Is Twitter's Marketing Power Going to Waste?

The Internet is buzzing with discussion on exactly how the social-network site Twitter can turn its business into profit. With a simple purpose—short message sharing—and millions of users you'd think it'd be easy. But some new research by Webtrends has cast doubt on the idea that advertising could be the way to Twitter will do it.

The research was designed to probe how businesses in Europe exploit social networking sites for marketing, and the results show that Twitter was used as a marketing tool by just 2% of the companies surveyed. Viral marketing, blogs and podcasts were all used by over 5% of the group. Online advertising was used by 35%. The most popular form of marketing is the oldest technique among all the options—direct email, with over 45% adoption.

Essentially WebTrends research has found that though Twitter is a free and fast tool ripe for exploitation by marketing departments, it's just not being utilized (most Twitter users are probably happy to hear this). The reasons why aren't probed by the research, but they're pretty easy to guess: Twitter is very new, and people aren't at all sure how to best exploit it. It's far simpler to stick with what you know.

Twitter has no specific tools in place to let you use it as a marketing tool yet—there are no advertising panels for sale for example. But it's perfectly possible to use it in its current mode—it just requires a more a hands-on approach, attracting followers to your Twitter feed, monitoring interactions, engaging in conversations and being careful not to bombard them with information. It's also arguable that Twitter usage is less in Europe than in the U.S. for regional reasons, with U.S. companies happier to swiftly embrace new technology.

The WebTrends data remains fascinating, though, running head-to-head with the research performed by Facebook recently implying Twitter-like stream feeds are two to four times more effective than other online methods of communication for getting your message to a larger audience. 

For the time being it seems the potential advantages of Twitter are simply being outweighed by the inertia of older advertising methods: your inbox will be stuffed with more advertising junk mail for a while before your Twitter feed is. It's also something for Twitter to take note of—if it is to earn cash from its business, direct advertising may not be the best way to do it. On the other hand, luring marketers into a new technology before it's fully ripened can be just as problematic, as the current state of Second Life clearly illustrates.

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