Okay, confession time. As an emerging Twitter devotee, (@denvan) I’ve been “drinking the Kool-Aid” of the Twitter brand for too long to really be objective about their brand strategy. I’m a tribe member now, and I’ve learned the buzzwords, tools, and idiosyncrasies of this social media monster. But as a brand strategy geek, I also hear rumblings of trouble in the Twitterverse that I can’t ignore…
As I encounter more and more fellow “tweeps” (a word about insider language later) and have the same old “what the heck is Twitter GOOD for” conversation, the more I begin to wonder about different aspects of the Twitter brand package – are the elements holding together? Do they make sense? Could this be why we learned yesterday that Twitter’s growth is flat-lining and more than 50% of Twitter accounts are dead? Perhaps.
But let’s start with the good stuff.
What I love about Twitter Branding:
Basically, the thing I like about Twitter is the thing that may kill it in the end: it’s rough around the edges.
Twitter gained my instant affection by making absolutely NO attempt to be slick or professional – in design, messaging, or corporate positioning. The graphics are simple and inviting in a cartoonish-but-zen-elegant way that gives the site class tempered with a sense of humour. Nothing arty farty-highbrow or in-your-face revolutionary here.
Scroll down to the bottom of any twitter.com page and click on About Us and you get the feeling that this thing started in somebody’s garage in 2006, and that they’re hoping to stay there. The main login page is a study in simplicity with only 183 characters in the main body copy (note to Twitter: I could help you get this down to 140. I’m getting REALLY good at that!).
“Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
Aw shucks. Ain’t that nice?
The whole brand package seems to promise new users a few key things: 1) small (i.e. unintimidating – easy to grasp), 2) fun (breezy tone, quick hits of cool content perhaps) 3) free (not going to take my credit card and sucker-punch me later with weirdo fees), 4) easy (get started – and hooked – fast), 5) social (geared toward social, not “serious” conversations)… and 6) disposable (geard toward a quick pay-off for a small amount of effort).
Which brings us to the potential dark side (spoiler alert: the light sabers are about to change colour!).
The potential problem(s) with Twitter Branding
The problem with sustaining this promise can be expressed in one word: Oprah. Okay, maybe two: Oprah and Ashton Kutcher. All right, three: Oprah, Ashton, and the coming of Summer patio season to the Northern Hemisphere (now THAT’s a social network!!). The first two are problems of scale, that is, reasons for rapid viral growth, while the third is one of the non-brand factors that should lead any sane person to want to get away from the computer or Blackberry (he writes at 5:01 p.m. on a gorgeous Friday evening).
The big question for the Twitter brand is this: can it scale to meet the hype?
In early 2009, Twitter went from cool-kid buzzword to mass market sensation with over 5 million additional new visitors in March – up from 4.3M in February to 9.3M in March. And the growth continued strong into April with the addition of the Great One (Oprah not Gretzky) and the 1 Millionth follower for Kutcher – with the attendant .
And with all that hype, came… a great big collective “HUH?!?” from the new users attracted to the platform.
Because, you see, the Twitter brand is havign trouble emerging from the basement it dug for itself. Its initial brand promises are being met with the problems of massive growth:
Promises Twitter might be breaking
1. Small: sorry Twitter. MILLIONS of users. Repeat that. MILLIONS.
2. Fun: despite the breezy graphics and light tone, Twitter is not fun until you connect with at least one other active human. But for the average newbie, Twitter.com doesn’t do a very good job of helping you understand how to make that first connection (or whay
you’d want to)…
3. Free: for now, but with the weight of so much stuff comes the time cost that mid-market adopters are more likely to factor into the equation. Business users in particular are skeptical that this isn’t just another time-waster for employees, and Twitter doesn’t help itself – starting with the name “Twitter” which is incredibly catchy and viral, but also implies empty, and possibly annoying background chatter.
4. Easy: I like and compulsively use Twitter, but even I barely ever use Twitter.com. TweetDeck and other tools are absolute necessities for anyone serious about the medium. Twitter itself may be Open API-ing itself into obsolescence unless it starts taking the user experience – and more to the point – the IMPRESSION of control that a new user needs – more seriously.
5. Social: This and all the other examples on the site imply that Twitter is just for F2F (Friend-To-Friend) communications. Sample value messages are about delving into the trivial parts of people’s lives, which, as most people find pretty quickly, is not the main content that forms the bulk of Twitter traffic. I’m finding that the most successful Tweeters mix maybe 10-20% personal with maybe 60-70% subject matter expertise and useful cross references, and the rest being current events, trivia, etc. Twitter has outgrown “What are you doing” and has crossed into the realm of “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” and “What does it mean to me?”
6. Disposable: here’s the crux of it for me. By playing up “fun” “easy” and “social” aspects, Twitter’s current brand strategy is focused on “fast-twitch” brand drivers, and missing the most important aspect of the Twitter service: that it takes time, effort, and commitment to really get anything out of the medium. New users see the firehose coming at them, and it’s no surprise they’d be tempted to go elsewhere for a drink.
So how does Twitter tune its brand package to 1) help the newbies get it and get involved, 2) make the case about the serious work values the medium can fulfill, without 3) losing the core values and emotional ties that made the brand attractive in the first place?
Or is it all just a deeper level of brilliance than this poor brand geek can grasp – after all, they’ve got the millions of devoted (and not-so-devoted) users, so something must be working.
That’s a question I throw back to you dear reader. Comment away.