Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is Twitter One Giant Virtual Tupperware Party?

The idea behind a Tupperware party was that you threw a party at your home, invited your friends over, showed them the product, and they bought. They bought partly because they liked you, partly because they owed you for the party, and partly because they liked the product.

If your’re on social media for business purposes, then you too hope that you will make friends through Twitter or Facebook, and then invite them into your parlour (or website) to close sales. Dell raking in $3 million in PC sales over two years ($1 million in the past 6 months) has shown that it is possible to make serious money through Twitter. And just as Mrs Jones raking in the moolah at her Tupperware party inspired all the neighbours to host their own (considerably less successful) parties, corporate marketers are rushing to Twitter to boost their sagging sales.

I predict that in the immediate future, many of these attempts, particularly by B2B companies are unlikely to show significant returns. Here’s why.

1. Twitter requires you to build a relationship with individuals. While it is indeed a broadcast medium, it also has interactive features, which demand immediate, custom responses. The equivalent of the call center or Interactive Voice Response system for customer tweets is yet to reach maturity so you’re going to have to do this on your own.
2. Most marketing departments were not set up or recruited keeping social media in mind. Truly adopting social media will require a huge disruption in the structure of the marketing organization. That’s because unlike media such as TV, Radio, Print, or even Adwords which are capital intensive (ie the more money you have the more successful you were likely to be), social media in its current form is labor-intensive (the more people you have the more personal and sincere can be your activities be online). Most CMOs will have an aha moment when they realize that they can’t actually take their entire budget and just “do a social media blast”. Though it is probably a small fraction of a company’s marketing spend, it will require a much larger percentage of the marketing headcount. That is a leap of faith in the current hard times.
3. Penetration of social media varies widely across geographies. In growth markets like India, despite the hype, numbers are still very low. For India, the analytics site, http://www.vizisense.com/ cites 2.29M unique users per month for Orkut, 6.92M for Facebook, 1.16M for LinkedIn and 963K users for Twitter. LinkedIn had the highest percentage of users (14%) in the higher income bracket, indicating a higher proportion of executive users as opposed to students. Until adoption is more widespread, it is going to be tough extracting real business benefits from these small audiences. (On the flip side it is a great pool for smaller firms who need a lesser number of customers and can afford to target them individually).
4. Among the available media today, Twitter is probably most likely to be the one amenable to doing business. However, today, a lot of people on Twitter are social media aficionados and early adopters. A lot of the stuff being retweeted in my network is about Twitter itself!

So, given all the above, why am I a Twitter-addict? (@jessie_paul apart from Wipro’s corporate presence @wipro) and active on FaceBook and LinkedIn?
1. Social media will be the way forward for marketing. It is the next big thing after the corporate website. I don’t know if any of the current crop will be the final tool of choice, but it’s best to be an early adopter and understand the medium before it goes mass.
2. While conversions are still iffy, it is very practical as a broadcast medium. In some ways corporate tweets are what newsletters used to be till around 5 years ago.
3. Social media gives B2B marketers a chance to be in direct contact with customers. That is very hard to get in any other media, and is worth quite a bit of experimentation to achieve. This one benefit alone would justify the investment in a Twitter handle.
4. It’s fun!

Photocredit: www.culture-culte.fr via Flickr


zeno said...

An Eye Opener!

Preetham V V said...

Hi Jessie. Great take on the subject. Interesting angle. Social Media may be the RSVP for the party. Convergence across sectors and bringing them to door may be where the party is...

The worth of value.

manu prasad said...

hmm, great point - #2. which makes me wonder if the tools we're talking about are indicators, destined to only give a different perspective and show the implications of fragmenting audiences ... the tipping point, if one exists, will be different for different organisations then, as they re model their communciations and even organisation for a different world?
posted something tangential today, on 'maturity' levels of brands.. :)

ps: widget gone? as part of the new theme?

Sorav Jain said...

Wonderful Article Jessie :)

Doug Moore said...


The way companies use social media today, there is really nothing “social” about it. Most corporate tweets are just thinly veiled marketing efforts. To be successful in the social realm (even though it is a business context), a company needs to develop its “personality”.

Simply put: think about “personal” traits / characteristics that you would like your corporate image to portray, and incorporate those into your social media.

Or, to use a VERY simple analogy: think of a celebrity that would be a great spokesperson based on their public image. Then, think about how they would tweet / use social media to promote your company. Your tweets then become your company’s e-spokesperson… which can be educational, retrospective, introspective, thought-leading, etc. But, at times, they could also be funny or irreverent, to give your company some “humanity”.

To show thought leadership, an obvious example is to take on the plethora of articles that paint virtualization as a plug-n-play panacea. Post a link to documents produced by internal experts that talk about the challenges and complexities that are never addressed in these articles.

On the humorous side, talk about how fun the company picnic was… but that the potato salad tasted funny. Plus, post some pix. (Or something like that; just so your social media is not a deluge of marketing messages or industry babble.)

Especially in outsourcing, relationships win and maintain business. Social media should be a virtual relationship… which will make interactions more meaningful.

Jessie Paul said...

Doug - you're right, current large-company responses are either too impersonal or depend upon the person in charge.