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I’m Calling Bull on Twittermania

  • By Jeff Molander

Twitter.  The world cannot stop talking about it — so it must be important right?  It’s been a fun ride but I say it’s mostly bull.  You don’t need to be using Twitter.  Large or small brand, you don’t need to be THAT worried about the social influence of customers on your brand.  Fact: none of this social marketing stuff is new, complex or urgent because the outputs, so far, are rarely (if ever) meaningful to businesses.  The experts are not only wrong but most of Twitter’s “big success stories” are mostly overblown, illogical or actually symptoms of a broken customer service system.

Twitter’s Illogical Value Formula
Latest example: Scott Rafer and others across the blogosphere are impressed with JetBlue’s continued use of Twitter.  I’m not and nor should you be.

A woman named Meaghan O’Connell tweeted “I want to make love to the @jetblue terminal” to which JetBlue  replied “Goodness… I hope you at least buy the terminal dinner first!”  The result?  Hundreds of re-tweets and exposure of the exchange.

Michael Galpert even goes as far as saying “You cant buy that kind of advertising with money @Jetblue did however buy it with 72 Characters!”

You can’t?  Of course you can and you can make the dollars spent deliver tangible value beyond MAYBE making people THINK “aren’t they a great, funny airline.” It’s called direct response marketing.  What about making people BEHAVE differently — DO something that adds value to their lives through your brand’s behaviors?

The Value Dichotomy
Getting excited about this kind of thing is common and assumes this nonsense somehow equals value to an advertiser.  This value, we’re told, are new and based on interactivity in a hyper-connected, digitized world.  But think about it — this “hey look how many times it got passed” value equation is extremely BACKWARD and LOW value. It’s borrowed from one-directional mass communications!

Creating campaigns with the goal of hoping people THINK a certain way will not get many of us paid moving forward.  Even the award-lovin’  ad agencies are admitting that this kind of big social media “win” means, in reality, zippo.

Yes, change is upon us.   No, this is not a revolution or even very valuable.  Creating preference means less and less.

Twitter’s Success is a Symptom of a Problem
Is Twitter a new customer service tool that deserves our time, energy and financial investment — or is its success a warning of something more serious?  Specifically, are Twitter’s legitimate customer service wins (ie. how Soutwest Airlines and Comcast use it) symptomatic of customer service FAILURES in traditional (strategically more important) channels?  While I admit Twitter delivers customer service value the answer is yes.

Jim Novo

What worries me quite a bit about the Service side of social is companies have had access to all this information about broken processes or poor product design for decades, and they have largely ignored it.  All they had to do is some analysis of call center data tic lists and they could identify and act on their ‘Top 10 Biggest Customer Issues’.  But they did not.  So there is a much larger organizational issue here, regardless of social media — what is the process we use to identify and act on poor customer experience?

Could part of that identification process already be underway? Perhaps not at Southwest Airlines but certainly elsewhere like Comcast!

Small Business Twittermainia
Adage jumps on board this week with a story of Chicago-based yogurt shop Berry Chill who’s been using Twitter to send out promotions.  Get a deal by showing you’re a Twitter follower.  In a month, owner Michael Farah logged 700 followers.  He says…

“Our last big promotion we gave away 1,100 yogurts — $5,500 worth of product — but sales were the same as the day before,” he said.  “The people who were existing customers standing in line attracted people who hadn’t tried it.”

For Adage and a good number of its readers that amounts to a big win. I say…

Most of those who celebrate Twitter are, when you look closely, less concerned with actually turning a profit.

Naked Pizza’s Jeff Leach ran a similar campaign attracting local patrons.  He says…

“Every phone call was tracked, every order was measured by where it came from, and it told us very quickly that Twitter is useful… Sure, there’s the brand marketing and getting-to-know-you stuff. … But we wanted to know: Can it make the cash register ring?”

Bravo on the tracking and it did ring the register.  As for the profit?  Again, not a part of the discussion apparently.  And the hystarical, distracting (dangerous) social marketing beat goes on — during a time when we marketers have everything to lose by paying too much attention to social media blather.

About Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is the authority on starting sales conversations online. He teaches a proven, effective and repeatable communications process to spark buyers curiosity about what you're selling. He's a sought-after sales prospecting trainer to individual reps, teams of sellers and small businesses owners across the globe. He's an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded the Google Affiliate Network and what is today the Performics division of Publicis Groupe.

Jeff also serves as adjunct digital marketing faculty at Loyola University’s school of business. His book, Off The Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You, is first to offer businesses a clear, practical way to create leads and sales with platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs.

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Leave a Comment:

samharrelson says

Sorry, Jeff. Despite your prevalent use of CAPS LOCK, I think you’re off base here.

Clearly, this proves Twitter’s worth for small and large enterprises (and any sort of human collective):

Hope that helps-


Russ A. Hatfield Jr. says

This blog post has been Tweeted:

Hi Jeff,

I actually think you make a number of good points here and I do think there is a whole bunch of unfounded “mania” to Twitter as ushering in some new age of Customer Service(Experience, Loyalty, etc.). It’s classic Gartner’s Hype Cycle at work.

Having said that, I would not discount as much as you(seem to) the current(and, especially, future) relevance of Twitter as another tool in the toolbox for crafting Customer Experiences that, long story short, will lead to profits.

That the benefits can’t be determined by some neat, provable, formula in a spreadsheet isn’t a desirable thing, granted. But it isn’t a deal-breaker, either. After all, many would argue that much of traditional marketing’s benefits are hardly exactly quantifiable, either. Yet, that industry is quite alive-and-kicking(albeit evolving).

I don’t see Twitter as the revolutionary force for business that I read about so often — not yet, at least. And though the nuances of social media deserve attention, the basics are still the basics and they apply.

But millions of customers are Tweeting every day whether businesses like/believe/respect/etc it or not. It would behoove them to “show up” and try to make sense of this. Engage their customers. They’re talking about you, good and bad, whether you’re there or not. You can at least be part of the discussion. And, after all, it(micro-blogging) is a mechanism still in its relative infancy. We’re still figuring it out. But to ignore it until all the results come back(something that’ll never happen, anyway) will prove a regrettable decision for many businesses.

I appreciate the perspective. It’s a nice thought-provoking change from the Twitter-is-God stuff out there these days.

Russ A. Hatfield Jr.
Seattle, WA

Jeff Molander says

We actually see eye-to-eye and your points (and levity) are appreciated. Spot on re: how marketing is certainly not perfect (indeed, I argue it’s totally broken) but has managed to thrive and grow.

This is all very evolutionary and what I’m pushing back on is all the hype — which you seem keen on. I’m also interested in exploring how Twitter’s successes are actually pointing at (“symptoms of”) failures — ie. “traditional” customer service. That’s a really interesting thought that should, IMO, lead organizations down a very important path of improving, as an example, call center quality or email text chat quality.

Wayne Porter says

Review some ancient podcasts. I think Harrelson and I discussed Twitter about two years ago and were met with a lot of resistance.

Twitter is not about direct marketing Jeff. Never was and never will be. Marketers want to use in new technology in old ways.

It is more about WOM, fan-building, and most importantly, if businesses need a concrete use, CRM!

Businesses want to easily quantify the use of new technologies, but it doesn’t work that way with nascent platforms. I am sure when T.V. hit the world they questioned its value too…(Of course we have to revisit TV’s value now 😀 )

In short, it is about communication, but more importantly- simply listening.


    Jeff Molander says

    Hi, Wayne. Thanks for your thoughts. Did I argue it was about direct marketing? I’m fully agree with your comments… except that marketers want to use technology in old ways. Outside of “selling stuff” (which is perhaps what you mean), I think this is precisely the problem — they want to use it in NEW ways and this leads to it being “so new” that it cannot and should not be measured (or measured using yesterday’s failed measures — aka “engagement”).

    If you really want to know what I consider to be total insanity — and a sign that marketers have completely lost touch w/ reality — look at last week’s Business Week article that claims the new promise of advertising to be cracking the nut of friendship. The big ‘marketing in a down economy opportunity’ for advertisers in the digital world is to decipher the essence of friendship (‘the social graph’)… and find new ways to serve ads against friends behavioral patterns.

    SERIOUSLY?! How offensive.

Wayne Porter says


Thanks for the response.

Call it twitter, call it micro-chunking, call it social media (as I said I think it should be called personal media) whatever. It is here to stay and you are “calling bull” on it. The mania will subside, but for now it has invaded EVERYTHING and will eventually be ubiquitous.

On measuring value- chalk it up to R&D Jeff. Businesses will have to show-up and experiment and many will fail. You must go where the people are. I didn’t mean to say you said it was all about DM, but you continually harp on measuring ROI…it is simply to nascent.

As Sam pointed with his link, much of its value can be measured by social contributions. Witness Twitter- and the Iranian Elections. Measure the impact of that, because it will impact not only people’s lives, but business and trade- on epic scales.

On Business Week- as we have both done many interviews with magazines like Business Week, etc, etc I think we know most of it is patent bullshit… (Although my experiences with the New York Times and the Washington Post have always been positive and great talking to specialized reporters who have a clue, so I will exclude those two.)

If you want to understand where it is all going, I suggest you create a World of Warcraft character and talk to some tweens…


    Jeff Molander says

    You… like so many others so don’t feel bad… are reading the headline (in this case leaving out the “mainia” part) and not the thesis of my commentary. I’m calling bull on Twittermaina, not Twitter. Not sure if you’re ‘getting’ that.

    I’m calling bull on experimental practices (we agree) that are heralded as case studies proving ROI when, in fact, “ROI” is a meaningless term and has been since go.

    Precisely, what’s ROI anyway? It’s defined as broadly as “branding” is — it means different things to different people and there is no standard definition. In this way, marketers have abused the term ROI IMHO… in that they use it as a ‘measure du jour’ when, in fact, Chief Officers see through it in about 10 seconds. Marketing, thus, remains fanciful wishes of how we’d like our customers to feel and think about us — not actually act or behave based on how we (the entire company) behave with them.

    it is simply to nascent
    Precisely. Re: ROI… this is precisely why I’m not discussing pursuit of it.

    As Sam pointed with his link, much of its value can be measured by social contributions.

    Excellent point and this is being well-documented.

    I know, I know. Once again, I’m out of touch but this time nobody can say “because you don’t use it” so now they’re going to say “you’re out of touch you old fart — engage in more digital fantasy stuff and you’ll stand a chance.”

    Thanks, junior 😉

Wayne Porter says

As an aside- why publish a case study on Twitter secret sauce? I see that as a market advantage.

Anyhow- back at you.

    Jeff Molander says

    Already in the works behind the scenes — at least we’re trying to find the time for it (David Lewis, myself). I’ll make time to check your post out… looks interesting. Need to run now but would you mind updating your post to include my real Twitter account? 🙂 @jeffreymolander Thanks!

Paul Rosenfeld says

Hi Jeff,

Love this piece as well as the comments attached. We all certainly need a dose of perspective around Twitter and any intelligent, independent-minded businessperson will see the spate of glowing testimonials from Naked Pizza and others as mostly malarky. I especially like how you call Southwest, Comcast Twitterers a SYMPTOM of a larger service problem and not a solution. As we know Twitter is absolutely terrible as two-way anything. As a broadcast or narrowcast tool, it’s great although the signal to noise ratio is the current death of it.

I just conducted 12 90 minute usability sessions and first asked common folk about Twitter. I’ll share live what negativity they had to say.

Of course, I’m a ‘new age’ guy myself so I use the new tools and try to use them in specific ways. I’m hopeful Twitter continues it’s evolution with third party developers into something more impactful and meaningful and my prediction is that it will fade into the background like blogs and become just another useful pipe like RSS to deliver information between parties.

Hey – I need to connect you with Marcy at Amex so you can repurpose this post. The Open Forum website has drunk deep of the Twitter KoolAid and needs a good counterbalancing force.

Thanks for sparking the discussion!

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