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Steve Rubel Talks Twitter

Question: How significant is Twitter as a marketing vehicle?

Steve Rubel: It’s huge right now, and I stress the words “right now."

What’s interesting about Twitter is as a marketing vehicle is that, one, it has a huge community and growing. Years ago, when I did media relations, I don’t do media relations anymore but what I did, the best tip I ever got was to go where the media are. It’s just much easier to get results if you do something where the media are already gathered than to try and get the media to come to you, for whatever it is you’re trying to do. This day that’s a tactic a lot of PR professionals make heavy use of. 

It’s the same exact thing in social media. You want to go where there’s already people and there’s a lot of people on Twitter and the numbers show that they’re growing. And I know that, at some point, they will plateau and somebody else will come along and it will be kind of interesting to see how things shake out, but I think the way you, the reason it’s taken a lot from marketers is that one, the community is there. 

Two, it’s lightweight. I can’t even tell you how many clients over the years I’ve talked about blogging, and they were all interested about it and they all had interest in it. But the problem was that they were just afraid of the time to manage their comments, the time to create the content. Creating content is a lot of work. You know it. I know it. It’s a lot of work to create good content.

But on Twitter, it’s actually easier and it’s lightweight in a 140-character nature that makes it actually pretty easy for one person or two people to participate in a credible and meaningful way over a period of time.

So, I think the way marketers are using it now is some are using it as a pure just information-delivery mechanism. That’s fine. I don't think it's going to get you very far, but it's fine. The more savvy brands are using it as a customer service tool and a feedback mechanism where they can actually listen and respond to customers in real time and that’s been very effective.

Others are doing promotions in Twitter and, or contests. So I think that there’s fun things that are happening there.

It’s working because the community is there, they’re receptive to brands, if they are respectful of the space and contribute.  I think the platform is very flexible in what you could do with it. But you know, again, we’ll see where this all goes.

Question: Will Twitter succeed where other networking sites have failed?

Steve Rubel: I think that there’s a few things they have going for them that those guys don’t.  First, they have this incredible developer ecosystem. They opened up the ways that programmers could build applications on top of Twitter in ways that really nobody else has ever done for free, and this has spawned thousands of mash-ups, desktop applications and search engines and all kinds of innovation. And I think that they can find a way to help those folks monetize those and in the process when you get some share of that revenue. So, I think that’s an avenue with the developer community. It's an avenue for them to monetize. 

Advertising; I’m not bullish on the prospects for advertising in Twitter. I think they’ve set up their community the way they’ve set it up, and it’s going to be hard to introduce that in a credible way. I think that around search though, they’ve got a big opportunity there, to monetize that; I think that’s an area they can monetize.

But their challenge right now, and I think with your focus on it from everything I’ve been reading and from my discussions with them is, they’re focused on maintaining and growing their community. And I think that’s exactly the spot-on thing to do. They’ve got plenty of cash and they have to focus on making sure they don’t lose their community because they lose their community then all the modernization options in the world are going to matter, and we’ll see if they're the ones that break the cycle. 

I don’t know if they can, you know, FriendFeed is coming in strong with this, a certain group of influencers, and innovating in some incredible ways and they can be much easier to manage the conversation and to navigate it.

It's early. I think Twitter is going to be around a force for several. The question really is, it comes in the culture. Will people get tired of Tweetting? Will they just get tired of it and we’re fickle online. And I think that’s going to be interesting to watch.

Recorded on: May 27, 2009.

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