Jory Des Jardins: Twitter Abuse: Microblog Campaigns That Make Me Go ewwwww - MediaBizBloggers
Published: August 19, 2009 at 04:13 AM GMT
Last Updated: August 24, 2009 at 04:13 AM GMT
By Jory Des Jardins
When I speak with companies I bring along a Twitter slide, much the same way a wedding DJ has to bring along a version of "Play that Funky Music" to gigs. Chances are you are going to get the request, and so you need to be ready.
As someone who works more on blog strategy than Twitter strategy, I've had to get used to this. BlogHer's 2009 Women and Social Media Study confirmed something we suspected at my company: Over the course of the last year, many bloggers have become power-microbloggers. While you aren't going to find a lot of Twitterers who aren't also blogging or using a social network like Facebook, we did find that bloggers have become the most highly Web-savvy cross-platform identity builders and, in particular, are augmenting their blogging with heavy Twitter usage. We knew that if we built campaigns for brands and bloggers, we would need to acknowledge, if not integrate, Twitter into the campaign in some fashion.
My slide is a simple one: I list out the uses brands and agencies might have for Twitter, and then I list out the common abuses. I feel like I'm stating the obvious, but you can't be too sure with all the bad Twitter campaigns that I've encountered recently.
A very prominent blogger once told me before Twitter existed (but I believe it applies to microblogs), "I have no problems with advertising on my blog. But I do have a problem with the blog equivalent of Hollywood Blvd., with billboards everywhere, and often competing with my view of the road." I don't believe that brands intend to muck up the Twitter neighborhood, but rather that they can't stomach not having their sign on a few lawns when their competitors are already playing there. Rather than decide on which lawns they'd like to be represented, or what their sign should say, or whether they really want to be on any lawn at all, they indiscriminately stake their claim. And there goes the neighborhood.
It would seem that with social media fully entrenched in our marketing strategies we've evolved to more sophisticated forms of messaging, yet I'm seeing older tactics paired with technology meant to disseminate ideas, not exploit them; tactics that I thought would go away once I started hearing marketers quoting passages in The Cluetrain Manifesto, but that have instead been disguised to mimic word of mouth.
What tactics am I talking about?
1. The Misunderstanding: Some of you may recall the Moonfruit campaign earlier this year, where microbloggers were asked to hashtag their posts with the Website builder's brand name to enter to win Apple products. This campaign was a reported improvement on an earlier campaign by their competitor, SquareSpace, who offered up iPhones and was criticized for not delivering (they provided Apple gift certificates, not actual iPhones). Moonfruit was lauded for not only being more accurate about their giveaways, but for aligning it more with their brand by offering 10 Macbooks in 10 days, to celebrate the company's 10th anniversary. And it was a top-trending topic on Twitter.
My take: Both campaigns were off-base. If such a tweet or re-tweet campaign gets picked up by a particular sub-community, you may think you've hit the jackpot, but in fact you're driving people crazy. And it's very likely people will associate that "spam effect" with your brand, not the individual twitterers. And imagine a user who missed the original Tweet offer, seeing these brands as top trends, and actually expecting to see actual conversations about these brands. That won't happen.
Marketers should ask themselves, by gaming the system, are they really getting their brand's differentiating attributes out to the public in any sustainable fashion? What is Moonfruit, a design shop or a computer retailer? Most of the public still doesn't know and doesn't care.
2. Tweetwashing: When I ran for Student Council Vice President in the seventh grade I had to write a speech extolling myself, and my mother gave me some advice I'll never forget: You must talk about why YOU deserve to be in the role, not why the other candidates shouldn't be. In the end, constituents and customers want to know about why they should choose your products, not why they shouldn't buy someone else's.
Why Box.net would not be able to apply that rule to Twitter confounds me. I use Box.net and could easily brag about them on their behalf, but I can't say the same about their marketing strategy. In a recent campaign, they asked users to "Tweet your frustrations about [competitor] Sharepoint to #SharePointBlues" to win a t-shirt. This campaign smelled so bad it wafted to our site's contributing editors who shared a collective sentiment: Ewww.
So while some may think this is marketing brilliance, gaming Twitter to generate negative comments about a competitor, it has now also turned off some of its influencers who care about how companies do business. And it has made others like me aware that competition exists … and curious about it.
3. Bait & Switch: I've complained ad-nauseum about the constant flow of commercial flotsam that gets mixed in with what I thought was a content feed. I get that some people have commercial connections and want to promote them, but if I sign up for a news site and then see Tweets that say, "Free t-shirts! Just click here," I feel deceived. There is no advertorial section in a Tweet. I can't avert my eyes if I want to, so I just unfollow the person who fooled me.
I give companies like Izea credit for noodling this conundrum and for creating disclosure by developing a hashtag (#spons) that provides disclosure. But I—and my colleagues at BlogHer—don't think it's enough. We, and a number of other publishers such as CNN, believe that commercial Tweets are inherently OK, but they must be relegated to a feed that is explicitly for that purpose. At BlogHer it was a simple fix: We have our company feed that shares news of relevance to our community (@BlogHer), and we have a feed for offers, samples, and free stuff from our sponsors (@BlogHerDeals).
Sure that means building a new reader base for the new feed, but that's better than losing an old one. It's the only way of truly ensuring that your readers have opted in and that your content is all signal, no noise.
Until best Twitter practices become as well-known, as, say, common email etiquette, there will continue to be questions about how to best use Twitter. But for now I would recommend applying the same rules of disclosure and context/editorial separation that you would apply to print or traditional Web.
And then add a touch of common sense.
As co-founder and President of Strategic Alliances for BlogHer, Jory Des Jardins is an innovator in online advertising, women's media and Internet entrepreneurship. Jory can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read all Jory’s MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Guest MediaBizBloggers.
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