Why You Absolutely Must Get Twitter’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

I have mentioned social media sensation Twitter, originally billed as a so-called "micro-blogging" service, in a number of posts over the last year, and by now there is almost no way that you haven’t heard one of its seemingly nightly mentions in the mainstream media.

If you’re not on Twitter yet, you should be, if only to see what’s going on, and to grab any usernames (for your own name, your company, and your products/brands) that may still be available before someone else does.

(If you are completely new to Twitter, first watch this brief video, and click though this presentation slide deck.)

Even if you decide that you don’t have the time to invest in maintaining an active profile on Twitter, you should at an absolute minimum understand that the new "real-time Web" that is emerging due to Twitter’s popularity is changing the game in many ways:

Not only is it causing redesign changes and opening-up at Twitter’s rival social media services such as FriendFeed and Facebook. Search of Twitter’s massive real-time stream of "Tweets" (the micro-messages that users send to their follower lists), is now being called "the pulse of this society" by wine merchant turned Social Media guru Gary Vaynerchuck. And I would agree:

Should you know what 10 14 Million people (yes, it grew by nearly 50% in the last month), many of them sought-after influencers and early-adopters are saying about you, your company, your brands, your products, your market, and your business’ target keywords on Twitter?

Of course you should. Twitter’s recent geometric growth proves that it is finding itself right at the inflection point from early to mainstream adoption in these last few months. And therefore searching at Seach.twitter.com has become an absolute goldmine of marketing relevant information, one that must almost be considered indispensable at this point:

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Social Media Lessons: Controversy Erupts Surrounding Facebook’s “Twitterization” Redesign

Yet another controversy has erupted around Facebook (the recent Terms of Service PR disaster having barely scabbed over) in the last few days, this time around the redesign of the Facebook user "Home" page (the profile page was redesigned last year), which is adding a real-time feed more along the lines of micro-blogging service Twitter.

While I personally am all for that change, having been an ardent Twitter user since early last year, there has been plenty of backlash from Facebook users about the extent of these changes. And all of the usual suspects of the blogosphere are weighing in, with heavy-weights like TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble siding with Facebook’s right to basically do what it wants with the free service it provides.

Even going so far as arguing that listening to your customer too much can be counterproductive. Here is a quote from Mike Arrington’s piece "No! Never Surrender To Your Users, Facebook.":

In an interview last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked with me about how users are willing to accept change over time, and that Facebook would continue to push things along. Suddenly, though, they surrender because a few users have a belly ache over a redesign.

If they wanted to make these changes anyway, they shouldn’t have titled their blog post “Responding to Your Feedback.” They should have just continued to ignore the ranting, and announced further changes. Showing that you’re listening to feedback just invites more of it.

Someday, if they’re not careful, someone is going to do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace, who in turn did it to Friendster. Making users happy is a suckers game. Pushing the envelope is what makes you a winner.

While I can see their point to a degree, social media represent a whole new ballgame in many ways, which it makes it harder to predict what will happen. While these “A camel is a horse designed by committee" ideas may have validity in the realm of physical product design (Scoble is using a quote from a mentor about the problems with crowd-sourcing the design of a Porsche), I would hold that things may not be so straight-forward in the digital/social media realm:

1) Facebook already had several cases where it needed to retreat in shame from changes to the Facebook platform, the biggest among them the Beacon activity-tracking system that caused such privacy concerns and general outrage among Facebook users that it had to basically be abandoned.

More recently, the above-mentioned Facebook Terms of Service (TOS) debate around changes that appeared to give Facebook almost complete, irrevocable control over a users data and images even PAST the closing of an account, brought forth a similat swift user community response, and backing off by Facebook (for now to the original TOS, with supposedly a crowd-sourced version being on the way).

So with this partial retreat by Facebook, incidentally again due to privacy concerns, they’re really batting 0 for 3. One would think that they would be wising up on the PR front by now. And so much for "Zuckerberg never backs down"…

2) Much of this is not really surprising since Facebook’s users are perfectly empowered through Facebook’s platform:

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Wallop: Microsoft’s Branding Cluelessness Claims Another Victim

Microsoft’s indirect attempt at a youthful social networking site, Wallop, is packing it in after 2.5 years as a venture-backed spin-off company.

And one thing appears to be clear: Regardless of the merits of the technology and features behind the platform, Wallop never had much of a chance of succeeding during the same time frame in which first MySpace and then Facebook rose to massive prominence.

Why? Because the “Wallop” brand name that the new owners (presumably voluntarily) took over from Microsoft Research Labs is simply a horrible idea branding-wise.

One can almost see how a group of middle aged techies thought it sounded sort of cool. But as reality has proven, there are a number of things wrong with the name:

1) It is a generic noun/verb and as such creates little differentiation in the mental real estate of consumers.

2) It is confusing in terms of giving no indication what “Wallop” is supposed to do for its users. Brand names like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook on the other hand give a reasonable hint. When you are free to choose, when in doubt opt for something that makes a modicum of sense, and actually helps make your case as a company.

(Granted that a number of very successful companies have used “non-sequitur” names – Google, Amazon, and Yahoo come to mind. But that was during the Web 1.0 era when it was a lot easier to break through the noise, and get your share of attention to imprint your brand on the mental real estate of consumers. Also, back then everything Web was still so new and wondrous…)

3) Worst of all, the only association it does have is with something negative and somewhat archaic sounding, per the American Heritage Dictionary, “Wallop – v. tr. 1. To beat soundly; thrash. 2. To strike with a hard blow.”

Given that Wallop apparently started out as a photo sharing site at Microsoft Research, the name makes even less sense. But one should NEVER use a name in branding that conjures up potentially negative associations. Unless you know exactly what you are doing (as in some youth slang were “bad”, “ill”, etc. actually means “good” – or at least has in the past), and know your target market audience to a T.

Not so good if your 15-30 year-old target market for a social networking site associates your brand name (even if more or less unconsciously) with spankings they may have received by their parents, or on the playground.

4) It is missing any kind of pleasantness in sound, rhythm, or rhyme that would make it more likely to be repeated by people (to themselves or to others), which may seem trite, but in reality can make a huge difference in the adoption of your brand name “meme”.

Wallop rolls of the tongue like a sack of potatoes. Its particular combination of consonants and vowels leaves it oddly unpleasant to say (maybe that’s because the word originally denotes an unpleasant event). Just try it out-loud to yourself a few times: “Hey dude, go check out that party invite I put up on Wallop.”

5) There could be spelling issues in terms of people hearing it word-of-mouth (if it weren’t for the fact that people are already less likely to repeat it very often), as to the number of L’s and P’s, also never an advantage in getting something to spread “virally”.

Do your homework…

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