I stopped regular reading of TechCrunch a long time ago — it had become a downright nasty place, where the community displayed repellent levels of acrimony, greed, sycophancy. But techmeme recently sent me to a TechCrunch post that reminded me that Arrington has been and remains a talented, blunt-spoken analyst.
In It’s Time To Start Thinking Of Twitter As A Search Engine, Arrington writes:
Enough people are hooked on it that Twitter has reached critical mass. If something big is going on in the world, you can get information about it from Twitter.
Twitter also gathers other information, like people’s experiences with products and services as they interact with them. A couple of months ago, for example, I was stuck in the airport and received extremely poor service from Lufthansa. I twittered my displeasure, which made me feel better – at least I was doing something besides wait in an endless line. I’ve also Twittered complaints about the W Hotel (no Internet, cold room) and Comcast (the usual Internet gripes).
More and more people are starting to use Twitter to talk about brands in real time as they interact with them [emphasis mine]. And those brands want to know all about it, whether to respond individually (The W Hotel pestered me until I told them to just leave me alone), or simply gather the information to see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.
People searching for news. Brands searching for feedback. That’s valuable stuff.
Twitter as search engine. Twitter as listening tool for organizations that want to find out what people are saying about them, and respond where warranted with customer service.
I’ll see that, and raise the wager: Twitter as a tool for tracking the conversation around specific topics, and — because Twitter search/tracking is a real-time service — discovering people who are, at that exact moment, actively interested in that topic. A radar system that monitors what — with apologies to Arthur Miller – is more and more the sound of the wired world “talking to itself,” and filters Babel down so that flares are generated only when it finds the keyword(s) you’ve specified.
Could this help groups working to solve global warming, save polar bears, or help disaster victims? I think so. Next up: posts about how twitter might be used in this way (hint: not by outsourcing it, or dropping it in the lap of a marketing person, or even tasking your whole marketing department with making it happen), and a look at how a few brands are trying to
So this week’s web-strategy eyebrow-raiser came from an unlikely source: the Skittles candy website relaunched as a “siteless site” that offered a twitter search of keyword skittles as the homepage, and (via a floating overlay of navigation links) strung together Skittles’ branded presence on Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.
Chris Carfi ‘splains it and provides good screenshots; MarketingVox connects the dots to the Boston ad agency that first tried this sort of thing; Technologizer notes that the likely goal was to “co-opt Twitter,” much as BK’s recent sacrifice-a-friend-for-a-whopper ploy did to Facebook. Chris Lake’s post on Econsultancy is also worth reading, as is Mashable‘s post for its comments and Michael Gray‘s for specific suggestions re how Skittles might have executed the idea a little better.
What’s this got to do with web strategy for advocacy groups and other nonprofit orgs? Well, perhaps a lot, actually. On the Progressive Exchange listserv a thread on this subject grew to nearly 60 emails, with considerable disagreement over the concept’s applicability to progressive organizations — “Terrible idea! No control over your brand!!” … “Great idea; poor execution” … “Brilliant! It’s an actual ‘web’-site.” Those who were interested started throwing out some ideas for adapting the concept for progressive work; one Jon Pincus took the lead:
Here are a couple of potential scenarios for when a Skittle-like approach of “devoting your home page to a live Twitter conversation for a couple of days” could be useful for progressives. (Assume that unlike Skittles’ prototype, there’s a straightforward way to access the rest of the site as well; and that the organization involved has a Twitter account and engages in the conversation.) A revised version of these’ll wind in a blog post but wanted to run them by you here first.
1) an advocacy group during a congressional debate or vote on an issue. The goal is to become a temporary hot spot for the press, bloggers, and anybody interested in the issue. This is very likely to get you some press visibility (both immediately and longer term); and some percentage of people will become return visitors and/or supporters. of course this can work in other media as well (Get FISA Right’s open email discussion list was quoted in the Wall Street Journal after the FISA vote) but the immediacy, quotability, and media sexiness of Twitter makes it particularly appropriate??.
2) promoting a letter-writing or petition campaign — for example like? the one at www.refugeesinternational.org Michael was mentioned yesterday. Here the goal is threefold: (1) earned media. [Skittles was in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, LA Times, Financial Times ... and ?4,000 blogs.] (2) brand impressions for your org or campaign; the?10,000+ Skittles tweets probably reached 500,000 people directly, plus all the indirect contributions from earned media (3) attracting traffic to the action page.??
3) a political candidate: “here’s what the people say about me, warts and all”. as well as the goals in #2, it’s a chance to engage supporters — and potentially find new ones, who you can then contact directly on Twitter. if the IL-05 election were still a few weeks out, this could have been an intriguing opportunity for a candidate like netroots fave Tom Geoghagan — or Mike Quigley or Sara Feigenholtz both of whom are also using Twitter effectively and might find broad publicity here useful to counter Tom’s netroots advantage. Dan Gelber is another person who could do this effectively, perhaps devoting a chunk of his front page to the #legfl tag along with his personal feed.
These are all great ideas, imo. I’ll piggyback on Jon’s thinking:
I’d stress that in all these cases (and especially the third), the second assumption — that the cause is already on twitter and is interacting, not just broadcasting an RSS feed — is critical. A group is not ready to do this unless it has a real community of followers, e.g. its tweets often draw a substantial number of @replies and retweets. (Aside from big political campaigns, I can’t think of many orgs that’d qualify, to tell truth; so far it’s mostly individuals who draw this kind of enthusiastic interactivity.) The reason: as with Skittles example, a play like this will draw vandals, and those acts of vandalism can only be turned to your advantage if you have a horde of supporters who’ll rush to your defense, who are twitter-savvy enough to use URL shorteners and otherwise work effectively within 140 characters, and who you can publicly thank for their support.
Another consideration re pulling real-time activity from twitter or another social-web wild kingdom and feeding it back to your site’s visitors: it’s going to come off as pretty tepid unless you’re working with a lot of activity — dead-reckoned guess, I’ll say at least 15 tweets an hour. And you’d want to be prepared to pull this from any front-and-center placement on your website as soon as this level of activity seems to be dropping off — or never caught fire.
As Jon suggests, an impending congressional vote, or a major letter-writing campaign in its last days, might have the requisite hot-button feel. Two more ideas:
- Events that, for planning and promotion, have relied heavily on self-organizing volunteers, on twitter and elsewhere. See Twestival; amazing success, and the week leading up to it was a frenzy on Twitter. Or take the just-concluded Power Shift 09 event. Its website pulled tweets from the event’s official account into a slot on the homepage; cool, but how much cooler would it have been to pull the firehose of the #PowerShift09 hashtag into that slot, and make it a real-time news ticker?
- Major breaking news — it’s well established that twitter is a go-to platform when something really big is happening. If your org is one that, say, would be in the thick of a disaster-relief situation, or would be doing some dramatic civil disobedience at a GOP convention, you might be able to convey the strength of the org’s presence in the news event by pulling a twitter hashtag.
Disclaimer: a candy brand needs a web presence for the narrowest/flimsiest of reasons: Buzz. Period. No other serious imperatives, such as fundraising, moving conversation on a real issue, a compelling “about us” story, etc. I’m not advocating that a social-change campaign of any real duration, much less an institutional website, go the route of a floating div of navigation links over a Twitter page. As Jon says, if the time is right, better to devote “a chunk of your front page” to displaying real-time activity from the social web. Use a Monitter widget or something. Or create a “Buzz” page, and feature it on your homepage with a news ticker or a static link. (This isn’t a new idea; a couple years back, Greenpeace cleverly incorporated social-web buzz into its Green My Apple campaign site. Loved that site; it was way ahead of its time.)
One last point: There were probably thousands of #PowerShift09 tweets over the course of the summit, sent by hundreds of people. What better way could there be to show these people that they each matter — that the key to driving change lies in the collective expression of will by the many – than to stream their names, thoughts, participation in the event across the JumboTron of the event’s website? It’s just a way of allowing people a visceral experience of being part of something large and powerful and electric with energy. Which is to say that it’s a way of cultivating passionate engagement.
UPDATE 3.22 – Jon Pincus has a post up on The Seminal on this subject — Lessons from Skittles for poets and activists. Check it out.
UPDATE (2) 3.22 – Tracy Viselli (a.k.a. Myrna the Minx) tipped me to her write-up on using twitter hashtags to create and capture live-web activity on a particular topic. Visionary and pragmatically outcome-oriented at the same time, just a fabulous analysis of the experiments she’s initiated or participated in. Great blog, too — instant placement in my top-feeds list.