Early stage startup marketing & community management + the great outdoors.

The Twitter Value Debate

Twitter: Helpful?

A quick background to this post; this morning several friends and I had a conversation spawn about the value of Twitter to the masses. The discussion started between myself (@mattsolar) and my close friend, Pete (@petekuhn). Since we’re both bearish on Twitter’s value I decided to rope in another good friend, and content/Twitter guru, Jim (@jimstorer). Immediately, he referred us to Warren (@warrenss), who replied to us quickly with some great links.

(Before you ask, of course I understand the irony of using Twitter to find information on the value of Twitter. It’s like searching on Google for “Google”.)

My thought on Twitter is this; it’s a great product but its value in its current form is limited to several industries. Examples of those industries are; news feeds (i.e. alerts), celebrities (i.e. @LanceArmstrong, with half a million followers), and those in social media marketing (i.e. @JimStorer). There are certainly other areas where value may be extracted, but I’ll use those three for examples.

Warren’s first link from Huffington Post reinforces this by discussing the value using the examples of media and movie stars. This is fine, but doesn’t relate to the masses.

The second link, a great article from, has started to address my concerns. To test the theories of brand trust, customer interaction, networking, and traffic forwarding, last week I opened up a second account (@WalcottCorp) dedicated to commercial real estate in the Boston area (Tweeting on behalf of my brother, who is a broker and even more skeptical about the web’s potential contribution to a relatively “old school” industry).

I was only able to look briefly at the third link, Twittermaven, but look forward to reading some of those material and resources provided in the post.

Some corporations are embracing Twitter as a means to address customer service complaints and build brand awareness but what is the difference between Twitter and email in this example, other than the Twitter complaints are public? Maybe this is enough but I suspect that once the novelty of Twitter wears off and the number of complaints grows, customers choosing Twitter over email won’t have a quicker response time and will only lack the tracking ability and word-length to provide details.

Beyond those industries the value decreases sharply. Most people are either a) not interested in spending additional time online or not tech savvy enough, b) not in an industry where online networking benefits them, or c) are simply too boring. The end result is that you’ll have a lot of noise on Twitter that has little to no value and there is no way to filter it.

Business Week wrote an article that expands on this idea;

“Zipf’s Law suggests that each subsequent thing in any series (such as your Twitter contacts) has predictable diminishing value. Your spouse is more important than your best friend, who outranks your boss, colleague, and that guy you met on a plane from Chicago. Inside the 2.3 million-strong Twitter network, not all connections are equal, and some will never be used at all.” – Link Here

I realize these are generalities but I believe that is why Twitter has seen slower growth when compared to companies like Facebook and Google (ref: John Battelle’s post). It’s probably not fair to compare Twitter to two of the fastest growing companies this century but the point is that Twitter simply doesn’t have that “ah-ha” moment for the majority of people when they use it. Use Google once, on the other hand, and you understand the relevance of it’s search product. Use Facebook once and you understand the value of entertainment and “keeping in touch” with friends (I use quotations since most people don’t even exchange messages).

As a social and tech interested person, I hope I’m wrong – I’d love to be able to have ongoing communications with friends. I suspect it will take some revisions of Twitter (filters, more detailed privacy settings) before I can use it in a capacity similar to the way I’m already using Facebook, text messages, and email groups.

Perhaps I just need to shake the mindset that it’s useful for existing social relationships and look at it solely as a tool to try and build new professional contacts.

I’m interested in your comments.


Update, 4/12: I found this article very interesting; “Is Twitter Turning into MySpace?”  The takeaway is that both are full of ghost writers, fake celebrities, and spam.

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