The curious case of the Twitter Quitters


One of my customers is a brilliant management consultant. An engineer by training, he does not come by marketing instinct naturally and asked me to help.

This is a customer tailor-made for Twitter:

  • Small business-owner
  • Enormous, global market potential (needs a lot of awareness)
  • Small budget
  • No time to blog, develop content, etc.
  • Tech-savvy
  • Is a charming, bright person with engaging personality.

And yet he WILL NOT TWEET.   I coaxed, cajoled and threatened.  I’ve trained him patiently and even prescribed a daily Twitter regimen.  I demonstrated the power of the platform when I found him a potential new business contact on the first day of operation.  He didn’t follow-up and seems content with his tweet-free existence.

This may seem strange, but it isn’t.  I’ve found similar resistance from many people who can benefit from this business tool. I asked my client “why” and (published with his permission) here is his answer:

Not sure why really.  I guess the idle chatter (which is mostly what I seem to see when I log on) just doesn’t make any sense to me.  There’s obviously some self imposed barrier that I can’t or just don’t want to cross.  You were kind enough to introduce me to Twitter, and I appreciated that.  There’s the old expression about leading a horse to water.  Guess I’m just not that thirsty for Twitter water… at least yet.

This type of reaction is not unusual. In fact I was a Twitter Quitter myself and had to really push through a few weeks of of this non-intutive communication platform before I had an expereince that changed my view forever …

I was bored one night and noticed a trending topic titled #newnameforswineflu.  I clicked on it and was entertained for a half hour as people from all over the world chimed in with alternaitve names like “Hamthrax” and “The Aporkalypse.”  Although this event was playful, it dawned on me that I was watching a real-time global brain-storming session.  Now THAT was very cool.  That was something that could never have happened before in the history of mankind.  I got it. The light bulb went on for good.

I’m wondering, what did it take for YOU to “get” Twitter? Was it simply perseverance? The fear of falling behind? Or did it take an “a-ha” moment like me?   For the 40 percent of us who didn’t quit after trying it, what lit the lightbulb for you?

Illustration: Natalie Dee

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  • I was a “Twitter Denier” all of 2008. Finally in Jan 2009 I grudgingly gave it a try. I now tell people Twitter is like riding a bike. You can read about it all you like, but you’re not going to learn how to use it until you do it. And, yes, you will fall off a few times before you “get it.”
    I can’t remember a moment like yours, but it did require patience with finding my own way with the tool.
    A colleague of mine has almost the exact same objections you quote here. The challenge is taking the time to curate your own personal group of worth-following people to find the value.
    Mark, another great post – thank you.

  • For me, I am not a person who is resistant to change and I want to learn before I say “no” to anything that can potentially make me more successful as well as my clients. I watched and learned for about two weeks, then I slowly dipped my toes in and now, although still developing a strategy myself, I understand the value and the need for a plan. I want to assist my clients to be two steps ahead of their competition and need to practice what I say.

  • Unlike with Facebook, I didn’t have a threshold event with Twitter. My “ah ha” moment with Facebook occurred when Facebook ran a realtime chat stream if you viewed the Obama inauguration on your PC. Although I was an inactive Facebook user, my PC popped open my account, and I was thrilled by the realtime commentary about the speeches, the music, and Aretha Franklin’s hat! The real time collaboration potential got me excited.

  • I am not sure why twitter stuck with me. I am an early adopter so I just twitted. At one point it became a challenge, let’s see if I say this if I get more RTs than if I say that… So maybe to me it’s always been an experiment.

    I know business owners who proclaim to be “utterly confused” by twitter and say they have no mental bandwidth for it. And it makes sense, for some people twitter is just added stress. So I encourage those business folk to hire others to twitter for them, an employee, a friend, someone who can still represent their brand. Once they see their business having a digital conversation they may decide it’s worth joining in … 🙂

  • what i typically refer to as a ‘mental spark’ moment involved a series of random exchanges with people i started following. and it wasn’t so much *what* we talked about but more the regularity of our exchanges, be they @ replies or DMs, that made the experience intriguing and worth exploring.

    ‘real-time global brain-storming session’ yep. that *does* happen in the Twitterverse. but i suppose online brain-storming may not necessarily be everybody’s cuppa tea. first, it takes a natural predilection for being sociable. then you’d need to practice and master the skill of filtering information. with these two key ingredients characterize social media practitioners and explorers.

    2 cents from the TOe 😉

  • My “ah ha” moment: watching twitter trends of breaking events BEFORE they were reported on CNN. A small earthquake in CA, Walter Cronkite’s death, and other events around that time this summer.

  • Frank Fender

    Agree that it does take a certain mental state change to embrace sociability. And I can appreciate how some may never go there. Regardless, the lights came on for me in three short bursts over the course of two days after seeing the twitpic of the downed plane in the Hudson river:

    1. Wow. I can get news instantly and unfiltered in real-time from anyone on the scene of any news-worthy event. Or I can easily publish quickly myself in an emergency.

    2. Wow. I can follow anyone I think has an interesting perspective regardless of security and I can even explore the folks they follow who must be even more interesting (this took me a few hours to appreciate).

    3. Wow. Real-time search is actually a huge gap in Google and other search engines and probably the next killer app.

    …Twitter rocks for its simplicity and conciseness. Thankfully, the format restricts this type of excessive verbosity (917 chars vs. 140).

  • Mark

    Thanks for the fun stories! Lots of good a-ha’s. A challenge to “wish” an a-ha on somebody though : )

  • Dan Levine @schoolmarketer

    Mark, interesting post. Perhaps most interesting is what’s happening in the comment section: so far no one’s offered an “a-ha” moment that has anything to do with a direct business breakthrough or exchange. So many of the “SM experts” are pushing their clients to engage with Twitter to propel their business to the next level. And no doubt some businesses are finding success here — especially those which are using Twitter to engage with customers in a meaningful way. (Twitter seems to be most effective at making large companies feel small.) But so far, no one’s “a-ha” has anything to do with how engaging on Twitter grew their business. Thus, it’s easy to understand why a small biz owner with limited time and resources wouldn’t want to spend time engaging on Twitter when the rewards *seem* small. We need to find “a-ha” moments that are much more compelling (and directly biz-dev related) if we really want small business owners to take the time to engage in the medium.

  • Mark

    @Dan “Twitter seems to be most effective at making large companies feel small.” That is an OUTSTANDING observation!! Thanks!

    Actually I have observed many Twitter business success stories and am probably a poster child myself for building meaningful business benefits from this platform. For me, and I suspect for others, there has to be an “a-ha” moment before you can get close to that step. Perhaps I should share some of my own experiences soon. Essentially my company is a small B2B marketing services provider and social media has undoubtedly helped me build my business. Maybe worthy of a blog post?

  • Dan Levine @schoolmarketer

    Mark, I think it’s worthy of a post. In my experience, however, I’ve noticed that most small businesses that are doing well on Twitter are of the consulting variety. For people hanging a shingle, Twitter has the potential to be very effective. But what of all the other small businesses in a variety of other sectors trying to gain marketshare – is Twitter effective for them? If you’re selling a product (anything other than consulting services or how-to businesses), can Twitter truly grow your business? Do you know of any case studies? That would be compelling data for other small business owners like the “Small budget, No time to blog, develop content, etc., Tech-savvy, Charming, bright person with engaging personality” you describe in your post.

  • Dan and Mark, my personal “Ah Ha” moment was realizing that “below the radar” there are numerous small local businesses doing amazing things with Social Media and more specifically Twitter. These range from specialty retailers to unique road side vendors to small manufacturers to non marketing professional services firms (legal, accounting, engineering etc.) Many can be found here
    There is also a new and exciting survey coming soon from which will shed even more light on small business use of social media.
    The problem is that most “noise” online is centered around big brands to entice other big brands to pay attention since that is where the big consulting opportunity is. Furthermore, most studies focus on the heavy users where as these smaller firms don’t generate significant volumes of Social Media activity so the value they generate never gets reported. But, the value is there for sure.
    Unfortunately though, since these small firms do not have big budgets and high profiles, they don’t get the benefit of direct assistance from the experts and typically must go it alone.

  • Guys – great conversation (as always Mark), which I’d like to add to by saying that the people benefiting most from Twitter right now are obviously in the information businesses. We are all marketers here and we are sharing views and ideas because that’s what we ultimately sell. If you’re selling something more physical, you need to first create the information-surround market (or at least understand the information-surround market) before you can start to get benefit from Twitter and other social media platforms. What I mean is that, if you sell power tools, you rely on people talking about power tools online before Twitter starts to have relevance to you – and these people are taking longer to embrace Twitter than the rest of us, because our benefits are more immediate. That doesn’t mean it won’t come, but it makes it harder for us to convince them at those marketing meetings.

    Just to explain my ‘aha’ moment, it was definitely last year when I noticed a plague of flying ants in Richmond (UK, not Va) and wondered if it was a local phenomenon. There was no way the news channels could have answered the question – but a quick search on Twitter told me in seconds that the flying ants were all over the South of the UK. Now I thought THAT was cool.

  • Mark

    Man I love this community. So much wisdom. So many great perspectives.

  • I will never text on a tiny cel phone keypad so I hadn’t considered it. But when I began blogging, my husband suggested I might want to log on to (which can connect to Twitter) to announce new blog posts. It’s worked quite well.

    More importantly, as my blogs have multiplied into the realm of public service, I have found many really good information sources by following other tweets.

    These communication systems are becoming far more important since commercial news media is not reporting a great deal that the public needs to know.

    Like ACTA, for instance, which will have terrible repercussions on the world. So sad really; the internet could be such a force for good.

  • Mark

    So nice to hear a success story! Glad you are benefiting from Twitter, Laurel!

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