Thursday, February 03, 2011

Is Twitter corrosive to online marketing? In defense of Twitter II?

I seem to have been having a whole traunch of conversations recently with friends and colleagues who don't engage with Social as an everyday part of their working lives, it feels like the more Social enters our everyday lives the lack of understanding of the benefits and power of Social are laid bare. It reminds me of a post I reproduced from a NY Times article from way back in 2009

I've been mulling over the idea of the 'defense of twitter' and in the broader sense the 'defense of Socia'l and I think this'll start a number of further enties on and about this subject.  So starting with...

Is twitter corrosive to online marketing?

In the past when you did something quite cool and attention-worthy people would reference it on their blogs. But now in the age of Twitter, many people mention your stuff on Twitter. This can be good if they have thousands of Twitter followers, but if most the people mentioning a topic are all in the same small tight knit space then you are only reaching a fraction of a fraction of the potential distribution you would have before the age of Twitter.
  • How many people read every Twitter update from the people they subscribe to? Very few. Since you are in a high volume aggregator the loyalty is nowhere near where it is with traditional blog subscribers.
  • Exciting news quickly falls into the archives due to the rapid nature and high volume of Tweets.
  • If you dominate a channel and keep reaching the same people over and over again that does help provide social proof of value, but after seeing the same message 5 or 10 times it becomes noise.
Worse yet, even though Twitter mentions are organic links and recommendations by highly trusted topical experts, those don't show up on the broader web graph since Google pressured Twitter into adopting nofollow EVERYWHERE, even for user profiles.

Is Twitter a nice complimentary channel that can add exposure to your launch? Absolutely. But if the conversation does not leave Twitter.com then it has quite limited value in a search-driven Google-centric web. And that limited value is even less if you don't already have thousands of Twitter followers. The "make money on Twitter" ebooks will be coming out soon, but other than the ebook authors, I doubt anyone will make much money from it (unless customer feedback helps them create new product lines).

In 2006, a popular blog post or piece of content would generate a remarkable amount of blogging activity. It wasn't uncommon for a few hundred small & mid-size blogs & news sites to pick up a story, add their thoughts and create links. Today, even very popular pieces of content in the technology sphere are lucky to have two dozen blogs and traditional websites write about them. What's happened?
  • Blogging has become less about sharing with your network and more about building up your own importance/business, so linking and covering the works of your peers, unless it gets you something, has limited viability. Bloggers are more professional, more self-focused and find less value in linking to/covering what others produce.
  • Blogging, at least in the "bleeding edge" technology fields (social media, SEO, webdev, etc.), is not as popular as it once was. While this might be a hard argument to make, there's certainly some circumstantial evidence - just look at any list of SEO blogs and there is an undeniably smaller amount of content being produced by many of these folks.
  • Twitter is cannibalizing blogging. People who previously might have blogged about a site/news article/clever piece of linkbait are simply tweeting it, and save their blog posts for more comprehensive essays and broader subjects.
This last one is fascinating to me, and carries some interesting connotations. If the trend is real, and continues, it seems very likely to me that the search engines will need to start relying on Twitter's tweet graph, particularly for "new" information and content?
  • Twitter, and sites that aggregate data from it, like Tweetmeme, actually expose content before social voting sites like Digg, Reddit or Hacker News
  • It can be 12-24 hours between when content is first "tweeted" vs. when it earns its first external link
  • Many pieces of "throwaway" content (a quick, funny image, post or video) will earn virtually no links, even if hundreds of people have shared them on Twitter
I think it's way too early to determine if this trend is real or if it will continue, but the SEO industry has been talking for years about when the engines might start to evolve beyond link analysis. This is one of the first credible expansions I've seen.