tons of articles about how Twitter is the new whatever and I believe Skittles pulled off a marketing coup a few weeks ago that has everyone talking without anyone having the slightest idea of what the hell actually happened. A reaction was obtained, but what that reaction did for sales and marketing is anyone’s guess. Which, in the end, is a very Twitter-esque result.
One of the defining things about Twitter is that, due to a strict 140 character limit, brevity is built in. You can’t grandstand, you can’t hog the stream, messages are constantly floating past and many of them drop off the bottom of your monitor, technically readable later when you have more time to click through to your history, but in reality never to be seen again. You can’t do much but float along and any attempts to clog peoples’ streams with constant tweets will result in you being dropped because the other great thing about Twitter is its fluidity. The number of people following you is always rising and falling and the people you follow are constantly being edited. There are no sign up forms, no permissions to obtain, no messages to send, you just click “Stop Following” and you stop following. The effort is minimal allowing for real time reactions to, and from, your fellow Twitterers.
With something that nebulous it’s very hard to “market” to people because what’s hot, what’s watched, what’s followed changes rapidly and in the end the things people gravitate towards are the things people want to gravitate toward, not what you want them to gravitate toward. You can’t buy more space for your message. Skittles has the same gravity on Twitter as Jenna Jamison or some random guy from Duluth who makes funny observations. To compound things, there is the ability to RT (ReTweet) messages you enjoy, citing their source of course, causing things to cascade in weird ways that are basically uncontrollable. Not that this is anything new on the Internet, but with Twitter it seems to go one step beyond the Internet’s normal viral nature with patterns emerging and folding in organic ways as celebrities ReTweet fans and actors give mention to their favorite Tweeters who give mention to artists who give mention to their Mommy And Me Groups so that trends coalesce and form out of mere background noise. It’s like when you step into the Twitterverse the volatility of the Internet starts taking steroids…and acid.
One of the more remarkable Twitter marketing pushes I’ve seen yet (outside of Tony Hawk’s skateboard hunts) occurred a few weekends ago during the premier of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s new show on Comedy Central. Jim Gaffigan, who the Wednesday before was Tweeting things like, “I have no idea how to use Twitter,” simply Tweeted a lot that his show was premiering soon. He fielded questions from fans letting them know what channel and time. Then, during the show, he tweeted about how weird it was watching himself on tv, how he really must like bacon, and also ReTweeted fans’ messages to him about…well about bacon mostly. The guy’s new show is like forty percent bacon. Since I follow Jim Gaffigan I received all of his tweets, but I also received tweets from other people discussing the show as well as, and this really gets weird, people ReTweeting what Jim Gaffigan was saying not to mention ReTweeting Jim Gaffigan’s ReTweets about what people were tweeting to him.
Confused? So was I. But the end result was that Jim Gaffigan was everywhere in the Twitterverse and had people talking about him and his new show like crazy.
How did he do it?
In the end I think it’s pretty easy. Twitter is so all over the place that you have to step back to obtain any real concrete footing and this forces one to admit that gathering 50,000 new followers who won’t read a thing you write in a week isn’t an actual result. Twitter is just a place where it’s easy to drop quick notes to people. Whether what you’re dropping notes about is interesting or whether people find you interesting has nothing to do with your Twittering skills and more to do with your underlying product, be that product your new store, your personality or your comedy special.
I believe I can sum up Jim Gaffigan’s secret in a Twitter friendly 140 character sentence:
“He spent the last 18 yrs creating great comedy giving him a fan base on Twitter that enjoys talking about him and sharing him w/ friends.”