What’s the Point of Twitter, Anyway?

An intro for newbies. Or sceptics.

what's the point of twitter graphic

(I have borrowed this image from a blog called ‘Tony Hannan’s Compendium of Games‘.  I’m not entirely certain what it’s about, but that’s probably because it has a lot of sports references in it.)

These days, I increasingly find myself being hired to manage other people’s Twitter accounts, or to advise them on how to get started on Twitter (and other social media channels) to help promote their personal brands or their companies.  You may find this odd, since at only 2300 Twitter followers I hardly qualify as a super-user, but I happen to be one of those people who think that it’s not really about quantity.  If I followed back every bot, hotsexyorgy.biz account, #teamfollowback person and people with bizarre profiles like “Yooo!! Follow Me && My Twin 100 Mfs Cant Tell Me NOTHING! S| KayMichelle.”, I’d definitely look a lot more popular – but I’m not sure I’d be doing anything for my brand or my business.

Twitter has become a lot more socially acceptable than it was when I set up my first account back in 2008. Sure, your friends’ statuses on Facebook could be amusing, but a whole site – a whole app! – based on 140-character status updates? Admitting you were on Twitter almost always got you a comment about how stupid it was to be telling everyone what you had for lunch or that you’d just cleaned your garage. 

Today, with 140 million active users, a track record of breaking news, and credited with furthering the cause of democracy by providing a voice for the previously voiceless, most people (grudgingly) admit that maybe Twitter has a legitimate role to play.

However, I’m still often asked about the ‘point’ of Twitter for the average person.  This is what I say.

What Twitter can do for you

There’s a lot that Twitter can do for larger organizations – customer service, crisis communications, customer engagement – but this particular list is focused on what Twitter can do for individuals, whether they’re working independently or within a large organization.

1.  Teach you stuff about what you do for a living

By following the right people, you’ll get fed a steady stream of links to articles about trends, opinion, research and insight in your industry. This is especially helpful for people who are in business for themselves, or are part of a small department or a small company, where there aren’t a whole lot of other people ‘in the office’ to learn from.

2.  Virtually real-time news updates

In the past 2 years, I’ve learned about almost all the big news stories – from the death of Michael Jackson to the Japan tsunami to the death of Osama Bin Laden – via Twitter, because it lights up with relevant tweets almost as soon as something big happens.  This is easier, and more immediate, than watching tv news or keeping the radio on 24 hours a day.

3.  Connect you with thought leaders in your field

One of my clients had been trying to get on the radar of a ‘famous’ person in their industry for a couple of years, without success. But a well-timed interaction on Twitter, with a clever response, finally got them the recognition they’d been looking for.  Now my client is being included in high-level industry events, invited to participate in committees – and they’re well on their way to becoming ‘famous’ in their field as well.

4.  PR/media opportunities

Media types are all over Twitter – that’s often where they’re getting their hottest news tips. When they’re looking for sources for a story, they turn to high-profile tweeters.  And I’ve participated in quite a few online radio shows because of a connection made via Twitter. Online radio and podcasts aren’t going to make you famous overnight, but they add up and you never know where they might lead. Tweeting smart commentary can also lead to invitations to write articles or posts for other publications.

5.  Improve your Google ranking

Whether they admit it or not, potential clients almost always Google you before you walk into their boardroom to make a pitch. If you haven’t got a lot of web-based content out there, an active Twitter account can help.

6.  Build an audience for your blog/website

You want to increase traffic to your blog or website, but with only 150 Facebook friends and 250 LinkedIn connections, how do you spread the word? Twitter gives you access to a much larger potential audience, for much less money, than any other channel.

7.  Build your brand

Much of what I’ve already said, above, are components in building a personal brand. Twitter is especially helpful in brand-building because it allows you to infuse your professional commentary with personality – which is crucial in creating a differentiated brand.

8.  Promote your events

Many of my clients host networking events or webinars as part of their client relationship management programs. Twitter is an excellent way to get beyond your existing database of ‘prospects’ and reach a larger audience. You never know when a retweet by someone with 75k followers will suddenly make your online event the hot topic of the week.

9. Competitive intelligence

Twitter is an excellent way to find out what your competitors are up to – but of course they may be keeping an eye on what you’re up to, as well!

10.  Building credibility

Ultimately, credibility is really a function of multiple touchpoints + relevant content + time. Tweeting consistently relevant content (i.e. getting a reputation for tweeting about industry-related news and insight) will, over time, get you a reputation as someone who knows their business and can be counted upon for up-to-date information – especially when it’s done in conjunction with a blog and other channels.

11.  Advice and input

Looking for a new employee or supplier? Asking for recommendations on Twitter can get you good information. Looking for a case study or resources or participants in an opinion poll? Twitter can be a great way to get input. 

12.  Random, interesting stuff

Most of the time, I follow people who are in my field: Branding and marketing types, designers, writers, etc. But it’s amazing what you can learn and discover when you follow people who are just plain interesting. Sometimes I get directed to a new invention, a new scientific study, or a hilariously written blog. Twitter is a great way to discover new things that you’d never otherwise know about.

The Best Ad I’ve Seen All Year

Proof that the most creative advertising happens when committees aren’t involved.

It may have taken 10 writers and 3 producers to come up with Jennifer Lopez’s hit, “Jenny from the Block”, but I’ve long been convinced that when you look under the hood of really fantastic, creative advertising – the kind that can’t help but go viral – you’ll find that it was the brainchild of one, or maybe two, people who didn’t have to cater to a whole boardroom full of ‘stakeholders’.


pontiac grand am ad craigslist

This ad originally appeared on Craigslist (where it is, inexplicably, currently flagged for removal), but has gone viral simply because of its unadulterated creativity.

Turns out the ad is the brainchild of a couple of 23-year-old friends, Joe (the owner of the car, and an aerospace engineer) and Kyle (a designer who works in marketing).  Actually, according to the interview with Jalopnik, I’m pretty sure the ad is almost entirely Kyle’s brainchild.

I don’t know where Kyle works, but I sure hope he just got a big raise and a promotion. I myself would be happy if I’d just written the copy for this piece, let alone been able to do the copy and the design. But the word ‘Jesus’ alone would have had this piece kicked out of contention in an ‘agency’ setting.


BONUS OPINION: While my kneejerk response is to wonder why ‘big brands’ can’t do this kind of creativity, I do wonder whether one of the reasons this ad works is precisely because it’s not for a big brand, and you know it was done by ‘some guy’ on his home computer, just for fun.  I suspect that if a mainstream brand tried to do this, and tried to push it through broadcast media channels, it might come off as trying too hard – even if the copy and graphics were exactly the same.  Hhmmm.

I don’t even know what to say about this

Has ‘stuffed crust’ finally gone too far?

Normally I wouldn’t just post an advertisement without having some kind of ostensibly insightful opinion to offer about it, but this new Pizza Hut Middle East offering frankly has me speechless.

For your delectation:  The Crown Crust Pizza.


Oreo Breastfeeding Ad: Too much, or too sensitive?

When are we going to stop having to talk about this?

So this week, Kraft Foods and ad agency Cheil Worldwide had to do some damage control when this ad, for “milk’s favourite cookie”, went viral:

oreo breastfeeding ad

The Mommyblogosphere lit up with rumours that this was a print ad designed for the Korean marketplace, but Kraft and Cheil quickly announced that this wasn’t a real ad, only some kind of ‘spec’ ad they created for use at an advertising forum.  (To be fair, having worked in agencies, I can totally see how an ad like this would have been trotted out in a limited forum as an example of Creative Thinking.  And the Photoshop job on the hand holding the cookie is so amateurish that I can’t imagine that it was ever intended for widespread use.)

Now, I’m no Mayim Bialik when it comes to breastfeeding – I think it’s great if you can do it, but I’m not in the ‘breastfeeding until the kid is 5 years old is your bounden duty as a mother’ camp – but I have to say that what really bugged me about this particular tempest in a teacup is how many websites covered up the ‘nipple’ in the shot, like this:

oreo breastfeeding nipple covered

or even this:

oreo breastfeeding pixellated

Are we really still implying that a glimpse of some breast and a nipple in a breastfeeding context is somehow controversial?

We’ve seen this nonsense before

In 1992 I spent a month in England, and the big advertising story at the time – which I can’t find online, unfortunately – was a big debate over whether commercials for feminine hygiene products should be shown on ‘family’ channels before the watershed hour (9pm, I think it was).  The implication being that 8-year-olds shouldn’t be traumatised (scandalized? confused? freaked out?) by having to recognize that women get their periods.

Just what we need:  To raise girls who think that their periods are somehow shameful, and boys who remain clueless about it, as though it’s never anything to do with them.  

(It’s bad enough that I was almost 20 years old before I understood that laxatives were to help with bowel movements.  All those soft-focus Correctol ads with shots of droplets of water made me think that it was somehow supposed to make you pee more.)

I really think that the sooner we can get over the notion that there’s anything scandalous about breastfeeding (or menstruation, or constipation), the better off we’ll all be.


BONUS OPINION:  It’s Oreo’s 100th anniversary this year, and it would not surprise me in the least to discover that this ad had been ‘leaked’ entirely on purpose.  It’s given Oreo a huge amount of publicity, and the mommybloggers have been mostly in favour of it – and if you don’t know how powerful mommybloggers are these days, you haven’t been paying attention.

Has the internet ruined TV commercials?

…or am I just getting old?


The other day, my friend and former ad agency comrade Alanis and I were talking – via Twitter, of course – about the dismal state of television ads for yogurt, with specific reference to that terrible ‘Find Your Source’ series.  

Alanis was referring to a fresh new disaster in this line, featuring a bizarre fruit-surrounded woman DJing her way to yogurt happiness, but I can’t find it online.  No matter, because the one I could find is just as representative of the genre:

However, the yogurt commercial that’s been driving me nuts lately is the one for Yoptimal yogurt, which uses what must be the oldest trope in the commercial business:  The star of the spot keeps ‘ruining’ each take because she’s enjoying the product so much that she can’t stop eating it.

Yoptimal commercial Natalie Brown

Unfortunately, everyone involved with this spot is apparently so embarrassed by it that the best I can offer you is the thumbnail above – even the production company (Spy Films) doesn’t have it on their website, and the ad agency (Bos) doesn’t have it in their portfolio.

Why did this one stick in my mind?  Because I remember this actress – Natalie Brown – starring in one of the most ‘iconic’ tv commercials of my youth:

(I do give her credit for looking almost exactly the same as she did 20 years ago.  I don’t know what she’s doing, but it’s clearly working.)

Those of you who are a certain age will no doubt remember this Heinz commercial.  Slightly cheesy, but with a little story and a nice idea and decent casting.

But that’s the thing:  20 years later, we can still remember this spot.  When I went looking for her current yogurt commercial, it took me ages to figure out it was for Yoptimal – I finally had to find a list of Canadian yogurt brands and search each one of them until I got a hit. When people can’t remember the product, and can’t find the spot even when they’re looking, your commercial has failed. 

I know that television advertising has had to change in the past 15 years:  When I first started working in ad agencies, 15 years ago, clients didn’t blink at forking over $350,000 for a commercial or two, because everyone was watching tv and that’s how you reached them. And everyone knew that, between ad agency fees, ACTRA contracts, and studio time, the costs just mounted up.  

These days, everyone has a high-quality digital camera and iMovie on their computer, they’re watching tv shows online where they can avoid commercials – so what company is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a tv commercial when they can crowdsource something for $1000?  But while ‘crowdsourcing’ your commercial sounds like a fantastic idea when you’re in the boardroom trying to impress everyone with just how iHipster you are, it very rarely translates into an iconic ad in the end.

Don’t worry – I haven’t turned into a curmudgeon here.  There are plenty of interesting commercials happening – they just aren’t making it on to television.  They’re living on the internet:

But it’s kind of a shame, because it’s making television even more annoying to watch than it already is.