One of the challenges of marketing and branding in the online space is that change is a constant – just when you feel like you are coming to grips with the plethora of tools, platforms and approaches, along comes something new that may (or may not) provide you with yet another way to reach, entertain, engage and delight your customers. Or it could just be a waste of time.

The challenge is knowing where to invest your time and effort … and this is where Twitter comes in handy for me. My network of friends, acquaintances and followers helps me filter the large volume of knowledge that is available online. Explaining this to someone new to Twitter is difficult for a number of reasons:

  • Neighbourhoods are hard to find: When you are new it is hard to find people that you are interested in – and the conversations appear closed or the etiquette unclear
  • Scaling is difficult: Once you find some people with whom you find an affinity, it can be overwhelming to consider engaging with ever larger numbers of people
  • Sweating the details: New participants are turned off by the minutiae of some interactions. It is easy to become annoyed or frustrated at the “over sharing” that takes place online.
  • The only rule: There is only one rule on Twitter and that is – if you don’t like what you hear, un-follow.

As I have explained previously, there are three stages to Twitter commitment, and those who don’t make the effort to FIND value in their newly forming networks will often ask “who gives a hoot about Twitter?”. But for brands (and individuals) there are some significant opportunities.

4elementsSocialMedia

In his talk to the National Library of Congress, Professor Michael Wesch described the four elements of social media as user generated content, distribution, commentary and filtering. However, I feel that it is “context” rather than commentary that is important in understanding social media. After all, value is created when we each create a lens through which the people in our networks can more readily make sense of the torrent of information, knowledge and emergent behaviour displayed online.

It is the VALUE exchange which is important – and Twitter plays a role in each of the four elements of social media. It can be used to create content, to filter and distribute it, and via hash tags and groupings, it can create context. Those who have more deeply engaged with Twitter find value in each of these areas … and appear to do so intuitively.

But how does this play out statistically? How should this fit within a continuous digital strategy?

Here are some graphs from my own usage of Twitter. I started using Hootsuite to track the click throughs from my Twitter messages (tweets) in February 2009 and in three months I had generated 15,581 click throughs. This is 15,000 site visits that would never have happened had I NOT tweeted.

hootsuite1

Interestingly, only one of the top 10 destination sites was my own – so clearly those in my network are more interested in what I say about others than what I say about myself. And, of course, there are many re-tweets in amongst these figures (where others re-post your message) – meaning that the original message is spread further (or virally) into weakly-linked, adjacent networks.

hootsuite2

Is this important for individuals and brands? I believe so. The ease with which Twitter can be used across the four elements of social media, and its capacity to AMPLIFY your other social media efforts and activities, makes it (at this moment) a uniquely useful part of your marketing mix. You just have to make the effort to create value before you think you can extract it – and if you are smart you will find they are one and the same thing.