How Twitter Can be Corrosive to Online Marketing

In the past when you did something quite cool and attention-worthy people would reference it on their blogs. But now in the age of Twitter, many people mention your stuff on Twitter. This can be good if they have thousands of Twitter followers, but if most the people mentioning a topic are all in the same small tight knit space then you are only reaching a fraction of a fraction of the potential distribution you would have before the age of Twitter.

  • How many people read every Twitter update from the people they subscribe to? Very few. Since you are in a high volume aggregator the loyalty is nowhere near where it is with traditional blog subscribers.
  • Exciting news quickly falls into the archives due to the rapid nature and high volume of Tweets.
  • If you dominate a channel and keep reaching the same people over and over again that does help provide social proof of value, but after seeing the same message 5 or 10 times it becomes noise.

Worse yet, even though Twitter mentions are organic links and recommendations by highly trusted topical experts, those don't show up on the broader web graph since Google pressured Twitter into adopting nofollow EVERYWHERE, even for user profiles.

And unlike Delicious...

  • most people do not have automated mechanisms to dump their daily Tweets / Tweet links into their blog to provide trusted direct links
  • people rarely use Twitter as a bookmarking service, so it is rarely worth searching into yesterday's content. The Twitter content is very today, gone today.

Multiple people asked me to add their RSS feeds to the default set that in the SEO Toolbar that was soon to be downloaded by over 10,000 webmasters. And for wanting all that exposure (and future exposure) they didn't even post about it on their blog. They mentioned it on Twitter...where the same 3,000 people saw the message 20 times each. No value add whatsoever.

Out of over 21 pages of Tweets (300+ Tweets) mentioning "SEO Toolbar" in the last 3 days, Yahoo! is showing less than 10 inbound links to the SEO Toolbar page that came from sources other than direct friend requests, social news sites, or automated links brought on by that exposure. Twitter is pretty worthless as a link building strategy, even if you are giving away something that is both free and better than similar tools selling for hundreds of dollars.

Even if you have a strong launch and a product far superior to related products, the exposure you get may not matter if your coverage is stuck on Twitter. It is a connecting medium, but it doesn't make money:

Venture Beat says that Twitter made Dell a million dollars. That's nuts. Did the phone company make Dell a billion dollars? Just because people used the phone to order their Dell doesn't mean that the phone was a marketing medium. It was a connecting medium. Big difference.

Is Twitter a nice complimentary channel that can add exposure to your launch? Absolutely. But if the conversation does not leave then it has quite limited value in a search-driven Google-centric web. And that limited value is even less if you don't already have thousands of Twitter followers.

The "make money on Twitter" ebooks will be coming out soon, but other than the ebook authors, I doubt anyone will make much money from it (unless customer feedback helps them create new product lines).

Published: January 19, 2009 by Aaron Wall in marketing


January 19, 2009 - 9:55am

Not even Twitter makes money off Twitter! It seems that the search engines aren't the only things going local or niche, conversation is too.

yet another ben
January 19, 2009 - 10:05am

I've noticed this with my own tweets - I try to promote other peoples SEO content but after doing that for a while I realised I should really credit the work on my site too. So trying to continually make the effort to reward those guys that have been putting so much great content out there (you included!). For me, that seems to be a healthy way of working at least.

For other commercially orientated, I guess the biggest ROI of using twitter would be from engaging with those customers, as opposed to trying to continually sell to them. I think as part of an online community a brand could do quite well from using Twitter, but the whole medium / connection comparison is a little bit blurred in my mind, Seth draws on Twitter being a failed resource for companies using it as a ad-network, but as you suggested it can be used for other purposes: extending your online neighbourhood / community and customer service (which I've been on the receiving end of examples already). I think all these can add value to a brands proposition and needn't offer an immediate return, but as such it can be worth engaging in. It's not right for all I expect, but not worth ruling-out either.

Thought provoking post Aaron, thanks.

yet another ben
January 19, 2009 - 10:07am

This was posted as I was writing my post by Dudibob:

"It seems that the search engines aren't the only things going local or niche, conversation is too."

...really like that, totally agree!

January 19, 2009 - 2:09pm

Would it be a good idea to point toward the delicious bookmark instead of the target ?
January 19, 2009 - 2:22pm

I too, think Twitter is totally inane. Best meant for this who have too much time on their hands and nothing to do with it!

I even created a video to illustrate: - see "Why Twitter Sucks"

Great post. Craig

January 19, 2009 - 3:53pm

Don't worry Aaron i wrote a post about your toolbar in an italian forum.

I even linked to your page with "SEO" in the anchor text LOL

Mark Silver
January 19, 2009 - 4:58pm

Suggestion? Just curious since Twitter is already here and dominating huge swaths of attention. I've thought about this, but don't have a good answer.

January 19, 2009 - 8:31pm

Twitter is part of the revolution... away from self-empowerment (earning money over the web) and towards ego-serving engagement. Enslave the worker continues to be of paramount importance, but we are moving beyond the gameboy and ipod... connecting them via the web, and then serving the ego.

I doubt anyone knows where it will lead... there is no time for crafting plans. The same "powers" that managed the public school system and the FUD of the nineties media have abandoned trying to do more than chase short-term profit for themselves, or prop up associates in positions of probable influence, or follow general guidelines like isolate, disrupt meaningful discourse, scare, alientate etc.

January 19, 2009 - 8:45pm

And to think, I mistakenly called you cynical John. :)

Tom McCracken
January 19, 2009 - 8:58pm

I don't know about you guys, but I mainly look on the left side for pics that stand out, and have good tweets.

So pictures that stand out are very important!?

January 19, 2009 - 9:21pm

I just think that at the end of the day Twitter ends up being pretty worthless. :)

January 19, 2009 - 10:12pm

I find I get more value from Twitter by whom I follow and the links they post.

I can quickly scan Tweets and I home in on links that people post, especially if

a) it sounds interesting
b) its from people who I know post good stuff.

So I get to find lots of great content this way (it's how I just ended up here Aaron, even though I also follow you blog anyway).

I think trying to use Twitter to promote yourself or get SEO value is probably wasted for the reasons already staed above.

Oh and I'm fed up with the lame boring Twitter comments from people with far too much time on the hands. If one more person tweets that they are having a coffee or having a bad day etc. I'll scream!



January 20, 2009 - 1:37am

I hate Twitter. It's only popular because people are already bored of the other social mediums. There is way too much valuable content to sift through on the web without wasting time on Twitter. People might think it's cool but it's the ultimate nerdy thing. People only use for it due to the sheep factor and despite every blog I visit trying to get me on Twitter, I will not succomb to something I'm so radically against. I'm a time management nut and I know how valuable my time is. The most I'd do is auto-publish a blog post but what's the point? With RSS and email you reach everyone.

Twitter can't survive. It will end up being bought out by Google.

January 21, 2009 - 1:46am

sad but true the twitter ebooks are already out

January 21, 2009 - 3:56pm

There is a lot of confusion about Twitter. The people that hate it don't seem to understand what it really is.

Twitter is not a classified place where you announce every thing you do in your business. It's a place where you can build relationships by getting people interested in who you are or what you do.

Marketing is typically one-way, i.e. you make a commercial that people watch, or you put an ad on the radio or newspaper. There's no interaction. Some people like to treat Twitter in this way but Twitter is not marketing, it's communication.

I've done business on Twitter several times. I do this by posting interesting posts that engage people (both business & non-business related), and hold "conversations" that lead to off twitter communication. I'm in the music business, and I've found bands thru Twitter, and I even embed their tweets on their profiles so the fans can "be in the know".

Twitter is a very, very useful TOOL, but you have to know how to use it. While it may not be a very good tool for SEO practices, don't discount it's usefulness to help grow your business.

January 21, 2009 - 4:24pm

But if a band is using Twitter to embed their own content into their own site then most of the people who *really* care would still access that content even if Twitter did not exist.

Twitter is just a publishing tool. Bands could use larger and more flexible tools. I enjoy Dead Air Space far more than Twitter.

And Brian Eno has less than 1,000 followers on Twitter.
Amazingly low given his 30+ years of being ahead of the curve.

My perspective on Twitter highlighted how it lowered the value of *already established* social connections I had built up. And that does not even account for being someone else's user generated content rather than benefiting from building your own brand and having others contribute to your site.

January 21, 2009 - 5:14pm

Hey Aaron,

Again, your mind set is "reaching people" not "communicating with people".

While it is a publishing tool, it can be used for much more. I can speak from experience that Twitter has helped to grow my business. The example I gave was one of many experiences. One other is, I've found sponsors - targeted sponsors - that gave me funding to continue to offer my content for free. Twitter has helped make my company money (always a good thing).

Has my SEO benefited from it? Maybe - indirectly from word of mouth that leads to someone searching for Phibble. My site isn't really SEO'd, but I still get traffic from the SE's.

If you feel that Twitter "lowered" your social connections, then it's possible you aren't using it right. You see how you posted your thoughts about Twitter, I read it- then commented on it, then you commented back, and now I'm back to respond. That's communication. You now "know me" and I "know you". This could grow to a stronger relationship, and maybe you find a band that you'd think I would be interested in, and you'd send them over to me (a benefit for me). I could also run into a band that could use some SEO, or would be interested in your services - and I'd send em your way (a benefit for you). Twitter works the same way. It's a mini-blog post.

Also keep in mind that Twitter is not just about the web. People can get tweets in IM and on their cell phones. Reaching people where ever they are is very powerful. You can also send tweets out the same way.

Also, Twitter has a public timeline (which I wish they would put back on the front door) which allows you to reach people who aren't following you. If your tweets are interesting enough, you may get more followers, thus more relationships, thus more business.

One mistake people make with Twitter is they only post "business tweets". It's about blending the personal with the business. One of my recent tweets was how it was snowing in the front yard, and not in the back yard. Wacky - non business posts- like this have gotten more responses than the "my radio show is now live" posts have.

I hope this helps you understand it better, and thanks for posting this and getting this conversation going!

January 21, 2009 - 7:19pm

I guess maybe my perspective is warped as I already run a popular blog and we have hundreds of paying members in our community forums. But time is limited, and I do a lot of work for 1 person.

For vanity reasons I can see value in Twitter. But the connections are generally shallow (hey that's the 140 character limit). I "know" more people than I can actually possibly meaningfully know well. But I know many of our forum members quite well. Perhaps if we didn't already have the blog and run the community forums there might be more value in Twitter.

My point is not that Twitter is bad, but (for practical economic purposes) that in time most will want to take their conversations off Twitter an carry them onto their sites.

March 11, 2009 - 1:20pm

As people participate more on networks like Twitter you can see that the ties between blogs are becoming looser, with even the most popular blogs seeing a decline in the rate of link acquisition

And the biggest blogs have a lot of network effects behind them...smaller market players are likely hit harder on average.

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