Twitter: The Move from “Why” to “What” to “How” and soon to “Where”

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on May 2, 2009

We move so fast in social media, that it’s a good exercise to step back and reflect now and then on the pace of change.

In many industries, such as pharmaceuticals or energy, a new idea may take 10 or more years to become available on the market.  Think of prescription drugs or the first use of a new oil field.  Even in technology, the advent of the worldwide web in 1989 didn’t cause us to drop everything we were doing overnight and change.  The reality is that it is normal for change to occur over a decade or more.

In social media, our ability to use a new platform or tool immediately can sometimes cloud our perspective on it’s long term utility.  We all fall into the habit of judging what a tool is doing “right now”, rather than what it will evolve into.  Why?  Well, it’s easy to analyze what is in front of us.  Much harder to see around the corner.  And yet, history shows that what’s around the corner is often much more interesting.

Let’s focus on Twitter today, as an example.  When it started in 2006, it was met with “why” as in “why would I ever use this tool”?  That evolved by March, 2007 at SXSW as bloggers answered the why.  It was a completely new way to keep in touch in real time, quickly, accurately and with a dash of fun.  So, the momentum slowly built and slow is accurate.  It really wasn’t until the fall of 2008 that Twitter started to become a tool where larger numbers of companies and individuals were asking the “what” question, as in “what value will this bring to my business or effort?”.    The what started to be answered by Zappos, ComCast, Dell, Kogi BBQ, J&J, GE and many other companies who realized that Twitter could drive revenue, improve customer service, serve as a great way to share company information and much more.  In 2009, we are now in the land of “How”, as companies across the board are addressing “how they will most effectively utilize Twitter”.  It’s no longer a question of should one participate, but how do you do it in the best way for your company.

So, in three years, a lot has happened.  An amazing amount of progress.  But, we are yet to address “where” as in “where does this tool/platform evolve and how does it truly disrupt how we do business?”   In the “where phase”, we’ll start to talk about topics, such as “How do you build a global network of twitter accounts to drive revenue for a particular product? Today, our best examples tend to be U.S.-centric, yet Twitter has a very strong global audience.

We’ll also address much more provactive topics, such as “can microblogging replace email”?  After all, who enjoys getting emails in their inbox reminding them constantly of discounts?  Marketers know emails have low utlility, but they hope that the law of big numbers works in their favor.  Send out a gazillion and some folks will respond.  You cannot get more counter to the revolution of social media.  I am fairly sure there will not be protests in cities worldwide if email advertising stopped tomorrow.   All we have to do is develop a way to create one message and deliver it to the  account you want (Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc) on the information that you have expressed an interest in receiving, e.g. size 36 blue jeans of a certain type when on sale vs. “Company x now has 25% off everything on Saturday”.  When customers can get what they want wherever they are, email is irrelevant.  It will become an unncessary middleman between a company and its customers.

So back to perspective.  Twitter is just getting started.  We are all just three years into a journey on how to share content with each other in new ways that are more cost-effective, more targeted and, ultimately, much more in line with what we all want as customers.

The next three years will bring change that will make the first three look simplistic.  Will be fun.

All the best, Bob

Note: I’ll be speaking May 5th at the at Stanford University on top social media trends for the Fortune 500 and moderating a panel at on May 31st in SF.

By: Bob Pearson

Bob is the President of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies. He is an author, frequent speaker and instructor for Rutgers center for management development. After the success of his book Pre-Commerce, Bob is currently working on a new book on the future of media titled Storytizing that will be available in 2014. Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function -- an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. He also serves on a variety of Boards in health and technology. Highlights include serving as an original member of the P&G digital advisory board and being appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as chair and vice chair of the emerging technology fund for the State of Texas.

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2 Responses

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  1. Bob, thanks for this post. I believe Twitter is leading people to evolve their social habits online. And when we see a change in social habits we have a responsibility to ensure our organizations are prepared to work in that new environment and engage with people in a way they want to engage. I introduce colleagues to Twitter to experience it for themselves and determine from their own perspective how it can add value to their work.

  2. Ben, agree with your approach. It’s important for people to learn by doing. I like to say that you can’t learn to swim unless you are willing to get in the pool.

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