Twitter is a fun and interesting place. I haven’t been posting there as much over the past week, as I try to map out its place in my online genome, and my place in its. But there is no arguing the fact that Twitter has momentum, and a big chunk of the public mindshare. Like any public place, be it a park, library, beach or restaurant, the question becomes what will Twitter evolve into over the coming months and years. And how the operators and users will protect- or not- the experience that led them there in the first place.
Clearly Twitter has to make money to survive. There are operational costs, and there’s the occasionally overlooked fact that the people who created Twitter weren’t looking solely to create a new age chat board where we could all debate whether Kara Thrace was or was not an angel (I say she clearly was) or bemoan our college choices. They started it as a business venture. To get rich. Or richer.
That’s the way businesses work. When a new restaurant opens, we don’t give the owner the key to the city for feeding us. We know he or she is trying to make a living by creating a place we can go to have fun and eat good food. The restaurateur is neither entitled to make money nor criticized for trying to do so. He or she makes money or not, based on the customer experience he or she creates and manages. It’s the same for online interactive sites like Twitter. People will try lots of things once or twice, but you have to provide a superior, consistent experience to create a critical mass of loyal and regular customers.
The customer experience becomes the most important and valuable asset. And one that must be managed carefully.
But what about all the other people who help create and manage the restaurant experience? The waitstaff and bussers are integral to the experience, and they too are trying to make a living. But much, if not most, of their pay comes in the form of tips from diners. How does this analogy translate to Twitter?
One way or another, I think it has to. Why? Because there are lots and lots of waiters, waitresses and bussers on Twitter. How do they get paid? Are they entitled to get paid? How is this going to work? Are they going to improve or destroy the user experience?
I don’t know all the answers, but what I do know is that everyone who hopes to make any money via Twitter should be very concerned with preserving the experience for the users- those rare diner-equivalents who come not to sell, but to eat. Imagine how fast you’d be out the door if instead of taking your drink order, the waiters at your favorite restaurant immediately began to badger you about tips. When something like that happens, the user experience turns negative, the word spreads, the restaurant is doomed. And nobody gets fed or paid.
And it’s not just outright badgering we have to be concerned about. Very few marketers are as subtle or value-additive as they think they are.
Let’s say it again: very few marketers are as subtle or value-additive as they think they are.
I worry about all of this, because it seems like 8 out of 10 people who follow me on Twitter are waiters looking for tips: marketer, consultant, PR representative, SEO expert, etc., etc. (and that’s not even counting the outright spammers and get-me-rich quick schemers). Based on their profiles, all of these people are, at least nominally, on the clock when posting at Twitter. Sure, they’re taking drink orders and not immediately negotiating for tips. But if they are on the job, they must expect or at the very least hope for a payoff at some point. How is that going to happen? If my little slice is representative, Twitter is overrun with marketers, consultants, PR representatives, SEO experts and other forms of the same animal, all in search of what looks to me like a pretty small tips pool.
Which raises another interesting point. While I don’t do it online, a significant portion of my job involves building my company’s brand and selling our services to clients. It’s subtle- like Twitter today- but subtle or not, I’m brand building and, indirectly, selling all the time. Every print article I write. Every speech I give, etc. And one thing that anyone who has ever sold anything knows is this: it is very hard to sell something to someone who is trying to sell you something at the same time. Some of the couldn’t sell water bottles in the desert marketers may disagree with this, but anyone who has spent a day in the trenches knows it’s true.
When someone calls me and asks to meet with me, I try to figure out what they’re really after. Sales calls are like dreams- there is a manifest purpose and a latent purpose. Sales people sometimes stupidly try to get in front of me by pretending that they want to hire me. Once we get in a conference room or sit down for lunch, however, it quickly becomes clear that they are trying to sell to us, not the other way around. We call this getting sold by the buyer. Usually these people have no need for our services. And even if they do, they either don’t know it or are so intent on getting through their sales pitch, they wouldn’t hear a word I said. If I said any words. I completely disengage when this happens.
So if all these people are flooding onto Twitter trying to sell their services, how are we to we preserve the good restaurant experience, and avoid a giant flea market where everyone is trying futilely to sell to the seller? And destroying the user experience in the process.
I don’t know, but we better find a way before it’s too late.