Twitter, marketing and the devil

Everything you need to know about using Twitter for marketing and PR is at this very descriptive url:

That’s right: Don’t. Don’t use Twitter for marketing.


Let me draw a comparison for you: What would you call someone who uses a program to automatically send you an annoying volume of email? A spammer. So what makes you think that because it’s 140 characters and on some trendy web service that blasting away with soulless and automatic links isn’t spam?

So that’s why I say automated means to add content to Twitter, like Twitterfeed, are the devil: It tempts you into believing that you can automate marketing your content to this massive group of people with zero effort. Who could possibly think that’s bad? Here kid, here’s some free candy. Just get in my car. Like all get rich quick schemes — make thousands of dollars working from home and only hours a week! — the reality never lives up to the hype.

Still not convinced? Let me give you some publicly available numbers.

I started the PolitiFact Twitter account in September 2007, months before the Iowa Caucuses, months before most people cared about the election. We didn’t use it for quite a while — I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. It started as an experiment with programming using the Twitter API (a machine interface to Twitter that allows me to pass content directly from the PolitiFact database to Twitter without needing someone to do it). Then I discovered Twitterfeed. Wow. Feeding my RSS feed onto Twitter for nothing! And no effort from me! Cool.

So I set up Twitterfeed, set up some links on PolitiFact and sent the link out to some friends of mine hoping they’d circulate it into the wider Twitter world. We did that from around the Iowa Caucuses until after the conventions in late August. Total followers in 8 months: about 200.

Then, after the first debate, I got the idea to send out links and information during the debates. Live. Using me, a human, to do it. So, like a comedian tapping the mic and asking if this thing is on, I got on our Twitter account and said “Hey, I’m going to live tweet the next debate.”

By the start of the debate, we had doubled our previous follower total. By the end of it, we’d tripled it. We added better than a follower a minute as the debate went on. We added several hundred more followers during the final debate (in spite of our servers crashing as the debate when on).

Before our Twitter account became human, we had about 200 followers. Now? We have over 1,000.

So what did I do different? I added a human voice — my own. I answered people’s questions, about why we ruled a certain way or how we come to a ruling. People asked us to check something that caught their ear. They made suggestions about site design that we put into place on the relaunch. On one ruling, several people called information to our attention that ended up changing the ruling by one notch on the meter.

Full disclosure: I didn't eliminate Twitterfeed entirely. I throttled it back to only adding one link tweet an hour. I'm not saying Twitterfeed is valueless. I'm saying it's not a solution. Tweeting a new story or a new item has value. The balance is in volume.

By being human, four times more people now come in contact with the PolitiFact brand and PolitiFact content. Twitter now routinely shows up on the top 10 referring domains — where people are coming to our content from — for PolitiFact.

You know what that’s called? Marketing.

So I can here you complaining already: But I’m so busy. How can I possibly be expected to be on Twitter on top of all these other things I’m doing? Truth is, most days, I’d spend no more than a half an hour on our Twitter account. Mid to late afternoon, I’d get on there, answer any questions, maybe throw out a link to our own stuff or something else interesting that I’d read that day. And then I’d log off until the next day. It doesn’t have to be a time suck — you can control how much time you spend Twittering your content. And be upfront about it — if people ask why you didn’t respond faster, tell them the truth: you were busy writing more stories or adding more features.

So how to do you market your content on Twitter?

You don’t.

You be yourself. You share your content with your followers and talk about it with them like you would with your friends at the coffee shop (just in 140 character chunks). And by not marketing, you reach way more people than you’ll ever be able to with Twitterfeed and other so-called marketing tools.

By: Matt Waite | Posted: Jan. 25, 2009 | Tags: Journalism, Business | 7 comments