Twitter is NOT a Strategy

Cross-posted on techPresident

A classic observation from the early days of online marketing: a website is NOT a strategy. I.e., when you ask the client what they’re trying to do online, and they reply that they have a website — which is of course just a tool, and is probably not doing them much good if it’s isolated from an actual plan to put it to use.

The Twitter fixation currently sweeping segments of the news media and the political world (particularly on the Republican side) reminds me of those innocent days of the early web. Not to put Twitter down, because it definitely has valuable uses, but it’s just a tool — and if you don’t know WHY you’re using it, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.

For you or your organization, is Twitter a journalistic live-coverage tool? A platform for (very short) punditry? A reputation-builder? A way to connect with others in your field? A personal journal, broadcast to the world? An RSS supplement, a way to send out links to your own articles? A collaborative community-builder? A reporting system for distributed events (“someone just stole the ballot box at my polling place!”)? All of these and more are perfectly valid ways to use it, but each requires a different approach if it’s to succeed.

During the extended discussion at the SXSW “Digital Tsunami” panel (in which GM’s Christopher Barger also discussed corporate public relations in a networked age), NPR’s social media guru Andy Carvin mentioned that he didn’t want the network’s reporters to be on Twitter just because “the cool kids” in the journalistic set were doing it — he wanted them to use Twitter if and because it made them better reporters. Exactly! A communications tool should make your life or your job better, not just provide another distraction.

For instance, if you’re a reporter and you’re spending minutes a day tweeting about your morning coffee-and-a-bagel, you’re probably just wasting time — yours and others’ — unless it’s within the context of a cunning plan to humanize you in the eyes of an adoring public. Similarly, some talk shows seem obsessed with taking messages from listeners via Twitter, but let me ask them this question: wouldn’t they usually get more thought-out messages via email or over the phone than through a channel that limits people to 140 characters? Too often, Twitter is the enemy of complex thought, not its friend — if you’re on Twitter yourself, look at your last few weeks’ posts and see what fraction of your potential mental capability they actually express. Probably not much: that’s not what the tool is good for.

Again, I ain’t hatin’ on Twitter, but professional communicators ought to know WHY they’re using it and what they’re trying to get out of it. Otherwise, they’re just jumping on a crowded bandwagon without even knowing where it’s headed. And our public discourse is shallow enough as it is.



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  2. Nisha

    I totally agree — Twitter, or blogging or any social media for that matter — has to have a goal. Using social media just for the sake of innovation or because the “cool kids” are doing it isn’t effective. It needs to have clear aims and goals.

  3. Jason Cohen

    CPD –

    I completely agree with your point that Twitter itself is not a strategy. I think that the same can be argued for all new and social media tools, that in and of themselves they do not constitute a solid approach to communicating.

    Actually, I wrote a similar piece yesterday on The MediaBackpage where I discussed the need for communicators to take a more holistic approach that utilizes these types of tactics to tell their stories.


    Jason Cohen
    CityCast Media

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  5. Paula

    I think that there is just a semantic difference here — I don’t see what Jon Pincus (in the trackback above) and Colin are saying as being that diametrically opposed. Twitter is one of a number of communications and engagement channels that can be used. Sometimes it’s the best one; sometimes it’s not. I read what Colin is saying to mean that if you use Twitter, you should know why you’re using it and how to use it effectively, and not just because it’s cool or the latest thing.

    For example, I’m a pretty avid personal user of Twitter, and I understand and have participated in several types of usage, whether it’s livetweeting a conference, reporting or commenting on something live while it’s still happening, participating in a Twitter chat, spreading the word on a campaign, and sharing mundane and probably not-so-interesting details about my personal life.

    I’ve held off on using it as a tool for my nonprofit organization, yet (that’s about to change) because: a) most of my audience isn’t on Twitter and doesn’t get it; b) due to limited staffing, I’ve found it difficult to keep up with on a regular basis; and c) I haven’t had a real goal in mind — something I wanted to accomplish by using it. And I think that’s what Colin is talking about — using it under these conditions might not be the best use of my limited time and resources.

    So adding a user name to GoFollow and adding a button to my website indicating that we’re on Twitter might make us look cool, but doesn’t really accomplish that much. But I’m on the path to solving a-c above, and so you will see us on Twitter soon, as the result of strategic thought — not jumping on the bandwagon.

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  12. web survey

    Anytime a new social media outlet becomes available, everyone feels they need to get on it so they are staying up to date. I agree that one should evaluate why they want to join the latest social media product before putting in the time and energy. Great post!

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