Why Your 4,243,564 Twitter Followers Don’t Mean Jack

Posted in Community Manager, Social Media

coldstonesucks

When Twitter launched four years ago, it (perchance inadvertently) gave businesses the most precious gift imaginable: an intimate glimpse into consumers’ daily lives. It gave them the power to monitor brand reputation in a clean, accessible interface. Corporate brands like @Zappos & @Zappos_Service, @Starbucks, @DellOutlet, @JetBlue, and @TheHomeDepot, as well as personal “brands” like @StephenFry and @AlyssaMilano have been wildly successful with social media because they’re structured, devoted, attentive, engaging and personable.

Tragically, there are also bandwagon-jumping companies and celebrity glory-whores who go at Twitter like a portly dude at a buffet. They use it as self-centered bullhorn and nothing more.

Look- the versatility of social media is undeniable.  Twitter’s technology lends itself to a multitude of demographics with myriad interests, motives and objectives. In that regard, @UserA doesn’t really have the authority to blast @UserB for “using Twitter wrong.” The use is open to interpretation. Just like some people put cucumbers in their salad, some people put cucumbers in their facial regimen, and some people put cucumbers in… well, you get the picture.

Still, in the broadest sense, the fundamental function of Twitter is arguably one of communication. Lest we forget, boys and girls, communication is a two-way street. As such, tweets are a two-way street. But some self-indulgent socialites and clueless corporations haven’t gotten that memo.  Worse yet, some of them cultivate enormous followings simply because of their offline notoriety. Irksome. (Some fall flat on their face, never to exceed 700 followers despite their brick-and-mortar success… a refreshing taste of karma.)

Let’s sit back and collectively shake heads at their blunders so that we may learn from them, shall we?

1) You have 822,780 followers. You follow two people. | @DaveJMatthews

Dear Mr. Dave J. Matthews: you follow two people, and that tells us you don’t care what’s going on in your fans lives. May we assume those 800k+ followers are fans? Oh, and why do you have 800k+ fans when you haven’t tweeted in almost three months? That’s not an invitation to come back, though. The Internet can do without your useless white noise.

2) Your feed consists of status updates. And only status updates. | @Yankees

yankeestweetssuck

This feed is literally lobotomytastic to look at. While informative, the monotony is mind-numbing. This is what the MLB RSS is for. The Yankees are shooting themselves in the foot (those are pretty useful for athletes, aren’t they?) by not taking advantage of Twitter’s dynamic platform and exciting community-building potential.

3) You don’t interact with anyone. And the only person you RT is one of your directors. | @DisneyPixar

It’s mildly understandable why people like @BritneySpears have gazillions of followers and get away with merely tweeting (or ghost-tweeting) about their day-to-day and comeback concerts. But it’s difficult to imagine waking up and thinking, “I must know what Disney Pixar is up to! To the Twitterfeed!” What makes companies fun to follow on Twitter is when they engage their audience in a meaningful way.

4) You share would-be Zen gems through a f*cking API. | @yokoono

yokostweetssuck

That’s a really nice sentiment to share with your friends on Twitter! Except, the inspirational tweet was fed through an automated API. That totally negates the whole Zen-factor. The impact of such sentiments would increase exponentially if it was actually passed from one person to another.

5) You use your 160 character Twitter bio as a legal disclaimer. | @DrPhil

drphillstweetssuck

This is just wrong. And insulting. And wasteful. And worthless. Abandon Twitter bios often top the list of Twitter profile no-no’s, but in this case that’d be more tolerable than this bullcrap.

6) You dove into Twitter because it seemed cool. And then you just, like… stopped. Then you started using an API for your PRs. And we all hated you a little bit more. | @tgifridayscorp

tgifridaytweetssuck

Companies who thrust themselves into Twitter without a clear set of goals are setting themselves up for humiliation. Just because Twitter is free doesn’t mean the marketing campaign should be half-assed. This pitiful stream of tweets will haunt TGI Friday SERPs for all eternity. (Hat-tip @PureDriven for this example.)

7) You don’t encourage, you expect. (And you @mention yourself. Seriously?) | @coldstonecream

coldstonestweetssuck2

Coldstone makes some wicked tasty ice cream. But what kind of success can they hope to achieve with social media when they talk at people rather than with them? The last @mention they exchanged with another real live human being was in April of 2009. (Hat-tip to @MerryMorud for this laughable gem.)

So you see, boys and girls…

While we can’t stomp our feet and blast these people for trashing the concept of Twitter, they certainly are screwing themselves out of the as-yet unparalleled power of Twitter as a tool for social interaction. Why? Because they’re not interacting. They’re not sharing. They’re blaring.

  • Streko

    I saw an advertisement that said, “Follow Jello on Twitter”. Awesome, because I’ve been wondering what the fuck Jello has been up to.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    Congratulations, Streko- you win “Best Blog Comment of 2010″ award. Speaking of which, I hear there’s a really rad bar in Asbury, New Jersey that serves Jello shots in 67 oz. Das Boot glasses. I’ll be back in March for SES- you game?

  • Streko

    The bar that does the Das Boot glasses is “The Annex” one of my local haunts. Not sure about the jello, but I am always game. I should be at SESNY for a day and then hit up one of the parties.

  • geogeller

    well in defense of @userA and @userB and @cucumber and @literally_lobotomytastic & The last @mention they exchanged with @another_real_live_human_being was in April of 2009 – i agree with you that is something @jeffpulver and i were talking about sponsors how most corps, biz are so caught up in believing in their own propaganda and don’t get the social WEb – i figure it’s too strange, foreign a thought for them to digest – they are use to impression advertising – like the tv and radio pounding you with subliminal hyp-no-sis and hyp-no-cratic i mean hyp-no-crap – actually we should have a Hippocratic social WEb oath except it should be #hyp-no-crap oath – an oath of taking care to give trusted truthful representations – no crap –

    and maybe follow up excerpts from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic_Oath

    oh yes you make some good points in your article that i resonated with even if the @cucumber use was a little suggestive :-) enough said

    enjoy and ny misses ya

    g-oh

    the art of living is making your life an art

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Streko Done and done! Truthfully though, total bummer that Bill Cosby didn’t bring Jello along into his exhilarating Twitterstream.

  • Todd Dewell

    This is a great post.

    I think many corporations see Twitter as another broadcasting platform and have not taken the time to understand how to use an interactive platform like Twitter.

    There are some that celebs and companies that get it though: @wholefoods, @homedepot, @pga_johndaly.

    A post that contrasted the examples in this story with companies that do it right would be interesting as well.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Todd Thanks for the feedback! I completely agree – there *are* companies who get it, get it right, and profit as a result (both monetarily and reputation-wise). Thank heavens for that. Here’s a link to a post in which I explore habits of people who rock on Twitter, and are beloved because of it: http://bit.ly/6SKBZL.

    @Geo Thanks for taking time to share your insight =) in the words of Mr. Dylan, “the times, they are a-changin’…” it’s a real shame when A) companies don’t take the time to understand social media and how to leverage its influence or B) companies are too intimidated to even try it. Give NYC a big ole hug for me!

  • AQsucka

    I hope did the math correctly so this is not spammed. I like your rhyme at the end. They’re not sharing, they’re blaring. Drop a beat and lots roll with it.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @AQ – I’d defend your non-spamminess to any reCaptcha code, baby. Thanks for the rhyme props. I wanted to sneak it in there but really, yearned for the attention. Let’s meet after work and bust a move.

  • Marty Weintraub

    Don’t hold back then Lauren, tell us what you REALLY fell. I’m picturing executives sitting around at ColdStone and Dr. Phil going “holy crap, search marketing bloggers are publishing rants about how out Twitter profile blows.” Kinda’ warms my heart really. Great post kid.

  • Moksh Juneja

    if you are not communicated with any of your followers, it defeats the purpose to be on Twitter!! you can actually just scroller of a timeline running on your website like the stock market indices!!

  • Deborah

    Domino Sugar is a great example of using Twitter to engage and create a sugar loving community. (and who doesn’t love REAL sugar) I am curious about the term abandon bios on twitter. What is an abandon bio?

  • Rob Sample

    12? No, 32! Oh, sorry I was still stuck on the anti-spam math quiz.

    Lauren, your comments are right on the money. Glad I found your blog through a re-tweet.

    One note: I’m no grammarian (I’m just as bad at grammar as math) but it’s “cucumbers in their facial regimen” not “cucumbers in their facial regiment”.

    1. That would seriously piss off the troops.
    2. That would make marching painful.
    3. That would make them burp!

    Pick one and toss the rest.

  • Chris Norton

    This is a brilliant list of things which are annoying on Twitter. The truth is Twitter is about conversation and the sharing of information and not about how many followers you have. However, some people are learning and so I suppose we have to give them a break.

    Like you say, companies/brands should set out a clear set of objectives and look at how they are going to add value rather than just banging on about marketing messages.

    One thing which I truly dispise is the automated DM. “Thanks for following me”. This isn’t conversation. Please stop it as you are blocking my real DMs.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Marty – you want to know how I REALLY feel? YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW I REALLY FEEL? :) pretty much my exact feelings are right there in the post… pepper in a dozen more expletives and headshaking emoticons and… yeah, that’d pretty much be spot-on.

    @Moksh – I couldn’t agree more – Twitter is about communication! Two-way, street, man.

    @Deborah – that’s great! I’ll have to check out their feed. It tickles me pink when companies “get it.” It’s totally a win-win for the company and the consumers. Abandon bio refers to a Twitter bio that is left empty.

    @Rob – duly noted, and fixed! Would hate to have the army on my hide for that slip-up… thanks for that! Really glad you stumbled upon (well, not literally) the post and agree with the points.

    @Chris – couldn’t agree more; quality over quantity. Eventually, quantity is a nice benchmark to show social media marketing campaign success, but it’s the value of the followers that trumps everything else. PS- whenever I get an auto-DM thanking me for following or pitching me some service, I immediately unfollow ;)

  • Steve

    I still don’t see the value in Twitter. Maybe I’m old fashioned. And, I am guilty of #2, mostly because I have no desire to post on Twitter. I’ve thought about closing my account, but it’s hard to do because I’m in the marketing business.

  • David Bruce Jr

    I must admit was in the same class as @tgifridayscorp

    I had to find out just what to do with twitter, got overwhelmed, hooked it up to everything under the sun and posting to Delicious posted to Friendfeed posted to twitter and I also did the one way spam the hell out of anyone following.

    Not by intentional design, but cause I didn’t think I had the time to monitor it

    … then I discovered what the local newspaper discovered: use a 3rd party to monitor FOR me, found people who: could help me, I could help them, we both filed each other way as “Might need this guy in the near future” category.

    I agree wholeheartedly with where this post is going:
    I even coined a term: twitterceptionist, Receptionist 2.0,

    Companies need to hire someone to do the engagement, the social part of social networking, otherwise it’s just a spam fest
    Hell, even @washingtonPost is doing it ONE WAY, outgoing only

    no DM listed means no DM is desired

  • Cassie Rice

    I totally agree! Most companies have not figured out how to be on Twitter the right way. The best part is that it’s not hard. All they have to do is spend some time talking to their customers and giving them helpful/relevant information. How hard can that be? I think it would actually be fun for the person writing the tweets and managing the account if they do it right.

  • Modern Metrix

    Disagree. I do not have to follow my fans to learn about them. I can simply use modifications of numerous Twitter analytics tools and their API available online to build a quantitative and qualitative behavioral and attitudinal profile of my audience, and possibly adjust my Tweets to better suit their interests.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Steve- Twitter isn’t for everyone, just as LinkedIn/YouTube/Facebook isn’t for everyone. There’s no point in investing in a social media platform if you don’t feel it will help you achieve your personal or professional objectives. My purpose with this post was to call out brands that jump on the Twitter bandwagon because they think it’s “all the rage,” and suffer in the public eye because they lack devotion, understanding and structure. Personally, I’d have more respect for companies who ultimately decide Twitter will not provide value for them or their target audiences rather than watch their poorly managed Twitterfeeds trail behind them, ya know?

    @David Bruce Jr – Right on- it’s commendable that you can admit your initial mistakes, and even more commendable that you recognized them in time to take corrective steps that worked for you and your company. There’s no shame in outsourcing certain elements of one’s business, though most ppl appreciate transparency on the issue. The only reason I’ll say sources like @washingtonPost can have more success w/ one way tweets is b/c they’re a news source… but still, a little interaction never hurt :)

    @Cassie Rice- glad you agree with the points in the post! I think for many companies, esp. those that have been in existence an appreciable amount of time, they’re mostly intimidated by the technology- having worked for so long with traditional advertising or PPC. But it’s important to understand that, once again, “the times, they are a-changin’…”- companies need to at least educate themselves before they dive in or step way from Twitter altogether. I also agree that community managers / online rep managers have a fun job if they know what they’re doing and have a well-thought out social media strategy. The guys over at @Zappos look like they have a fun time :)

  • iCare :)

    great article, really great article. but @dell – zero tweets, how’s that define wildly successful? maybe a new ID?

    oh, and I am still lol @ Strekos comment.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @iCare – Thanks for the props, and for pointing out that slip-up! I’ve corrected the Twitter handle / link to go to the right Dell page (@DellOutlet).

    I LOL at @streko’s comment every time I look back upon this post. Truly the gem of our generation.

  • Marsha Collier

    Thank you for this post. I’m currently writing a Customer Service book for Wiley and this use of Twitter is exactly what I am writing against. Makes me feel good to know that I’m not the only one with my opinion.

    Thanks for the confirmation!

  • steveplunkett

    GREAT article mini-me… =) so proud of you.

    you missed one… the people that do it right.. BUT….. still #Fail

    Ex: @umatter2Charter – pure twitter perfection… they follow up, best customer service in THE WORLD on twitter… however.. they couldn’t provide 30 days of consistent cable service after 6 months of me spending 44 hours on the phone with them.

    so even thought they are the text book case of HOW… great twitter service kept me an additional 90 days…
    lipstick on a pig is still… swine.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Marsha – for sure! Glad to know *I’m* not the only one with these Twitter pet peeves :)

  • Suzanne Vara

    Lauren

    Freaking great post. Directors of Community do have a great job and really teach a lot about how to use twitter. Shamefully I do not always treat twitter with the respect it deserves. I do interact, but sometimes a bit too much with my sport friends and 3 hours later and a ridiculous amount of tweets all about a team.

    Love the post and despite being very humorous, it is a must read for people starting out or who are just not there yet on how to use twitter.

  • Lauren

    @Suzanne- so glad you dug the post. I agree – there are some community managers out there who really “get it” and have the goods to show for is – sure, they have high quantities of followers, but it’s the *quality* of the followers- their brand loyalty and engagement- that make all the difference.

  • Ldii

    For the first time I don’t use twitter. I consider it’s just mobile device so the message it sends no more than SMS. I like blog for it contains vast and comprehensive idea and knowledge. Twitter application is only a contemporary trend.

  • Lauren

    @Lddi – I respectfully and completely disagree :)

  • Lauren Litwinka

    Hey y’all – just so you know, I have gripes about blog *commenters,* too =) http://bit.ly/ccQ5G6

  • Lorenzo

    Good post. I follow some folks on Twitter who choose not to interact with people. I don’t know why they bothered to sign up for Twitter in the first place. They tweet quotes 24 hours a day but never have anything original to say for themselves. And on the rare occasion when I retweet one of their quotes I get a “Thanks for the retweet” reply, which makes me believe there is actually a person behind the avatar, but when I try to converse with him/her all I get are more robotic quotes. Very strange.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Lorenzo – Thanks for the props =) You never know – that “thanks for the retweet” could be an automatic message set to respond to anyone who RTs their handle.

  • Frank Canna

    Well Lauren, I must say, I knew you liked gummy worms, but I never knew you had so much to offer. Your post is awesome my friend!

  • Dejan

    I was expecting something a bit different out of this post. A bit disappointed.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @ Frank – Truly touched by that, my friend! I’m glad you got to see what I do aside from type a lot of smiley faces on Twitter :)

    @ Dejan – Right on, but don’t stop there! I’d be interested to know what you were expecting.

  • Sandra McLeod Humphrey

    Great post, but like Todd, I would love to see some examples of companies that are doing it right–that would be really helpful1