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Twitter Writes Its Own Success Stories

In January 2010, nearly 75 million people visited Twitter according to comScore. While that number seems remarkable, it represents only a fraction of what’s realistically attainable. I believe that Twitter’s growth, to date, is hindered not by its ambition nor potential, but by the company’s ongoing focus on competing priorities rather than showcasing how users can effectively communicate and excel on this unique platform. But that’s all about to change…

Every day, millions of potential people are introduced to Twitter through traditional media, online dialogue in other social networks, as well as the content and marketing campaigns of local, national, and global businesses and media properties.

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Ok, but then what…?

The problem isn’t publicity when it comes to user acquisition or retention.  Twitter certainly enjoys equal if not greater billing over Facebook across the board and has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right. The challenge Twitter has and continues to face, is its ability to connect the dots and surface the elements and examples strewn across or hidden within the network to showcase why Twitter is important for a variety of mainstream, vertical, contextualized and localized user groups who represent a countless myriad of personal and professional applications.

Twitter has become nothing short of a cultural catalyst that transforms how people communicate as well as how information is distributed and disseminated. Twitter as a platform has also emerged as a social OS for many of its loyal and enthusiastic users, with the Twitter stream serving as our dashboard for introducing insight, direction, and connections. If anything, the Twitterverse represents a sliver of what Tim O’Reilly envisions for the greater Internet operating system.

In the middle of 2009, Twitter embarked upon two promising projects, each designed to increase user retention, simplify adoption and engagement, and unlock the imagination for sharing and learning as well as building communities, one follow and one tweet at a time. First, Twitter redesigned its home page to convey the ease and demonstrate the value of a new forum for micro communication. Second, Twitter introduced a 101 series of lessons aimed at businesses to help them embrace Twitter as a tool to establish good will with customers and prospects and also increase brand awareness and potentially demand and sales overall. On March 30th, Twitter rolled out a new home page to showcase trends and real-time search results. now also features the top tweets at any moment as well as friends, industry peers, celebrities, and relevant businesses to provide a sample flavor of Twitter.

The willful and centralized demonstration of capabilities and potential is the key that unlocks creativity and personalization. To continue the momentum, Twitter’s Sean Garrett and Jenna Sampson created @cleveraccounts along with a companion Posterous blog to showcase the clever use of Twitter accounts across a variety of applications that illustrate possibilities and hopefully spark imagination.

Twitter’s @CleverAccounts is perhaps best described by its own bio, “Follow us to learn about interesting uses of Twitter from across the world. @mention us if you have your own use case!”

Of course, use cases require more than 140 characters to convey the challenge and results. The Clever Twitter Accounts blog on Posterous  dives in a bit deeper with each post dedicated to a particular example of how Twitter saved the day.

For example…

The Michigan Department of Transportation turned to Twitter for sharing construction updates with commuters.

Sears and Kmart took to Twitter to share more than 7,000 job openings.

New York food trucks that use Twitter to create demand were spotlighted to share best practices.

Dunkin Donuts uses Twitter to turn Tweets into sales.

Charity Water shares what is learned through their work.

Lance Armstrong includes his fans and supporters by actively sharing experiences and updates.

The list will only continue to grow.

I reached out to Sean Garrett to share with us his and Jenna’s inspiration behind Clever Accounts. His response was as refreshing as it was revealing of Twitter’s dedication to humanizing and personalizing the experience:

We were inspired to do it for two reasons. One is to simply demonstrate through living examples how people, organizations and businesses are getting the most out of Twitter and, likewise, the value of the information that they provide to others across the network. Even something as simple as Twitter is difficult to explain without tangible use examples that are relevant to the many, many niche audiences that are looking to gain a better understanding of it. Of course, being armed with such examples also helps quickly disarm the “it’s about what people are having for lunch” myth, too. If we can do this, we can do a better job of explaining the distinctions between an “information network” and a social network.

Secondly, we frankly weren’t doing a good job at real-time cataloging of exemplar uses of Twitter at Twitter. This provides a simple tool to capture and categorize examples. We could have just done this privately, but we figured (for the reasons above) to share it with the world.

As far as where we see it going over time: It will hopefully extend into uses from all corners of the globe and far away from familiar examples that are told and retold in most media stories and conferences. We want people to feel the same level of surprise (and happiness) that we feel on a regular basis when a really new and clever use of Twitter is exposed to us.

We’d love input from the community far and wide on what we should include. And, to be honest, we have barely gotten off the ground with it.

Well done, Sean and Jenna. Keep up the great work.

In order for Twitter to symbolize the true pulse of the human algorithm and scale with human behavior online, it needs to capture what “is” transpiring within the center and deliver it to those on the sidelines to demonstrate what’s “possible.”

Twitter is poised to connect the dots and in doing so, it will eventually earn and captivate the audiences who will embrace the stream and platform and make it their own. This is how abandonment is not only vanquished, but transformed into retention and dedication.

Hat tip to Louis Gray.

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115 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Twitter Writes Its Own Success Stories”

  1. Well Said Brian. I think in many ways Twitter is unassumingly powerful. There are a lot of individuals and businesses that don't understand the power of it. I've come and gone from Twitter 4 times over the past 2 years. The first 3 times I just didn't get much from it. I didn't have the time to learn how to use the tools to get the most out of Twitter. As a result Twitter felt like a complete waste of time.

    This time around I get it. I've taken the time to learn the tools and to understand the power of Twitter and just how much I can get from it. Whether it be for business, learning, news etc. I've tried to explain it to people around me and most of them just don't get it.

    It is very easy to signup to twitter, start using it and quickly get depressed and fall into the mindset that it's a complete waste of time. I believe that is the challenge they face. Getting users to understand the power of it and getting businesses to understand it's not a spam tool it's a tool for connecting to your existing customers and expanding your brand to reach new clients.

  2. Great post, Brian. Twitter didn't make much sense to me until I installed Hootsuite and by accident clicked on the stats button. When I saw how the shortened URL's were used to track clicks, the whole thing started to come together. Twitter is a powerful and proactive tool to send traffic to your home base. When I started blogging five years ago, you had to hope some popular site would link to you to get the search engines to list your site. It was a slow and frustrating process at best. Now with Twitter, you can take proactive steps to send traffic there in just minutes. I don't think a lot of people realize the potential.

  3. Brian,

    Case in point, my dad shoots me an email the other day showing me a large plastics company is now on Twitter. They sent out a press release about (please kill me now), but the bottom line (and this rings true for many), is they forgot the “Why?”

    Why should you follow them on Twitter? This is a key component of a strategy often overlooked.

    Are you going to receive:
    -Interesting stories around a specific topics?
    -Links of great people to follow?
    -Inspirational quotes?
    -Discounts and deals?
    -Questions that make you think?
    -A combo?

    Just my .02 or .03 cents.

  4. Brian,

    Great post. I couldn't agree more. Evan Williams spoke at SXSW about their mission of enabling users but with that comes the responsibility to fire their imagination with examples of what's possible To date, FB does appear more proactive in this way and is reaping the success. But clearly Twitter is coming from the right place and has nothing but potential ahead of it.

    Thanks as ever, Simon

  5. markwilliamschaefer says:

    It's exciting to see people advocating the simple power of Twitter but I really don't kow how much good it will do. I think there is a certain segment of people who are not genetically pre-disposed to Twitter.

    For example, I had a client custom-made for the platform. Small business, global reach, brilliant intellect, great personality … and not much marketing budget. I spent hours teaching, demonstrating and cajoling. Within the first hour he was on Twitter he had made a bona fide business connection. And yet, he would not tweet. He acknowledged the potential but just didn't get it and wouldn't do it. He joined the Legion of Twitter Quitters.

    I see this type of rejection all the time. No matter what you read or think about Twitter, it takes several weeks and a critical mass of a couple hundred people to follow for it to click in. Most personalities in our ADD culture don't have the bandwidth to see Twitter through, no matter how much they hear about it.

    • I agree 100%. I'm seeing the same thing with the people I know. Another reason for people not getting into it is they are overwhelmed. There is so much information at such a fast pace it's impossible to keep up.

  6. Rob Berman says:

    I had this conversation with someone yesterday. I wish I had read the post first. The “proof” of use cases is very powerful.

  7. Yes, highlight the successes, but also keep enhancing the platform. Having an open API for outsiders to develop new tools is great, but there is only one place that the entire population can be exposed to enhancements and that is within itself. Maybe its about time that Twitter adds a few new “pages” to their site, to centrally organize and relate all those external tools that make it more powerful.

  8. bethkanter says:

    Don't forget social learning through Twitter — been using it so support professional development for nonprofit folks to share what they learn with others about using social media effectively – recent example — and raffled a copy of your book off too

  9. Katie Orscheln says:

    Twitter is so overwhelming for many individuals, including myself. I have been back and forth with it since I created my account. Reading about the clever accounts and checking them out has given Twitter a fresh start in my mind.
    I agree that it is easy to believe that Twitter is a complete waste of time, but I have slowly seen the power and importance of it.
    I have noticed that some businesses who use Twitter have such a trivial impact, so I think it is great that Twitter is helping businesses understand the different ways they can reach their audience.

  10. cloudchii says:

    Like many other websites, this one got lucky and aimed for a younger generation.

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