The 5 P’s of Twitter’s runaway success

~ 05 March 2009 ~

Hi there, respected Twitterer. Follow me at @cameronmoll.

Twitter, the social ______ application for which no one can accurately describe its purpose (except this video), became a runaway success last year. The San Francisco-based startup added 70% of its subscriber base in 2008 and is steadily growing in 2009, with an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 new accounts opened every day (source).

Actually, I think we enjoy claiming we can’t describe what Twitter is, yet a closer inspection of it yields not only a better understanding of it but also why it’s become so prevalent in the media lately. And when that kind of inspection occurs, it’s not surprising to the inspector why Twitter is where it’s at today.

1. Prudence. Twitter is solid proof that there is undeniable merit in doing just one thing — as a business, as a strategy, as both — and doing it really well. Users have 140 characters or less to share a thought, link up a URL, post a status update, or ask a question. That’s it. Brilliant.

If Twitter lies at one end of the spectrum doing one thing really well, Facebook lies at the opposite end attempting to do all things well: status updates, networking, photos, videos, groups, etc. In terms of subscribers, Twitter’s 6 million unique visitors lag far behind Facebook’s 68 million (source). These numbers clearly indicate many web users currently prefer the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink utility offered by Facebook, but I suspect Twitter has the potential to not only narrow the gap but even outlast its Palo Alto neighbor by merely doing one thing superbly well.

…until, of course, we’re over Twitter too and we move on to the next technology. See #3.

2. Pulse. I know of no more immediate way of gathering, monitoring, or responding to feedback about/for an idea, a question, a company, or an industry. Want to know what Twitter consumers are saying about Nike right now? How about the Lakers? Or photos for breaking news before any of the major media sources can report it? Or which shoes to purchase?

In fact, AdAge reports that Twitter is exploring even more ways of leveraging the Twitterverse for immediate feedback, enabling (from what I can gather) to not only search previous tweets but also to generate new ones based on the search query.

3. Proximity. It seems with every new web trend or technology we gradually draw closer in virtual proximity to persons we admire and to the authors of the content we consume. First, it was the personal or corporate website with its distant, one-way consumption of information. Then came blogs and the ability to generate two-way conversation with the author by commenting on content. And now we have Twitter, enabling one to engage in tweets with Dave Matthews or to track down Shaq at a local diner.

4. Promotion. I’ve heard enough people complain there’s no point to Twitter to come to this conclusion: You get back from Twitter what you put into it. Spend time and effort growing a network of followers, and soon enough you’ll find Twitter to be a powerful promotion tool. For example, many of my initial letterpress poster sales back in December came as a result of my tweet, not so much because of my blog post. Additionally, I use automated tweets for Authentic Jobs as another means of fostering business.

Follow a regimen akin to Jack Humphrey’s 90-10 rule, or whatever works for you, and you’ll likely cultivate a valuable marketing resource.

5. Prominence. I’m certain I’ll get flak for this, but it’s worth not beating around the bush to just come out and say it. Twitter puts one’s ego follower count front and center. In the heyday of blogging, one could quickly estimate and deduce — whether accurately or not, foolishly or prudently — the prominence and traffic of a blog based on the average number of comments on articles or the FeedBurner reader tally. These days it’s follower count. It’s unsurprising so many individuals and companies are sponsoring contests to drive follower count upward, whether for intrinsic gratification or for promotional purposes. See #4.

Granted, certain individuals such as celebrities will garner large quantities of followers regardless of what they tweet about, but for many Twitterers, it remains a challenge to constantly be acquiring new followers.

So, when scrutinized as we’ve done here, Twitter really isn’t such a mystery after all, is it?



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1   TJ Kelly ~ 05 March 2009

Well said, Cameron. I wonder about Twitter’s general appeal at a very basic level. Really just because, as you say in #4, “You get back from Twitter what you put into it.” For those of us who don’t put a lot into it, and therefore don’t get too much back, what’s the point? I’m still not sure, but I enjoy it anyway.

Great post!

2   Chris Wallace ~ 05 March 2009

Right on Cameron. I think this is a perfect summary of why Twitter has grown exponentially thus far.

3   Lea ~ 05 March 2009

Cameron, great post. I just wanted to add one other thing regarding proximity and probably bleeds into prominence - Twitter is also a way to show people WHO you know very succinctly and prominently. If you get an @ back from Shaq, Gary V, your favourite designer, etc once in a while or even in a regular basis, it adds a few more reputation points.

4   Ben Peck ~ 05 March 2009

I’m very new to the whole twittering but now that I’ve jumped in I really like it. My feelings on it is that its like a glorified instant messaging group where we choose to listen to people we admire and trust as well as share with those who trust us.

I refuse to believe that it is a portal for those have no social life which sadly enough is what a lot of people think it may be.

5   Cameron Moll ~ 05 March 2009

Related reading over at TechCrunch:

Facebook’s Response To Twitter

6   John Faulds ~ 05 March 2009

I found my usage of Twitter really took off when I installed Tweetdeck. I’d tried a couple of other standalone apps and Firefox extensions, but none of them had really ‘done it’ for me until Tweetdeck.

7   Melanie ~ 06 March 2009

A bit like like John Faulds, Twitter took off for me when I installed Twitterific on my iPhone. I now use it for mini-blogs and as a way to release the pressure / put thoughts down when I’m at work, mainly.
I update my Twitter way more often than Facebook, which I don’t like too much (too “heavy”, too intrusive, etc). The only thing that interest me in FB is status updates anyway, probably why I enjoy Twitter more (wish more of my friends were there).

8   Mario ~ 06 March 2009

Honestly, I didn’t get Twitter at first. Good summary.

9   Marie ~ 06 March 2009

I’m still in the learning mode about Twitter so it’s nice to read the comments from others also to get some tips.
Thanks for the post.

10   DavidONE ~ 06 March 2009

OK, I must be missing something. I understand what it is - but I don’t understand the attraction. The noise to signal ratio is massive!

A few days ago I saw a ‘Twitters for web designers you should be listening to’ article. Sorry, can’t remember where. I looked at them - and it was a bunch of people telling me what they’d had for lunch and where they were going cycling at the weekend.

Like I said, I must be missing something….

Gotta go - there are some kids on my lawn.

11   John McDonnell ~ 06 March 2009

What is all the fuss about? I’ve been on Twitter for a year, but it’s done nothing for my business. I am so sick of reading about what brand of hot chocolate somebody had for lunch, or how I should read so-and-so’s new book. I haven’t spent a dime on anything that anyone has promoted to me on Twitter, so I don’t see it as a great tool for generating business. If they had a better search tool for finding people you want to follow, maybe it’d be okay. But, seriously — and following celebs? I now have no interest at all in that, after reading endless Tweets about what some actor had for lunch, and what he bought when he went shopping.

12   John Dilworth ~ 06 March 2009

A few questions come to mind when thinking of the value of Twitter to me.

How much would I be willing to pay to keep the people that follow me?


How much would I pay to follow the people that I follow?

Right now, it’s not even close to competing with a good sushi dinner.

13   Andrew Fox ~ 11 March 2009

I used to be a Twitter nay-sayer, but I’ve started using it for work, and have found it useful and addictive, even. I’m definitely a convert.

I’m using Twitter for the major Northern CA museum that I work for (link to our Twitter stream above), and I find it a valuable tool for communicating with our ever-growing group of followers. Twitter is the “current big thing” with museums and other cultural institutions, and it allows me to follow trends and news from other museums and museum professionals that use Twitter, too.

14   Paul Bennett ~ 24 March 2009

Great summary Cameron - you must have had that one brewing for a while!

Though I do use it sparingly, I’ve found Twitter really valuable for connecting with small groups of people around a similar interest and getting quick, quality feedback. It’s interesting to tweet links to blog posts and see the reaction you get from those following you. If done well (ie: without much chest thumping) it’s a great way to create dialogue, get feedback and promote content.

@John McDonnell - think of Twitter as a way to generate dialogue and connect with people. If you only see it as a ‘new marketing vehicle’, you’ll inevitably turn people off and get little return.

15   Moataz El Wesimy ~ 31 March 2009

fantastic, but what about Arabic fonts?

seems like cufon ignored it, I have tested the cufon with some arabic text and the result was a blank page.

it would be such a wonderful addition if it could handle Arabic RTL fonts.


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