Twitter irrelevant? No, Advertising Age blew it

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.


“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.


“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.


“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.

The clash of the social media know-nothings

The know-nothings.

You know who I’m talking about right?  Social media “marketers” who have never practiced marketing.  Maybe have never even had a sales job or a college-level marketing class. But they’ve created a Facebook page and have 500 followers on Twitter so somehow that makes them a guru.

“You can’t walk out your house without bumping into a social-media expert today, said Forrester Analyst Sean Corcoran in a WSJ article. “The reality is the space is still very much a Wild West.”

I’m not going to dwell on the shake-and-bake “experts” and their webinar info-mercials promising to unleash profits through the magic of follower lists and multi-level marketing scams.  Enough has been written about that. The point of this post is that there is a clash in the marketplace because there aren’t enough true social media marketing experts — with the emphasis on MARKETING — to go around.


Look at what’s happening on the demand side.  Ad spending on social networks world-wide is expected to rise 14% this year to $2.5 billion. Every advertising, marketing and public relations firm in the world wants a piece of the action and is looking for talent.   Consider these news bites from the past week:

  • Universal McCann, is launching a social media practice this month called Rally.  “Social media is now part of all our clients’ plans; we can’t not be in this space,” says Matt Seiler, chief executive of Universal McCann.
  • Publicis Groupe‘s digital umbrella organization, VivaKi, says it also will open a social-media consulting practice this year.
  • Pepsi‘s Gatorade brand created a “Mission Control Center,” which is set up like a broadcast-television control room, to monitor the sports drink around the clock across social-media networks.
  • Kraft hired 360i, a digital ad agency owned by Japan’s largest ad company, Dentsu  to monitor brands like Oreo and Jell-O.
  • Microsoftis currently searching for a social-media firm to handle duties for its Xbox videogame system.

In other words, social media marketing is white freaking hot.

Now for the supply side of the clash.  Who is going to fill all these positions?   Unless you define success by the loosey-goosey standards of “engagement” and “conversations,”  there just aren’t many individuals out there who have actually demonstrated an ability to use social media to move the needle for a business.  And I don’t mean new “followers.”  I mean sales. Cash flow. New customers.

If you have the fire-power and mega-budgets of Microsoft, Pepsi and the other big brands, you can certainly buy your way into success on the social web.   But the vast majority of businesses out there are going to be stuck with the no-nothings instead of the exceptional marketing talent they really need to grow their business.

The dirty little secret the know-nothings are keeping from you is that, with the rare exceptions, nobody wants to be Facebook Friends with your company. You’re going to need much more than an intern tweeting earnestly about your latest coupons to impact your bottom line.  We live in a society that is absolutely sick of being advertised to, sold to, and marketed to, which is why most people turn to Farmville and the social networks to ESCAPE commercialism. So if a know-nothing is promising that they have this figured out and they’re going to help your car dealership or clothes boutique be the next Old Spice succcess story by “listening” to the Twitter stream … well, be afraid.

At the end of the day making money on the social web — or anywhere — still gets down to MARKETING FUNDAMENTALS.  Research, strategy, planning.  Creating points of differentiation. Finding a unique way to delight your customers and out-smart  your competitors.  And then, using the social web as a channel. Maybe.

For most businesses trying to figure out what to do with all this social media stuff, forget about finding a social media expert. That’s a hammer looking for a nail. Find the best, most experienced marketing pro you can afford and let them figure out where it fits for you, if at all.

Can I hear an “amen?”

Social web and new story-telling

Watch this video. It’s less than a minute long.

Would this story be told more effectively through

a traditional video of this couple?

a written story?

an audio podcast?

There is something about the way voice, type and movement make this a very effective way to tell a story.  Did you hear the girl gasp at the 10 second mark? It was almost more dramatic imagining her face instead of seeing it. Like a book.

Maybe something to think about. Are there ways to mash-up these social media technologies to tell your story in a new way? I wish I had time to play around with these ideas!

Social media bloggers who hit it out of the park

Once in a while you read a blog post and think, now that was great … this blogger REALLY hit it out of the park!  I thought I’d share a few of the most outstanding posts I’ve read over the past few months.

By the way, none of these posts are tied to favors, affiliate links or any other kind of kick-back. In fact, a few of these people I’ve never even interacted with so I’m sure this post will be a complete surprise to them!  Here we go …

Kelli Schmith offers so many great posts on her Dig Deep Thinker blog but I found this one extraordinarily useful.  Here are some great resources to turn the head of even the toughest, most stubborn executive social media skeptic:

Advice for execs and social media hype

Kent Huffman provides this gem of a post: Do you need a social media policy?  I know this is a well-worn topic but Kent provides the definitive article on this important subject, courtesy of The Social CMO. If this is a subject in your company (and it should be), save this important post!

A corporate social media policy: Do you really need one?

The merging digital divide has been a personal interest of mine and Anthropologist Krystal D’Costa hits the nail on the head with her excellent post.  She declares that “having the means to access information on the Internet goes just beyond access to the hardware; it also depends on the individual’s ability to understand how to use the tools at her disposal.” That’s an important perspective many people miss. Her blog Anthropology in Practice is on my daily reading list.

Digging into the Digital Divide

Occasionally you come across a post that takes your breath away. This one starts “I am 12 years old, sitting in my father’s apartment.”  This beautiful, personal reflection by Elizabeth Sosnow of Bliss PR made me think about on my own relationship with my father … and frankly, feel some regret. Elizabeth is a gifted writer.

Why did I choose to work for my father for twenty years?

Size does matter. Somebody had to say it and Sidney Eve Matrix, one of the most consistently excellent social observers on the scene, finally did.  She compares sheer size of your audience versus authenticity in this thought-provoking Cyber Pop post:

Size matters

Autom Tagsa doesn’t blog very often but when he does, my blog reader starts to rumble. Autom consistently offers up different ways to present the issues of the social web.  This post is a good example of his creativity.  I like the way he literally turned the microphone to his audience.

Organic minds: Notes from the social front

Apps, apps, apps. But why?  Neicole Creapeau is one of the very best thinkers on the social media scene and I never miss her posts. In this article, she looks at the real business models and strategies behind the creation of creating mobile apps for your business:

Business Model Principles: iPhone, iPad, and Web

There are so many tremendous writers on the web today that it would be difficult to name them all. I hope I’ve at least introduced you to a few new bloggers who weren’t on your radar screen before. I’m thinking of doing a post like this every six months or so. Let me know what you think!

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