Twitter is turning into a full fledged cultural phenomenon. Former underwear model and cougar lover Ashton Kutcher is now over 1 million followers and Oprah and Howard Stern have joined the fray. The New England Patriots tweeted their NFL draft picks this past weekend. There are no shortage of so called social media experts and consultants publishing lists and posts on how to use Twitter, how to make money with Twitter, Twitter etiquette, etc. The hype is reaching a fever pitch and a lot of it seems to be marketing people talking to each other.
Here is the fundamental thing we all need to keep in mind about Twitter – it is a media channel to talk to people directly without the filter or expense of a media brand or company. That’s it folks, nothing more, nothing less. That being said, we are big fans of owning your own media channel, so Twitter can and should become another aspect of your private media strategy for customers and prospects.
Twitter is a great vehicle for pushing out content to a specialized list of people, and I will distribute this blog to my “followers”. Please go here if you want to follow me. Whether you are a B2C or B2B company Twitter is an effective way to engage in an interactive dialog with your customers. I follow lot of journalists and research companies to keep tabs on them without having to go to their sites directly. It is smart for your executives to have a presence and be able to get feedback from customers and create a relationship with them. Stronger personal bonds mean stronger sales for your company. Twitter is a no brainer when thinking about customer retention. Smart and judicious use of this media channel can be a low cost way to drive sales from existing customers and give your content a broader audience. For a great example, check out what Dell Outlet is doing to engage customers.
On the flip side, given the 140 character limit, it is much harder to mix business and personal as you can with Facebook. Many keep Twitter mostly business, and that seems to be the general milieu. Some people link their Facebook status update and Tweets so they are in sync. I don’t like this because you should customize your message to your audience and environment, but it seems to be a growing trend. Additionally, you can wear people out with over posting and will no doubt lose followers.
Twitter has reached the critical mass where it can’t be ignored by marketers, so embrace it as a free private media channel while it lasts. Give it a shot, talking to your customers is always a good thing, especially when they can talk or tweet back. Or better yet, buy something.
The big media news here in New England is the fate of the Boston Globe. The situation now looks even more urgent in light of the dreadful earnings report and cash burn situation the NY Times Company reported this week. The Times bought the Globe for $1.1 billion back in 1993 before the dawn the web. They had a couple of very profitable years until the bottom fell out of the newspaper business. In retrospect, newspapers did what many trade publishers did for a long time – resist the web because selling print ads was so damn profitable. And, they gave their content away free online to build traffic. This combination worked out poorly. Newspapers across the country are closing or in financial peril.
In 2008, the Globe lost roughly $50 million on an estimated $450 million in revenue (down a few hundred million in the past three years). That is not easy to do unless your costs are way out of whack, especially labor costs. The NYT is asking the unions for concessions or they will close down the paper, and I would assume and keep the very successful Boston.com. There has been a lot of finger pointing and looking to place blame. Hundred of comments have appeared in online forums raving about how the Globe’s liberal editorial slant has hurt them with subscribers and advertisers. I am sure it has cost them some, but does not nearly account for their revenue and profit freefall.
The truth is actually pretty simple, but the solution is not. In the not so distant past the Boston Globe was a money machine because it had a stranglehold on classified advertising in New England – help wanted, real estate, cars –huge money makers raking in over $100 million annually with high margins. This cash flow allowed the cost structure to get fat and happy during the good times. Most of that revenue is now gone to cars.com, monster.com, realtor.com and craigslist to name a few. Although Boston.com generates high traffic numbers, the CPMs for online ads are a fraction of what they were in print thanks to all the competition and low barrier to entry. Factor in declining subscription and single copy revenue due to changing consumer behavior and the fact they are giving away all the content for free online.
To survive the Globe and other newspapers are going to have to start charging for online content – there is just no way around it anymore. Something has to give, or they will go out of business. Our communities and democracy will suffer without a functioning free press. Bloggers, pontificating from their cube or basement, are no substitute for real reporters who are digging for stories and holding government and business to task. It has been conventional wisdom that people won’t pay for content online, but they have never been confronted with a situation where if they don’t pay for it they will have no other option, at least locally.
If push comes to shove will people refuse to pay $10-$20 per month for an online local newspaper and let it fold? Or will they realize there is no real difference between paying for a pile a paper and ink dropped at your door and online content. Many consumers have an emotional attachment to newsprint, but the web version of a newspaper is far superior with up-to-the minute news, video, talk back forums, interactive charts and archives. Additionally, younger people are just not subscribing to print versions of newspapers, nor will they anytime soon. One issue not easily resolved is access for people without internet access. Perhaps a newsstand only version can be provided that is subsidized by ads.
The bottom line is the newspaper business needs to start monetizing online content and quickly. Consumers would rather read online because there is more functionality and marketers are running less and less print ads because they are not measurable. The writing is on the wall, but is anyone reading? In this case, living in the past is a fast road to extinction.
I was on vacation in Arizona when my friend Sara, a comedy writer and fellow comedian, sent me an email.
“DO THIS WITH ME,” it read, with a link to the Jim Beam website.
Jim Beam’s recent advertising campaign, shown ad nauseum on TBS during Celtics games, flashed through my head. They wanted users to create and submit their own videos, either inspired by or a parody of, the commercials. Sara was going to write a script in which I would get to parody the gorgeous girl who says she likes her man “a little bit hairy.”I slammed back the remainder of my ice tea and replied, “Hell yes!”
For comedians and humor appreciators of all persuasions, sites like Funnyordie.com and CollegeHumor.com are becoming an increasingly popular place to watch video creativity in action. It’s like an oasis of laughter in a web crowded with depressing political commentary sites and stay-at-home mom blogs. Besides being a great way to get exposure, it’s also a way to connect people across the country. And lately, corporate America has been starting to use user generated media to their advantage, too.
From Ragu’s “Great American Family” contest to the Brooks running shoe contest, companies are saying to their customers, “Hey! We value you! Come be a part of this with us! It’s fun!” On our commercial parody production team, we studied the original commercials, talked about effective ways to represent the Jim Beam brand, and forced our friends and families to watch the submissions as they rolled in. What better way for a company to build community, engender brand loyalty and market virally, all at one time? Customer retention happens when you make your customers feel like a part of your brand. And if you listen close enough, what your customers are saying can probably help you move in the right direction in the future.
It’s working for Jim Beam. They had hundreds upon hundreds of video submissions, ranging from brilliant to disturbed. (To the man whose cat inexplicably ate his wig during the video—I just want you to know your lingerie was really classy.) One guy even built a Facebook Fan page to advertise that he had entered the contest. Talk about word-of-mouth and social media in action!
And as for our submission…well, we didn’t make it to the finals. Maybe it was because my character barfed into her purse. Maybe it was the mature lady mud wrestling. We’ll never know. But I do know that next time I throw a party, I’m buying some Jim Beam.