Twitter strategy revisited

It’s been fun to, ahem, follow all of the rather serious Twitter research (isn’t The Science of ReTweets just the best title?). The studies that seem to get the most attention are those that examine the ego-boosting or deflating number of followers – what’s too many, too few or just right.

In Praise of Obscurity,” Clive Thompson’s column in the Feb. 2010 issue of Wired, states the obvious to anyone who’s ever been in a class of 15 people and then in one that has 500:

“Once a group reaches a certain size, each participant starts to feel anonymous again, and the person they’re following — who once seemed proximal, like a friend — now seems larger than life and remote….Social media stops being social. It’s no longer a bantering process of thinking and living out loud. It becomes old-fashioned broadcasting.”

At his Twitter Boot Camp last June, Tim O’Reilly chided the New York Times, saying that “just using Twitter as an RSS feed for your site is a missed opportunity.”  Twitter’s supposed to be all about building communities by having two-way conversations between the followers and the following.

At the time I instantly agreed with him.  But Twitter is no longer an amusing recreational hobby.  It’s now a business juggernaut – and that implies a company should use it tactically any way that it wants.

The NYT has 2.3-million-plus followers, is supposedly following a measly 193, and doesn’t ever seem to retweet or respond to a follower.  But every tweet has a link to the NYT site.NYT Twitter 2-4-10

The NYT doesn’t claim it wants to be your friend and talk to you.  Its Twitter bio states right up front that the NYT is “Where the Conversation Begins.”  It’s not where conversations continue, are facilitated, passed on or anything else connected to being a personal relationship builder.

I do think news orgs must build closer relationships with their audiences.  But Twitter isn’t – and shouldn’t be – the only way to do it.   What is important, however, is transparency in how a news org is using its main Twitter handle.  If a news org is just not that into you, it should say so.

 

 

Twitter: new medium, new metrics

It's a new year, so I'm hitting the reset button on my attempt to come up with a Twitter metrics methodology relevant to news organizations.

There's no better place to start than with Avinash Kaushik's November 2009 blog post.  Among other things, Kaushik is Google's "analytics evangelist."  He's not only an innovative web analytics thinker but also someone who really cares whether the common everyday professional understands this stuff – and uses it.

Why should news orgs measure their Twitter efforts?  Why don't they just tweet away and just count how much traffic Twitter sends to their sites?

OstrichTwitter is essential for news orgs.  News orgs won't be able to attract, build and engage audiences if they don't use social media successfully.   If news orgs don't believe this then…(insert your fave cliche about ostriches or whatever here).

Twitter takes a lot of time and effort.  At the very least, news orgs should use Twitter metrics so they can use their journalists' time and efforts effectively.  Who tweets?  Who doesn't?  Who should – and shouldn't?  Who should tweet more?  Less?  On what?  With whom?  Are news orgs reaching and engaging the audiences they need and want?

So, here are the key thoughts I have from Kaushik's blog. 

First, just as you shouldn't apply traditional mass media metrics to the web, you shouldn't use traditional web metrics to measure social media. 

Example: Total circulation/readership is a key performance indicator for print, but monthly unique visitors isn't.  You can count anything, but you shouldn't waste time on counts that don't directly lead to specific actions.

Kaushik:  "One of the biggest mistake companies and brands make about Twitter is that they think it is one more 'shout channel' like TV and radio and magazine ads or press releases. Twitter is not that. Twitter is a 'conversation channel,' a place where you can find the audience relevant to you (and your company and products and services and jihad) and engage in a conversation with them. It is not pitching, it is enriching the value of the ecosystem by participating."

For Twitter, Kaushik likes Klout's methodology for assessing reach, demand, engagement and velocity.  Klout gives metrics on each of these areas from which you can "pick and choose according to the objective/action/decision needed."

Klout also gives a total score or compound metric, which Kaushik warns against.  Compound metrics "can be subjective, inapplicable to many and efficiently hide the insights you need to understand what actions to take."

Instead of the simplistic follower/following ratio that many use to define Twitter success, Kaushik likes total retweets, number of retweets per thousand, messages per outbound message and churn.  These metrics measure conversation, not "just yelling."

About all of those followers:  Kaushik's intrigued (as am I) by GraphEdge's assertion that those followers who are following more than 2,000 people aren't "legitimate" because they aren't really monitoring your feed.  

I don't think those following more than 2,000 should be completely discounted.  After all, someone could be following you and not following the other 1,999 people.  And that someone could be really important to your targeted audience.

GraphEdge and other tools show much promise in figuring out what news orgs need to do with Twitter.  But it's going to take some time and a lot of effort.  Kaushik:  "Be willing to work hard. Be willing to put in the sweat equity. Be willing to try 45 things (tools/metrics/strategies) to find the three that work for you."

Ack!  Forty-five things to find three?  Unfortunately I think (actually, I know) he's right.  I'll be digging into Klout and GraphEdge, but I don't know if I'll be looking into 43 more things.  For news orgs, it might take more than that to find the magic three.

 

Hank Wasiak: “From Mad Man to Twitteraholic”

As he said himself, Hank Wasiak is not Don Draper, but his ten minutes were the highlight for me at the 140 Characters Conference in LA last week.

Wasiak, co-founder of The Concept Farm, said that social media, as a “killer app,” has brought about a fundamental change in the way we do business and in the metrics that define success.  He said companies must have a “mindset makeover” and a “people strategy” to survive.

He was talking about marketing and advertising, but all I could think about was how everything he said applies to news organizations, too.

 

Oh, and he also said that the way we’re teaching is completely outdated.  I agree…I’m going to see if I can take his marketing and advertising class at the USC Marshall School of Business in the spring.

140 characters of engagement

I’ve just gotten back from the 140 Characters Conference in LA where the message, loud and clear and 10 minutes per speaker at a time, was that it’s the quality of your followers that matters, not the quantity.

More reinforcement:  Twitter’s new list function is already prompting “mass unfollowings” (thanks to Mary McKinnon/@bestwebstrategy for this link).

Picture 5 The first #140conf in New York in June was all about the unique communities that Twitter inspired.  The dominant sponsor was Hootsuite, personified by a large owl walking around hugging people.  Ann Curry duked it out with Rick Sanchez.  Wyclef Jean showed up, late of course, but illustrating the importance of authencity.  Attendees bonded over the duct-taped power outlets.

Five months later, it appears that Twitter has…matured.  The speakers in LA weren’t giddy.  The lead sponsor was Kodak, represented by CMO Jeffrey HayzlettPicture 2, a glossy brochure touting Kodak’s “convergence media tactics” and coupons for 15 percent off Kodak products. You can’t have either duct tape or power outlets in the Kodak Theatre (where the Academy Awards are held) so the crowd was often bigger in the lobby than in the auditorium.

I still had fun at #140conf LA – it is Twitter, after all – but the biz talk was pervasive:  strategy, goals, objectives, processes, systems, results, the four Ps and the four Es, one of which was, of course, engagement.

Continue reading “140 characters of engagement”

Analyzing Twitter

I've been scratching at developing some methodology that newsrooms can use for measuring the success of their Twitter strategies for some time now.  Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to really focus on it.  However, a couple of nuggets I saw today reinforce my hypotheses that simple counts of followers and tweets mean very little.  You really need to dig deep and spend the time (sigh) analyzing follower profiles and tweet content. 

Thanks to Mashable today, I've finally found the site that keeps a running count of how many users use Twitter via its web site vs. third-party clients or applications like TweetDeck.  Twitstat currently shows that only 20 percent (!) of Twitter usage comes from the web site.  Now I'm really going to scrutinize the methodology of any reports on Twitter usage.  I suspect most of them – especially the panel researchers like comScore or Nielsen – only capture site traffic.

This stat from iMedia Connection is from September but it's probably still useful.  "Roughly one quarter (24 percent) of Twitter users have never tweeted or
have ceased doing so, according to data from audience measurement firm Crowd Science. That number is very close to the percentage of users who tweet on a daily basis (27 percent)." 

140conf I'm really looking forward to the 140 Characters Conference in Los Angeles next week.  After that I'm sure I'll be inspired to really buckle down and figure this out!

The number’s good except when it’s not

Based on a Hitwise report, Online Media Daily reported that Twitter’s “torrid growth has cooled since April.”  But the Hitwise number is deeply flawed – it doesn’t include traffic from “mobile and application-driven traffic.”

In other words, Hitwise’s report is based solely on traffic from Twitter’s web site.  It doesn’t include traffic from smartphones and applications like TweetDeck.   Hitwise’s report is just not that useful because it doesn’t include traffic from the devices and software that have made Twitter ubiquitous and easy to use, and which probably have contributed greatly to Twitter’s growth.

I say “probably” because we just don’t know one way or another.  Everyone’s still trying to figure out how to measure mobile web use.  It’s hard because there are multiple carriers and devices.  But just because a number is hard to get doesn’t mean we should use a number whose only virtue is that it’s easy.

 

What does “traffic” mean?

As heard from Martin Nisenholtz at the OMMA Global conference last week, Twitter drives 10 percent of the New York Times’ traffic.

What does this mean?  Is it 10 percent of page views?  Unique visitors?  Visits?  Page views per visit?  Visits per unique visitor?

Nisenholtz, the senior VP of the NYT’s digital operations, reportedly said that the NYT’s Twitter account has 1.8 million followers and growing.

OK.  That’s a nice big number.  But it doesn’t tell you anything about whether any of those followers – or anyone who got to the site through Twitter – really engaged with the site.  How many followers go to the NYT site?  How often?

I have no doubt Twitter is an important source of traffic – however it’s defined – for the NYT and other news sites.  Let’s take the time to dig deeper so we really understand Twitter’s impact.