Around The Twitterverse in Eighty Days: Eight Thoughts on Twitter

balloon and marketing and twitter

I’ve now been on Twitter for 80 days. In the amount of time it took Phileas Fogg to travel around the world, I have sent some 200 tweets and gained more than 400 followers.

I purposefully have not used any cheats or tricks to build traffic. I have used only Twitter’s own app and website. I wanted to immerse myself in the world of Twitter without any outside aids.

There are some parts of Twitter I like, but there are also some aspects that are incredibly frustrating. In the grand tradition of the Twitter listicle, here are my 8 observations about this much-discussed social network.

1) RAVE: Reach important people. On this blog I’ve reviewed several bestselling books. I use Twitter to reach out to the authors and let them know about my commentary. Some of these authors have responded. Without Twitter, I’d have no way of reaching these important influencers directly.

2) RANT: Twits and bots. Even though I only follow “real” people, a huge amount of my Twitter feed is garbage generated by software. Some users retweet their content over and over, while others have programs that automatically list their new followers or spout other junk (the worst offenses come from a tool called; if you let this program send tweets on your behalf, you are spamming your followers). I end up muting ¾ of my followees. The best content in my feed comes from publications I read anyway outside of Twitter, so I end up ignoring the feed most of the time. It’s just too hard to get interesting content into my feed and I’ve largely given up.

twitter bird is marketing good stuff3) RAVE: Networking with no intermediary. I enjoy meeting people with common business interests, and twice so far I’ve met people for coffee who I found on Twitter. It’s a great addition to in-person networking. Twitter gives a good insight into whether two people share complementary backgrounds and offers a natural way to start a conversation, something LinkedIn lacks.

4) RANT. Banality sells. As I hinted above, the most common content in my feed is in list form. And not good lists – it’s mostly warmed-over thought soup. I try hard to produce interesting content, but I can’t see a way to break through the mediocre material that many other creators are promoting. My most popular blog post broke through because I tweeted it many times. I don’t understand why my most favorited Twitter post is uniquely popular. Conclusion: Twitter rewards frequency not quality, which means it feels a lot like spam. Speaking of which…

5) FROTHING RANT. Direct messages are completely broken. Every direct message I’ve received, without exception, is spam. This bears repeating: I’ve received at least 100 direct messages, usually right after following someone. Every single one was a piece of garbage generating by a bot, usually asking me to interact on another channel. Early on I tried responding to some of these messages, but after about 10 replies got no response I stopped trying. Because direct messages are spam, of course, and the people who run the bots don’t read their direct messages either. It’s hard to overstate how bad this is for Twitter’s brand. Every other half-decent service solved spam years ago. I keep spam off my blog for free with Akismet, for example. How is this so hard? Why can’t I fix this in Twitter’s native app?

6) ECSTATIC RAVE. Unrivaled for breaking news. This summer I learned that a wildfire was devastating Middletown, CA, on Twitter. Periscope users were live-broadcasting the fires. This level of immediacy isn’t available anywhere else, and offers the most powerful argument I can think of in favor of Twitter. While this observation is as old as Twitter itself, I didn’t fully appreciate its power until an urgent and unfiltered breaking event appeared on my feed.

7) RANT. Where is everybody? 90% of my real-life friends are on Facebook (a steady trickle quits). 99% of my business contacts are on LinkedIn. But only around half of my friends and colleagues are on Twitter, and half of this group have abandoned their accounts. Very few of my interactors are people I know in real life. It’s not necessarily a problem but also not what I expected. Twitter didn’t build universal appeal and the quitters don’t seem likely to come back.

twitter tv is twitter marketing8) RAVE. Live other lives. One of the pressing problems with other digital networks – indeed, with much of the Internet – is that they constrict your experience to people like you. When you choose a virtual town square over its physical equivalent, you inevitably filter out those who don’t share your experiences, interests, prejudices, and background.

Twitter offers a way out of this troubling social trend because an entirely different group of people is just a click away. My favorite Twitter pastime is clicking on a random trending topic and trying to learn what it is and why people care about it. A click puts me in the middle of Argentinian politics, tween angst, or a college football rivalry. I learn something and, just maybe, gain a little empathy. For all its problems, Twitter may be the first platform that really can unleash the universalist ideals the Internet was founded on (remember those?) Global harmony! Peace and freedom! Reality is always more complicated than utopia, but Twitter uniquely offers a way to foster understanding across social and cultural barriers.

There and Back Again

Twitter is hard to define. As a social network, it is uniquely indispensable for breaking news and breaking down barriers. No other communication tool feels so open. As a product, however, it is in dire condition.

Twitter defines our cultural moment more than any other technology. Even if it will never be used as universally as Facebook, for example, it was Facebook that adopted Twitter’s hashtag innovation and not the other way around. Twitter has changed what communication means, and is changing our habits and expectations around this new order – much as radio once did generations ago, and the telegraph did decades before that.

The companies that brought these earlier inventions to the mass market – RCA and Western Union – are no longer movers of the world, yet their names endure and are endowed with respect. Perhaps this is Twitter’s future. There are far worse fates for the great disruptions of our age.

Yes, you can (and should) follow me on Twitter.


The MEDICAL Method: Method or Madness?

Over the last month I’ve shared some details on the MEDICAL Method, a new technique to quickly and effectively evaluate your product marketing content.

MEDICAL is an acronym to help you evaluate your written content. I hope that it can be a useful tool for product marketers in their content generation efforts – perhaps similar to the 5 C’s of SWOT analysis. It can be a starting point to get you unstuck, or a checkpoint to get to you to a final product.

I’ve been using the MEDICAL Method for several months, evaluating both my own work and published materials to see if they are meaningful, exciting, differentiated, informative, consistent, actionable, and localized. And so far it’s working for me. I can create better materials faster using this framework, and I can easily see ways that good professional work can be even better.

So now I’d like to hear your feedback. Do you think the MEDICAL Method can help you? Or am I on the wrong track altogether? Are there any important concepts that it’s missing? What would help to improve (and prove?) this method?


MEDICAL is a useful acronym for product marketing

Localization: Talk To Your Target Customer


This is the story of Quokka. I started it when stories were the most valuable currency in Silicon Valley.

This cute quokka somehow demonstrates great content and product marketingBack in 1998, I was a cub reporter for the now-defunct San Francisco Independent newspaper. I was sometimes sent to cover events that showed up in our daily stack of press releases, including the frequent (and extravagant) launch parties of Internet companies.

One of these was thrown by Quokka, a company that promised to revolutionize sports media using the Web. I arrived to find scores of guests chatting in a colorful lobby, munching on a mountain of crudité and an ocean of shrimp. A band was playing somewhere.

The CEO took the press around the company’s new offices. He proudly showed off a 5,000 square-foot floor, full of new cubicles, which he promised would be full of employees within months. A constellation of satellite dishes graced the roof. Quokka, he said, would be the number-one site for all live streaming sports, providing a real-time experience that traditional networks could not match. The site would attract action junkies, loyal team fans, and statheads. It was the next ESPN, in short. And that’s roughly what I wrote.

Quokka ended up going public in 1999, and produced websites to broadcast sports events exclusives. They produced coverage of the 2000 America’s Cup race and the 2000 Olympics, a high-water mark for the company. Then the tide went out.

By the end of 2001, the company had shed two-thirds of its staff and pivoted to a model of providing network infrastructure to other content providers. Quokka limped along until 2007, when it finally sank under the waves.

Now, 17 years later, I can finish the story of Quokka Sports.

Everything To Everyone

Quokka presented itself as the sports destination for everyone. It was the source of action sports and mainstream sports, the place for live streaming and real-time statistics. Quokka would be the best at delivering the network technology and at creating the content. In other words, the site was going to be everything to everyone.

While the company may also have tried to do too much technically, it also made a serious marketing error in presenting itself this way. By attempting to speak to almost every consumer on the Internet, the company only succeeded in exhausting its voice. A man on the street who yells at everyone convinces no one.

Quokka failed at localization: specifying its message to a tightly defined audience of desired customers. If Quokka had localized its market, it would have tried to do fewer things, and may have been able to gain true traction with a customer base. The company could have succeeded as a network infrastructure play if it had focused from the start.

Unfortunately, Quokka was riding a bubble that demanded making the biggest splash possible. And the biggest splashes often sink the fastest.

Be Something To Somebody

A B2B company is likely to have a small prospective audience of potential buyers, particularly compared to a consumer business. Make sure you segment your market carefully and know who your customer is, then design your messaging to speak only to this niche. Several tips can keep you on the right path.

  • Make your target audience as small as possible. The more specific your audience, the more precise your message can be, and the more intensively you can try to reach this audience. People who will not buy your service are not prospects – they are a waste of your effort.
  • Feel free to specify your audience by naming it. If your target customer is an IT administrator for a hospital, for example, you might title your sell sheet with, “A message for hospital IT administrators”. This device can feel forced, however it is appropriate in many cases.
  • Speak your audience’s language. If your target customer uses specific acronyms or terminology, use them also so your prospects know you understand them and are talking to them.
  • While using specific language, avoid general weasel words such as “premiere” or “best-in-class”. These terms don’t help your reader understand if she is the right audience, and even suggest that you don’t know who is. No one believes these words. However, factually accurate terms (“#1 most popular”, “leading choice of hospital IT administrators”) can be fine if they contribute to your goals of excitement and differentiation.
  • One useful device for localizing your content is to tell a hero’s journey story, a case study of success form the point of view of your ideal customer – the hero. Your target reader will identify with the story, which will probably be more memorable than any benefit statement told from your own perspective.

Segment the Seven C’s

Effective localized content is only possible if you have accurately segmented your market, so you know who you are trying to speak to and why they will listen to you. There are many frameworks for segmentation, and any of them can be effective if the outcome is a specific addressable market that is small enough for you to reach with your available resources.

You will know your content is properly localized to your market if prospects are taking action and if every channel and group you target is responding.

Your business can’t roam the whole world and effectively win and retain customers. So cast your net in the very best place you can find, and you’ll be able to catch all the fish you can handle.

What is your most effective method of speaking to your specific, targeted audience? Tell us about it in the comments.

P.S. The image atop this post is of a quokka, an Australian marsupial that may be the most absurdly photogenic furball on the planet. Those links are so cute they are probably NSFW. You’ve been warned.