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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Pownce Shuts Down: A Branding Post-Mortem

Micro-blogging service and Twitter competitor Pownce is shuttering its site. Presumably the company was purchased by SixApart (makers of the MovableType and TypePad blogging software and service), and its technology will presumably be rolled into a SixApart offering at some point in the future.

Pownce never reached the critical mass of Twitter despite having arguably better technology (though at the much lower user numbers a true load testing crucible like experienced by Twitter this year never happened), which prompted me to look into the branding aspects of this "failure to thrive":

While "Pownce" is by no means the worst Web 2.0 start-up name out there, it’s also far from ideal. The name SOUNDS good, but presents spelling problems. You don’t want your early adopter users and everyone else to have to spell your company or site name every time it is passed on. You may think that this seems like a minor detail, but for almost any Web start-up concerned with mass services, velocity of the spread of the idea is paramount.

Pownce also likely fell prey to what I call the "too cute by half syndrome", in that the name may relate to the posture/spelling of the hacker term "pwned", which means to "own a computer by root access through password hacking", and by extension just to "own someone or something" as in beating them thoroughly in a contest. So the name may have made for a cute geeky insider joke, but either way did little to advance the mission of the company to spread their micro-blogging service faster than its competitors (of which some like Twitter had a head-start).

The name also does little to describe or even merely allude to what the service was doing for its users, unlike Twitter, which with its name and bird imagery created a story in people’s minds that Twitter was about super short, rapid, distance-independent messages, which came to be known as "Tweets": The image of birds hectically twittering away to each other in a dizzying symphony of missives was concrete enough that more people hearing about and/or testing out Twitter almost instantly got the point.

Even though there are large numbers of people who test Twitter and subsequently think that Twitter is, well, for the birds, the point is not about a potential user ultimately liking the service, just whether the brand name immediately helped them get what was going on or not. This is the kind of thing that ultimately gets you awareness saturation, like being mentioned NIGHTLY on CNN, etc. (you can’t buy something as good as Anderson Cooper constantly mentioning your service, as in "check out our account on Twitter…").

(By the way, I am in the process of updating an original "Twitter for Business" private forum post of mine to put up on the blog, which explains about a dozen ways in which Twitter can be used advantageously for your business. Stay tuned.)

The English language already has the idiom of "the place was all atwitter with the news of the …" and similar constructions, further helping the meme of fast, rumor-like spreading of news to stick. "Pownce" evokes no such allusions, instead it at best brings up ideas of "pouncing" on prey. Not something that seems to have much to do with the goal of the service, which their slogan stated was: "We send stuff to our friends."

Again, I repeat, Pownce had some superior technology features compared to Twitter (including allowing the sending of image, audio, and video files, and several other value added features), but it failed to capitalize on it and grab mind and user share. This branding stuff really does matter!