Now here is a headline that grabs the attention of any social media marketer: “Study: Most brands still irrelevant on Twitter.”

Only problem is the headline, which appeared in the digital version of Advertising Age yesterday, is bullshit. And I don’t use that word lightly.

If the headline writer and/or author had really read the report from digital agency 360i carefully and applied a little critical thinking, you would actually draw the opposite conclusion.

I am not a wild-eyed supporter of all-things social media. But I do want people to start looking at data critically before writing reports like this. Let’s look at the major conclusions, taken directly from the 360i report and see if Twitter is really irrelevant to brands.

CONCLUSION ONE:

“Twitter is primarily for people, not corporations. Those of us in the marketing industry tend to see Twitter as a marketing or professional networking tool, but it’s important to remember that it is a consumer-dominated medium. More than 90% of tweets come from consumers and only 12% of consumer.”

The AdAge article used this information to claim that “brands are finding themselves on the outside of the conversation.”

So here is the question that should have been asked:  How do you really know (and measure) if a brand was tweeting or not?  You see, the most effective conversations are not occurring between corporate icons and the masses. They are taking place between individuals representing their brands.

Here’s an example. Over the past few weeks I have tweeted back and forth between Bill Robb, the social media marketing director for SAP.  Bill didn’t “court me.” We developed a mutual admiration for each other and began a <shudder> “conversation!”  The tweets led to deeper discussions via email, which eventually led to a blog post about SAP and their cutting-edge marketing approaches. That blog post was tweeted out at least 70 times, had several thousand page views, and was referenced in two other blogs with who knows how many readers.

Now, did any of that activity show up on the chart above?  No. Was the SAP brand kicking ass on Twitter? Yes.

If you want another example of brand beauty personified on Twitter, check out @SharpieSusan who tweets up a storm for Sharpie pens.  Is Newell-Rubbermaid getting credit for a “marketer conversation?”  My point is that this metric is irrelevant and the AdAge conclusion is worse.

CONCLUSION TWO:

“Twitter makes the private space public. While marketers have a voice in the mix, Twitter remains an important tool for listening to what consumers are saying in a mostly un-filtered, un-moderated environment. There are ripe opportunities for brands to get to know their customers via online listening.”

“An important tool for listening.”  Hmmm.  Does that make Twitter sound irrelevant to you?

The report goes on to say that when it comes to talking about brands on Twitter, consumers are largely sharing news or information about the brand (43%) or reporting use of or interaction with the brand (35%). About one fifth of tweets mentioning brands demonstrate an outward opinion of the brand.  Irrelevant?  The opportunity to use Twitter for consumer research is enormous!  And the report says so.

CONCLUSION THREE:

“Companies tend to talk at people – not with them. The opportunity for marketers to become part of the conversation remains vast. For example, many brands use the channel to pass along information, but fail to capitalize on opportunities to truly connect with consumers via two-way conversations.”

If there is a vast opportunity, why is that irrelevant?

The report’s final conclusion states: “… there remains a largely untapped opportunity for brands to create deeper connections with consumers via earned media and to learn more about what motivates them with online listening through Twitter.”

I don’t think I need to say any more about the content of the report and the article.  AdAge simply blew it.

To make things much worse, the 360i report was based on a study of just 300 tweets per month over six months.  Are you KIDDING ME?  A study of national brands based on 10 tweets a day?  AdAge, do you really think that is a statistically-significant sample size to base a conclusion like this?  And 360i, you need to be taken to the shed out back for even publishing a report based on that sample size.

We already have a problem with the social media fluffs spewing mis-information and half-truths. When an article — even a bad one — comes from a reputable trade publication like AdAge, it gets reported as fact and paraded around the boardrooms of America.  This blog post won’t be, unfortunately.

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