Twitter is an Information Network, Not a Social Network
When Twitter was first introduced in 2006, it quickly became the nexus for online conversation within the social web. Now, at five years of age, it has changed from functioning as a social network to becoming an information network. Twitter even refers to itself as a "real-time information network” designed to connect users to the latest information on topics of interest.
This begs the question, if the conversation is no longer taking place on Twitter, where did it go? You know the answer: Facebook. With its advancements in messaging that bring live chat, email and texts together in one place, it provides a much more robust platform for carrying on conversations. Of course, Facebook has become the centerpiece for just about everything we do within a social context on the web.
Facebook and Twitter Share Common Ground
In terms of being used as hubs for content distribution, the two channels share common ground. For example, I route content via RSS from Practical Ecommerce to both Facebook and Twitter. Facebook, itself, provides an app that enables fan page administrators to link their pages to Twitter. And there is a Twitter app that performs the same function, only in reverse. Apart from that, each channel offers distinctive characteristics in terms of how it can be used for marketing communications.
Each Channel Offers Distinctive Qualities
Facebook is a channel through which a company can truly put its personality on display. More than once I have referred to Well.ca, a Canadian health products retailer, pointing out how the company uses photos and status updates to give fans a behind the scenes glimpse at its corporate culture, values and employees.
Twitter, on the other hand, has evolved from being a conversationally-oriented medium to one that is primarily used for gathering information in real time. In August 2009, SmartBrief on Social Media, a daily email newsletter targeting the social media industry, conducted a poll that asked readers what type of tweet they value most. Over 60 percent of the respondents said "links to useful resources." Second to that were broadcast-style tweets. Conversations with other Twitterers was fourth on the list at only seven percent.
That's not to suggest that Twitter is an information network exclusively. Conversations can and do take place through the use of replies, @mentions, retweets and direct messages. It's just that, in a business context, there is less sharing that is of an anecdotal nature.
Mashable editor, Ben Parr, put things into perspective in an October 2010 blog post where he said, "Facebook, with its mutual friend connections and college-exclusive beginnings, is better suited for keeping in touch with friends. For most people, it is indeed a network of your social graph, all in one place. Twitter, on the other hand, is all about the stream of information coming from people and organizations all across the world. That’s why there’s room for both: they simply provide different functions."
Simply put, if your focus is on engaging in conversation, think Facebook. But, if your primary focus is on sharing information, think Twitter.
What This Means For Ecommerce Merchants
Now that you understand that Twitter is an information network, not a social network, you should also understand that content shared on Twitter is highly transient. I have been told that the average life-span of a tweet is about one hour. Whether that's true or not, I can tell you when a tweet is out of sight, it is out of mind. Taking these two factors into consideration, here are five recommendations for using Twitter:
Share content that is timely, pertinent and informational.
Make offers and coupons time-limited. Knowing that your offer will soon pass by the wayside, one that is time-limited will likely incite more activity that one that is open-ended.
Provide content on a consistent manner. Twitter users tend to follow companies who provide a stream of information in a consistent, timely manner than those who approach the medium with a more laissez-faire attitude. Using tools like Cotweet, Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Postling, you can schedule tweets days in advance. A new player on the scene, Roost, is beta-testing a tool designed to help users create posting campaigns that can span days or even weeks. The tool will even make suggestions for topics and types of posts.
Respond to customer questions and concerns. Just because Twitter is no longer the water cooler that it used to be does not mean that customer questions or concerns should not be heeded. Twitter is a customer service channel, whether you intend it to be or not.
Use retweets, @mentions, and direct messages. Even though Twitter's focus is on sharing information, conversations still place. Don't merely be a broadcaster, join in from time to time.
Louis Camassa says:
Good insight Paul! There is also the debate that Tweets add value for link building purposes (helping to increase your organic search results). You can see an interesting article/experiment at http://www.seomoz.org/blog/exactly-how-powerful-are-tweets-retweets
Paul Barnes says:
That's a neat analysis. It certainly maps well to what we see ecommerce companies investing in i.e. using Facebook as the Social platform for customer interaction.
Paul Chaney says:
I was conversing with a friend recently who put the issue into perspective as well as anyone I've heard. She indicated that it's due to the nature of how connections are made, the inherent challenges in actually "following" someone's tweets in the fast-moving feed, and the less than rich overall experience that lends to the more utilitarian view of Twitter. I think that sums it up very well.
enjoyed your article. timely with practical insights.