As marketers struggle with the best ways to use social media and measure their impact, two recent political experiments with Twitter offer some insights.
Everyone (including The CMO Site) is telling marketers not to try using Twitter as a push channel for the same tired old messages -- social media is about relationships, conversations, and engagement. Recently, the White House tried a Twitter Town Hall exercise, and while it didn't amount to a conversation, it did provoke engagement. And some after-the-fact analysis turned up an interesting technique for a rough-and-ready segmentation of participants on Twitter.
The Twitter Town Hall ran early in June. People were invited to submit questions via Twitter using the #AskObama hashtag. More than 169,000 tweets came in. By one reckoning, fewer than 40 percent of them were serious responses in good faith; the rest were jibes and pokes of one sort of another. The Boston Globe noted: "Those wisecracks aren't necessarily nihilistic. Jokes that poke fun at the absurdity of the Washington establishment represent a pretty impressive form of engagement." President Obama answered 18 of the questions in a broadcast, taking considerably more than 140 characters for each response.
Another part of the Town Hall exercise produced some useful data. During the broadcast, President Obama sent out the first live Presidential tweet -- the milestone might have been more notable had the White House refrained from calling so much attention to it -- that said, "in order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo."
This direct question, posed in a conversational manner and personalized with an informal signature, garnered more than 1,850 responses, by far the most for any tweet in the history of the @whitehouse account.
Expert Labs analyzed the responses using ThinkUp, a popular social media analysis application developed by Gina Trapani. The analyst came up with an interesting technique for segmenting the respondents. Using the Twitter API, he found the names of the lists on which others had placed each respondent. The theory was that people who showed up on lists named "politics" or "political" would answer the President's query differently than those whom other users had placed on lists named "green," "tech," or "technology," and so on. And these differences indeed were found.
The analyst notes: "It's surprising how useful these results are, considering how limited Twitter Lists are exposed throughout the interface. This suggests that Twitter List memberships can be a useful measure of determining a user's authority in subject areas." At this point, the List technique requires custom programming, but the Expert Labs folks will be looking into adding it to ThinkUp.
The other recent of example of Twitter in the political news, of course, is the #f***youwashington hashtag that got away from Jeff Jarvis. After dinner last Saturday evening -- "It was the pinot talking (sounding more like a zinfandel)" -- he issued a profane tweet directed at Washington DC; soon thereafter, the #f***youwashington hashtag was on its way to becoming a Twitter trend. (Twitter did not track it, because it filters the trending list for offensive words -- but Trendistic and Trendsmap did.) Jarvis was so vocal that evening that Twitter bumped him off for tweeting too much. He writes, "Now I could only watch from afar. But that was appropriate, for I no longer owned this trend."
The lesson for marketers is one we have stressed time and again: In the social media, you can't pretend to control your message. The best you can do is launch it, perhaps guide it for a while, and hope that it goes viral.
— Keith Dawson , Senior Editor, The CMO Site
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