Stop Calling Twitter a Social Network!

Category: SaaS Management

At least, that’s what another Twitter vice-president said last week at Nokia World 2010.

Kevin Thau, Twitter’s Vice-President for business and corporate development, reiterated Sean Garrett’s claim that Twitter is an “information network,” not a social network, and that “Twitter is transforming the nature of news.”

“The guy who saw a plane land on the Hudson River right in front of him didn’t think to send an email,” says Thau. “He tweeted it.”

Kevin stressed three major stake points of Twitter’s utility:

1) Twitter is for news

2) Twitter is for content

3) Twitter is for information

All this said, I, in my oh-so-righteous position as an intern, encourage–nay, demand for–you to…

Keep Using Twitter As a Social Network

Why? Because that’s how others use it, and with all due respect, Twitter’s power is in the users.

Kevin goes on to cite and encourage users who have accounts not to produce, but consume content on Twitter; and that’s really the only kosher one-way-communication form of Twitter. These users are not putting anything out to attract anyone; they’re not talking and/or trying to begin a conversation (nor, dear business owner, are they trying to sell something).

This speech was also very journalistic. Many journalists, says Thau, use Twitter as a means to push out stories (and some like myself may cynically say to quickly get that scoop). He then followed that up by saying that it’s allowing users themselves to become journalists in their own right by providing a tool that has a very low barrier to entry to break their own news.

But these are passive users and journalists. Not businesses and active users, two groups that are not mutually exclusive.

Twitter has around 145,000,000 users. And they are talking to each other. Socially, even. Otherwise, you and I wouldn’t be trying to crack this nut.

So many business are using Twitter solely as an information network; a one-way broadcast venue to squawk out what they consider “deals!,” “news!,” “tidbits!” and “tips!” This is great for the casual user who is going to consume this, but what about that active user who requires engagement?

Let me point out two examples; one who’s doing it wrong (at the moment), and one who’s doing it right.

WRONG: Mint Julep Day Spa

Here’s a smallish business in an average American town with a Twitter page being used as an “information utility.” Mint Julep is following no one. Its tweets are sent out using, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but signifies to me that they are merely broadcasting one single message to all Facebook and Twitter users without much regard for conversation. Each tweet is even cut off! Unfortunately, this empty voice and lack of enthusiasm yields no rewards; it’s a (very pretty) face with no ears framing it.

RIGHT: Allen’s Hamburgers

Allen’s Hamburgers is an American pub restaurant in a college town with a Twitter page being used socially. Allen’s follows more than twice of those following them (a good strategy for a small businesses…really, only big brands with tens of thousands of followers or more get a pass, if only for the limitation of the human attention span) at 1,870 following to 857 followers. In a town the size of Athens, GA, that’s great! Posts are timely (to the day), relevant (to gamedays, events, etc), and they are engaging via giveaways, online trivia contests, and pictures of what’s physically going on within the establishment. Because of this, they are rewarded with customers interacting with them on Twitter and on other networks (such as checking in on Foursquare), they are listed 91 times, and have a healthy online community based around them.

In short, yes…Twitter may think of themselves as an “information utility,” and they are very much so, in a sense. However, Twitter is very open-ended compared to most other social networks which has led to users really taking it and using how they want to, which has shown to be to interact and share with each other, the very base of “social.” As a business now operating in the fray, you must take that mob rule into mind and play accordingly. When you do, I promise that you’ll find it very rewarding.

How do you find the right balance between information broadcasting and customer engagement on Twitter? Comment below!

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