Competitive Twitter Syndrome (Part 1)

Smart companies use social media to dialog with their customers.

Smart companies use social media to dialog, not monologue, with their customers.

I came to Twitter nearly a year after the bleeding edge early adopters. Like many people, I was intrigued by the concept, but didn’t immediately see a use for my personal or business life. The idea of constantly updating my status sat in my subconscious. Several months later, I found myself suggesting to someone that I could send them text messages Twitter style. That’s when I realized that Twitter was going to be part of my life. I’ll spare you the details of how I got started, and the missteps and lucky accidents that happened along the way. But I can summarize this by saying that I jumped in to the deep end and starting swimming.

One symptom of being in the early adopter phase is that everyone is mucking their way through, figuring out the smart and new uses for things. This means that you get to witness a lot of trial and error. With any new tool and new concept, it takes some experimentation to explore the possibilities and see what really works. During this phase, people begin to figure out and stumble up strategies and processes that later become best practices. But while that is going on, you watch a lot of people doing a lot of strange, wonderful, and sometimes not-so-brilliant things.

It’s About Conversation

Several years ago, smart people started to realize that the Internet could be used to have conversations with people and not just monologues. Company and personal blogs began accepting comments from readers, the start of a dialog between the blogger and reader. Retailers like started allowing people to post product reviews and rate purchased items. These were the start of a shift in how we used the Internet, and was given the dubious name “web 2.0.” From those humble starts came the roots of the social media explosion, where dialog is the reason for being online. Blogs exploded as more people found a platform to speak their mind, and social networking sites began clustering around students, resume sharing, and photography. Common interests became the rallying point for each new social media network.

Twitter and it’s microsharing cousins allow the quickest and easiest conversation because of the short statement length. In a space less than a cellphone text message, you can invite your friends to lunch, get a recommendation on a movie, express your current work challenge, or tell a joke. In seconds, your followers can reply with their own lunch plans, movie ratings, work challenges, and humorous retorts. The Twitter timeline contains endless conversation threads.

Danger, Will Robinson!

I’ll leave it to the social media analysts to say when we cross the boundary between early adopters and mainstream adopters. But my experience shows that the number of businesses coming to Twitter to get involved with social media scene is growing. There are companies doing really smart things because they have been paying attention to social media and they understand what it is about. But there are other companies bringing their old school marketing ideas to Twitter that want to use it for monologue. These companies don’t seem to understand that they need to be listening as much as they are talking.

But even among the early adopters and some of the smart new Twitter users, I see evidence of something dangerous creeping in. I’m calling it Competitive Twitter Syndrome (CTS). The main symptoms of CTS are a focus on quantities, grades, rankings, and scores. In other words, quantity over quality, and numbers over people. The conversation with your community, the whole reason for using social media, is secondary to something measurable like the size of your community.

How can you tell if you have Competitive Twitter Syndrome? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • You have a whole folder of bookmarks for Twitter statistics and analysis tools.
  • You can rattle off your follower number and current Twitter Grade.
  • You change the way you tweet because you think it will improve your score/ranking.
  • You know your location in your town’s Twitter Elite.
  • You evaluate new Twitter followers based on their numbers.
  • You add or delete people you are following to keep your ratio of following/followers in a target zone.

This is a dangerous trend, and can be a trap that keeps people and businesses from really benefiting from social media.

Now you can enjoy this two-part blog post as an ebook: Diagnosing and Curing Competitive Twitter Syndrome.

Next blog post: I’ll talk about some causes and cures for Competitive Twitter Syndrome.

Note [added Monday, 1 December at 3:00pm]: This post was inspired by a blog post by @CiaoEnrico. Great guy!

About author:

Charlene is the information strategist behind Crow Information Design.

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