Twitter: Secret Weapon or Overhyped?

This is a golden moment for Twitter. Its IPO just began trading and is currently trading up. The platform has shown ongoing user growth, with over 500 million users worldwide. It is touted as an exciting tool for branding in articles: “Getting a handle on @Twitter branding” and “Use Twitter Cards for Branding & Local SEO.” A Twitter account is seen as an important communication tool for many companies and even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Army have tweeted to provide news about H1N1 and to recruit (Case and King 2011). Yet how exactly should Twitter be used by companies? Is it a branding tool? It is a communications tool? Is it a marketing tool? As a platform only created in 2006, the true usefulness of Twitter is still being discovered and its return on investment by companies is still unknown. That doesn’t mean that companies should not invest time and resources in tweeting, but more effort is required for success.

Twitter is a platform for “tweets” or short messages of up to 140 characters, which are shared with followers and are searchable by topic or “hashtag.” In the second quarter of 2013, there were 49 million monthly U.S. Twitter users, resulting in important real-world effects (Yarow 2013). A BazaarVoice study uncovered a correlation between mentions on Twitter and upward stock price movement while a Carnegie Mellon University textual analysis found that Twitter may be a way to assess public opinion (Eubank 2013s; Greer and Ferguson 2011). Major events in the news or entertainment regularly generate thousands of Tweets. Twitter has to be acknowledged as an influence in American society.

However, with the IPO launch, some authors have questioned Twitter’s future and business potential. Farhad Manjoo of The Wall Street Journal argued that “Twitter’s place in the advertising business isn’t clear” and “its business is plagued by questions for which we have no answers just yet: Do Twitter’s ads ‘work’—do they reach enough people, do they alter purchase decisions, and are they becoming a standard part of advertisers’ media buys? Can Twitter’s business skyrocket if its user base doesn’t? Will it constantly find itself losing out on ad deals to its behemoth rivals?” CNN Money brought up the fact that it is has yet to show a profit and is heavily reliant on advertising. As a new medium, there is no tried and tested path for going public or for monetizing social media networks. These issues are combined with authors advising tweeting in specific ways without empirical evidence for best practice strategies.

Academic researchers such as Lovejoy, Waters, and Saxton and Case and King are exploring how a variety of companies and non-profits currently use Twitter. While they find gaps in Twitter use—not taking advantage of the two-way communication opportunities—and foresee potential in its use for news and marketing, their studies have not resulted in empirical evidence supporting the definitive success or failure of specific Twitter strategies. “Social media expert,” Gary Vaynerchuk, in The New York Times’ “Riding the Hashtag in Social Media Marketing,” acknowledges this lack of evidence, saying “Our clients on those media [magazine and television] don’t know. What they know is that there’s a spike in sales after they run an ad on TV. The same is true with social media. So my answer is, social media ads are bound by the same logic used to justify ads since the beginning of radio.”

Despite the question about return on investment, some companies see a Twitter account as covering their bases. The mentality is that at least they are present on the platform, whether or not it is essential to their stakeholder interactions. This is not necessarily a good strategy as one blogger describes in her list of reasons why “Corporate Twitter Accounts Are Stupid” (Al-Assi 2012). She then segues into a discussion of how such companies should actually use Twitter. Everyone has advice about corporate Twitter use, from Twitter itself to Forbes to Mashable. They have many similarities, emphasizing good content, multi-media, timeliness, a strategy, and use of the interactivity features.

With Twitter in the news, user levels growing, and ways of using it evolving, it seems reasonable for companies to jump on the bandwagon and open an account. However, as Mashable recommends “Advertisers need to sit down and think about how content is used and shared on Twitter, and, importantly, what makes a Tweet (paid or not) successful” (Lawrence 2010). Until research and evidence catch up with the popularity of Twitter, to avoid being just another basic corporate account, creativity and an appreciation for what makes Twitter unique are essential. Just like any other form of media, clear expectations for its purpose and role within the company’s overall strategy are more important than the mere use of the medium.

 

Al-Assi, Roba. “Corporate Twitter Accounts Are Stupid.” AndFarAway. AndFarAway. 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.  <http://www.andfaraway.net/blog/2012/02/19/corporate-twitter-accounts-are-stupid/>

Case, Carl J., and Darwin L. King. “Twitter Usage in the Fortune 50: A Marketing Opportunity?” Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness 5.3 (2011): 94-103.

Eubanks, Nick. “Leverage Twitter’s Influence to Work for Your Brand.” Search Engine Watch. Incisive Interactive Marketing LLC, 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2013.  <http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2244155/Leverage-Twitters-Influence-To-Work-For-Your-Brand>

Greer, Clark F., and Douglas A. Ferguson. “Using Twitter for promotion and branding: A content analysis of local television Twitter sites.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 55.2 (2011): 198-214.

Gunelius, Susan. “Instagram, Twitter or Facebook Advertising – Which Is Best for Brands?” Corporate Eye. Corporate Eye Web Services Ltd., 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.  http://www.corporate-eye.com/main/instagram-twitter-or-facebook-advertising-which-is-best-for-brands/

Lawrence, Dallas. “How Companies Should Approach the New Twitter Advertising Model.” Mashable. Mashable, Inc., 14 April 2010. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. http://mashable.com/2010/04/14/twitter-advertising-strategies/

Manjoo, Farhad. “Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Invest in Twitter.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 7 Nov. 2013. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304672404579181970320847620

Segal, David. “Riding the Hashtag in Social Media Marketing.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 2 Nov. 2013. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/technology/riding-the-hashtag-in-social-media-marketing.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

Yarow, Jay. “Twitter Has a Surprisingly Small Number of US Users.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc. 4 Oct. 2013. Web. 20 March 2013. http://www.businessinsider.com/twitter-has-a-surprisingly-small-number-of-us-users-2013-10

Image from http://webanthology.net/ultimate-list-of-twitter-icons-for-web-designers/2009/11/22/

Emily Muth

Emily Muth is a former Master's candidate in Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown and the Lead Blogger for gnovis. Her academic focus is on the strategic use of social media and digital communications. She loves to read, travel, and post photos of delicious food.