Twitter’s sudden celebrity will soon become a fight for relevance

Twitter is a way to broadcast via your cell phone or computer. What do you broadcast? Whatever is immediate and local. You disclose your thoughts, observations and whereabouts — and anything else you can fit within a 140-character limit text message. Here’s an unofficial Twitter wiki. Its Press and Media section has links to some of the latest buzz on this social media app.

Twitter appeared quickly and will, in my opinion, flame out just as fast. Once it has died back down to a glowing ember, I suspect it will reside where it seems most suited: with younger students and others with plenty of time, a big friends list, and a high opinion of their own text-messaged voices.

Because your cell phone can get deluged with “Tweets” (one attendee of the SXSW conference in Austin reported receiving 3,000 of them during her time there), it appears that most people finally turn the mobile feature off. Who of us, after all, has an unlimited text message plan and a high tolerance for deleting messages as fast as they arrive?

But turning off the ability to receive these messages on my cell phone takes away one of Twitter’s major appeals: The ability to “microblog” from anywhere, and read other people’s insights dashed off from whatever house party or night club you weren’t able to get to.

I’m always looking at these phenomena for how they might bubble up into the generations of working stiffs who are hoping technology can aid their productivity — or ease their workday the way a smoke break used to when more people smoked.

This technology has me curious, but unless there is some improved way to filter the spamming effect I don’t see Twitter as surviving the battle for mainstream relevance.

April 17, 2007 — An update:This weekend I succumbed. I needed to experience Twitter for myself, especially since I was reading intriguing comments on other people’s blogs, including this one. Keeping the mobile component turned off, I created this account: (yes, I dropped my name’s trailing “e” — it’s a silly Monty Python joke).


I’ll do a new entry soon with my thoughts.

How to make a direct mailing break through the clutter

The most successful business-to-business mailing I ever produced was early in my career, for a company called Acro Automation (*). It was a lead generation letter, mailed in a standard window envelope. But the envelope was stuffed with a wad of real shredded money. I bought the tangled remains of one-, five-, ten- and twenty-dollar bills direct from the U.S. Treasury, in eleven pound boxes. Each was enough to fill approximately 2,500 envelopes. Showing money fragments through the window of the envelope, along with a printed teaser that explained their relevance, was enough to trigger an 11% response rate from a notoriously non-responsive audience of production engineers.

A publicity shot of me with the Acro envelopes, back when I still got carded in barsShortly after that mailing the government called an abrupt halt to the sale of this byproduct of monetary obsolescence. They apparently didn’t appreciate my use of ex-money to generate more of the real stuff. But the lesson had been duly noted. I had learned how to reach out and grab the reader by the imagination: Be unique and outrageous.

I was reminded of this lesson when I read Seth Godin’s account of marketing one of his books. Read his story and take heed. Reconsider that me-too mailing you were planning for your next promotion. Why settle for average when you can break records — and in the process, accumulate great stories, such as mine about the Treasury, and Seth’s about his similar, bureaucratic battle with International Paper?

*I had nothing to do with their current web site, by the way, but I was involved in the acquisition of their four-letter domain name. At the time I had no idea how rare these would become. I was also responsible for another one of those: If I only knew then what I know now, I would have treated these as the valuable client assets that they are!

Imagine a web site without a click

Thank you to The Thinking Blog for tipping me off to this amazing Flash-driven site where you experience web browsing without using your mouse button. The demonstrations provided can be quite disorienting, but the site reminds us that web navigation is continuing to evolve. Some of the techniques are already used today.

Ilker Yoldas, the blog’s author, suggests that this experience could be the interface used where a mouse button is impractical. He suggests the Wii. I’m also thinking about a giant touchscreen, where tapping is less intuitive than simply dragging one’s finger.

I strongly suggest you check out both and Ilker’s blog entry about it. And while you’re at his site, for pity’s sake, don’t shoot the dog!

You’re it: Tagging, social bookmarking and marketing

If the internet is getting smarter, it is only because we are being carefully watched. The video Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us brilliantly demonstrates what I mean. It shows an internet that has become more valuable by connecting us through observed preferences.

A link to the Web 2.0 videoThose preferences are observed through our past behavior — always the best predictor of future action. The video explains: “100 billion times per day, humans are clicking on a web page … teaching the Machine what we think is important.”

I recommend you follow this video, by Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, through to its completion. The payoff is fascinating and sobering.

Some of this behavior is passive.

Merely clicking on a web page, for example, is something that even my mother does. She needs no special training or instruction. Yet systems such as the recently unveiled Google Personalized Search are improving her browsing experience by customizing content based on her past searches — and even her web browsing history.

Don’t think this has gone unnoticed by those in the search engine optimization business. Google Personalized Search is a major shift in the optimization game, a phenomenon that’s sending us all back to our playbooks.

Other behavior is more active.

Specifically I’m talking about the type of tagging that takes place in online social networks. According to a recent Pew research study, “28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts.” On any given day, this report says that 7% of internet users have tagged or categorized online content. To put that in perspective, that’s seven times the number of people who on that day have listened to a podcast.

So who is doing all of this tagging? Not surprisingly, they’re more likely to be under 40, with higher than average incomes and education levels.

Pew has no way to report on whether this tagging behavior is growing in popularity. This was the organization’s first ever research on tagging. But Hitwise reports that sites that enable tagging, such as and Flickr, are gaining in popularity.

In just three months, according to Hitwise, Flickr grew in popularity by 140%. By that I mean that visits to this photo sharing site accounted for .029% of visits a week in January, up from less than .012% three months earlier.

In the same time span, Del.ic.ious traffic grew by over 600%. Visits to that online recommendation site increased to .0036%, up from .0005% in October, 2006. (Thanks for your help on these stats, Wendy Davis of MediaPost.)

Here’s a Wired rundown of some of the best tagging and social bookmarking sites. Tag, you’re it!

Vespa gains, then loses, brand traction using social media and the OTHER 1 Percenters

Hunter S. Thompson quoted a Hell’s Angel as saying “We’re the 1 percenters, man,” meaning they are on the fringes — perpetually disconnected from the rest of society. Two years ago Vespa unleashed a different gang of cyclers by launching an alternative to a staid corporate blog. Vespaway has since died a sad internet death, but even its demise can teach something about how to harness the word-of-mouth power of your customers.

The gang that Vespa enlisted, also termed The 1 Percenters by authors Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, is arguably among the most connected citizens instead of the least. In their book Citizen Marketers, McConnell and Huba talk about how:

Amateurs and professionals commingle to assume new forms of ownership in companies, brands, products … disrupting the traditions of the existing cultural filters and promoters. [The book is] also the story of how some organizations have embraced the new reality of participatory engagement, tossing aside the old model of the passive consumer.

In their book, they explain how the owner of the Vespa brand learned from research two key facts:

  • 65% of prospective motor scooter buyers visit the Vespa USA site (that’s good!)
  • 56% visit other sites to see what other people are saying about the scooters (that could be very bad!)

The company’s response was to give a few devoted fans their own blog. They were paid only in swag and passes to corporate events (both very persuasive incentives to bloggers, as you’ll read at the end of this post).

For a while the technique worked well, according to Paolo Timoni, CEO of Piggio USA, the owner of the brand. It’s hard to know for sure, since the blog site has been pulled. But it’s a sound strategy, and one I’ve seen working for other brands large and small.

Which brings up a couple of lessons on social media (the term favored by McConnell and Huba) — lessons not mentioned in the book, as far as I can tell:

  1. You’d better have a lot of recruits to replace those blogging volunteers who burn out
  2. Corporate gifts alone might not be enough to attract these writers

It’s an excellent book nonetheless, one that I am taking my time to absorb.

Which brings me to the full disclosure statement that I need to make. (Mine is inspired by David Weinberger’s — thanks, David). I’ve known Jack Covert, the CEO of 800CEOread for years. He’s a great guy who’s leading an excellent business.

Over the years I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on business books from his company. But Citizen Marketers was a gift, as was the comp I’ve received to attend their upcoming LeaveSmarter event.

This Thursday, March 22, 2007, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba will be speaking at this latest installment of LeaveSmarter. It’s from 11:30 to 1 PM at the extraordinary Eisner American Museum of Advertising and Design — another Milwaukee, Wisconsin gem. All the details are here:

Incidentally, you may have read my review of the last book profiled in the LeaveSmarter series: Made To Stick. More full disclosure here: I paid full price for that one, from the Oakland Avenue Schwartz Bookstore, and was neither offered – nor did I seize upon — the chance to see those authors live. What was I thinking, man?

Update: Like verbing, another modern trend in the English language is the “schushification” of some words. It seems I just turned away for a minute and swag has become schwag.