Saturday, May 9, 2009

Some Longish Thoughts on Short Content

Hello. If you're one of the folks who followed me over from Ning to Google Blogger, thanks for trailing after me. If you're just dropping in, thank you too. FYI, Communications Hell is intended to be a place where interesting communications situations are dissected and, with any luck, some useful learning gets generated. In the coming weeks I'll be porting content from the Ning site over here. Of course if you want something looked into or have some experiences to share, drop me a line.

Short content. You know where I'm going with this. But no, this is not just another article on Twitter and truncated texts. I'm not going to go into excruciating technical detail about how to roll out a Twitter strategy (you'll have to pay me for that!). Instead I'd like to propose a way of thinking of this form of communication.

I used to think that Twitter was just Facebook
for folks with ADHD but events in Moldova forced me to a sobering reconsideration.Moldova - wedged between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is one of those dreadful post-Soviet states whose leadership ran it like a corrupt little fiefdom.

Earlier this year the ruling Communist Party just happened to win another election in a landslide. A journalist, Natalia Morar, used Twitter, blogs and text messaging to organize resistance to the government.

A series of protests rocked the capital as 'flash mobs' formed and descended on pre-arranged meeting places. While the government didn't fall, a crack of sorts formed and there's a glimmer of democratic light peeking through. It reminded me a little of Joe Trippi's chronicle of the Howard Dean campaign, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Once again, I am forced to point out that we can't confuse the technology platform with the behaviour it enables. Twitter is good enough for now. So is text messaging. Both will be replaced by something else as technologies evolve. But the way we use brief messaging is what is interesting. If you remember, text messaging was an afterthought, a bonus feature added to mobile phones. No one expected that it would be so ubiquitous. It's a reflexive mode of communication for anyone with a mobile phone. Twitter, while not ubiquitous (yet) is redefining how we want to communicate.

So what is the behaviour? Simply put, a way of condensing our conversations. We strip the message down to the bone.
Immediacy and simplicity characterize this genre of communication. The best of 140 character Twitter messages are pithy, focused on le mot juste. The worst are just garbage, random assortments of clumsy txt abbrvs. wrttn by the sblitrit. I quite like the 140 character music reviews found on Musebin. Here's one for Tom Waits' Mule Variations CD:

A record about dogs, horses, old houses and ugly stories told with a piano, a sax and haunting percussion that, by the end has you howling.

What can we learn from Musebin? For one, it's useful. Music reviews are consumed by folks needing to make a decision - should I go see Tom Waits in concert or get this CD? Help me make that decision but don't make me wade through a 1,000 word review. Get to the marrow of it... in 140 characters.

For media companies and agencies, the question is often 'how do we monetize this genre of communication?' On the client side the issue is more 'how we integrate it into our communications planning?' While I have some ideas about how folks (aside from Twitter itself) will make money from this form of communication (check out Sawhorse Media to get some ideas), I want to deal with the second question.

Utility - this is one thing often missed by people who think: our organization needs a Twitter strategy. What can you tell me via Twitter that I really want to read? Why are you interesting and relevant to me? This is a vital consideration. Unlike conventional advertising (which can often survive on flash), Twitter has to really do something - entertain or supply something useful. For example, Sarvodaya, a Sri Lankan relief organization, uses Twitter to keep folks abreast of relief efforts.

When you are planning the Twitter piece of your strategy you need to ask yourself - what appetite does our audience have for our musings? What will motivate them to follow us? Often it's the nakedness or the wit of the conversation. Is your organization adventurous enough to talk like that or are you cautious? Or, if you use it as to drive folks to fuller content elsewhere, is that content good/valuable? Can you deliver on that consistently? I return to the ADHD idea - dull Tweets make audiences scatter quickly. For the love of God, don't be boring.

But what about resource allocation? Those who are seduced by Twitter often over-allocate their communications people and dollars without considering what share of voice it really has. The Moldova revolution was composed almost entirely of under 25s. If you are focused entirely on this demographic then by all means pile in but if you need to connect with other segments then some sober thinking (and parceling out of the budget) is needed.

Will Twitter revolutionize how we talk to each other? Um, no. But it's a symptom of a new(ish) way of communicating, another channel to engage your audiences. Sure you can change the world with Twitter (on occasion). You can sell more stuff too. But perhaps a more modest goal would be a more authentic conversation.

For the record, I bought that Tom Waits CD based on the Musebin review.

PS Send me your best and worst of Twitter strategies and executions. I'll feature them in a future post.

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