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March 11, 2009

Twitter is a 5-tool player -- how it should get paid

by Josh Bernoff

Baseball scouts rating talent are vainly searching for the "five-tool player" -- a player like Willie Mays or Ken Griffey, Jr. who's great at fielding, throwing, base running, hitting for average, and hitting for power. There aren't many.

Social technologies, like baseball players, typically only do one or two things well. Except for the flexibility of online communities, we haven't had a "five-tool player" that marketers can tap in highly versatile ways. But now we do. It's Twitter. And now that it's reached about 5 million accounts, it's time to pay attention.

In reviewing corporate Twitter applications (see report "Using Twitter For Groundswell Objectives" available in full to our clients) we found five main ways companies can use Twitter. (If you've read "Groundswell," you'll recognize the five-objectives framework.)

With Twitter you can:

Do research.
Monitor what people are saying about your brand right now. Try it: go to search.twitter.com and type in "Swiffer." As I write this @d33ann is bragging about how she tidied her apartment and @adtothebone suggests they should rebrand it for men as the "dusterminator." Try it with your own brand. Locked in those tweets are sentiment, volume and insight about your brand, your competitors, and your category.

Talk to people.
Just get a Twitter account for your company and start twittering. You'll get more followers if you offer something useful. For example, Dell has sold more than a million dollars worth of overstock computers through its @DellOutlet Twitter feed, which has 137,000 followers.

Energize your brand advocates.
Zappos has a page that shows who's tweeting about it. Unlike Skittles, this isn't a stunt; Zappos is engaged with its customers on Twitter and they're responding. Do you know who loves your brand?

Support your customers. Comcast is digging itself out from under a poor service reputation one customer at a time; @comcastcares will respond if you tweet about challenges with your Comcast service and will solve your problem in 140 characters or refer you to people who can help.

Embrace customer feedback.
H&R block asks its Twitter followers about potential product upgrades, for example.

Twitter users love it, and now companies are learning to love it, too. Of course, we're all wondering if it can make any money for itself. It's as if Derek Jeter had delighted fans and the Steinbrenners with his five tools but didn't get paid for it!

Where's the Twitter business model? Search. David Berkowitz noted right here on DigitalNext that Twitter is now putting a search box on the Twitter home page. Joe Marchese, president of SocialVibe, suggested to me in a conversation at the AAAAs that Twitter search is about to get sophisticated enough to base a business model on. John Battelle, Michael Arrington, the San Jose Mercury News and Ad Age have all noticed that Twitter search is worth watching.

I think Twitter will improve its search analytics and turn them into a paid service. (Twitter search will still be free, but super-duper analytical Twitter search will have a charge.) Furthermore, ads on Twitter searches would be more relevant, easier to sell, and more easily tolerated than ads on Twitter itself. So look for Twitter to sell ads on its search page.

After all, a five-tool player this good deserves a paycheck.

(Republished from my post on the Ad Age DigitalNext blog. Yes, most of my other posts will still be published here only.)


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Jon Garfunkel


Twitter makes it easy to find brand dilettantes, but it should steer people towards communities of enablement-- http://bit.ly/oCEM

Also (and microblogging in general) could better scale if it embraced a common metadata model, as Facebook implicitly has-- http://bit.ly/ssmc


Derek Haswell

Twitter is growing fast... Up to 8M according to compete / Social Times: http://www.socialtimes.com/2009/03/twitter-us-growth/

I'm starting to see friends appear on twitter who used to say "Twitter?!? Why would I waste my time doing that."

Owen IV

...Not afraid to say it...I get the hype about Twitter and I even understand many of its wow factors...and yet even with all of that; count me amongst the unimpressed. I just don't find it to be addictive as Facebook and it also is not as intuitive.

I am beginning to sound like Ty Cobb complaining about Babe Ruth's impact on the game. That being said count me amongst the ol's school purists who rail, or at a minimum continue to be underimpressed by Twitter. Although I continue to return to the application...hoping that my attraction light bulb goes on...the fit just is not there for me...but I'm the one guy who uses Twitter and just tolerates it more than I feel liberated or enlightened by it.

Maybe it is just as easy as expanding the folks that I follow...

Be great today! Would love to hear the Twitter groupies give me some pointers!

Jon Garfunkel

Owen -- spot on. It's easier for Facebook to add Twitter-like features than visa-versa (witness this past week). Facebook will just have to get users comfortable with marketing feeds as Twitter has done. (Twitter is saturated with PR/Marketing folks, so it's a bit easier for them).

Twitter also has the problem that I call flam -- http://bit.ly/flam -- this is my follow-up piece to Josh's work on the PR junk mail.

Patrick OMalley

Why wouldn't Twitter use Google ads on their Search page right now and then migrate to their own infrastructure later? They'd be easy to set up, they'd provide some revenue immediately, and they'd also get a sense for how much future revenue they could get if they set up their own infrastructure.

Pat O'Malley

Malcolm Bastien

Nice. This paints a pretty picture that Twitter search and Twitter's business model will be ready before the companies they're targeting will be.

Sure there a many companies on their now, but getting enough volume, getting every corporate presence on Twitter to being an analytically driven, and paying Twitter customer seems like it will have to play catch up - and be in need to people who can guide and train them to that level.

Dana Elliott

There may be a 6th tool - Motivate action. We are hoping to use Twitter to alert more bystanders to come to the aid of people in distress.

Irina Patterson

Twitter also allows you to find and connect with local people.

For example, I monitor via TweetDeck for keywords "Coral Gables", my local community in South Florida to find and to follow cool local people.

We also organize local events & Tweetups & BarCamps which we promote by asking locals "Please RT" (retweet)

As a marketing consultant for a hedge fund I monitor (separately) for keywords "hedge", "alternative investment" to get up to minute hedge funds news, ideas and leads.

Huntington Beach Real Estate

There has been an entire industry built around Twitter. As the creator of Twitter said: "I try to think outside the box". Good advice!!
Huntington Beach Real Estate

Atul Chatterjee

One advantage of Twitter is the short message that is posted. It encourages everyone to think hard except for trivial messages.


Maybe it is just as easy as expanding the folks that I follow... http://www.vxcb.com Thanks

club penguin

I get the hype about Twitter and I even understand many of its wow factors and yet even with all of that; count me amongst the unimpressed. I just don't find it to be addictive as Facebook and it also is not as intuitive.

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