Culture and Authenticity: Lessons from 140: The Twitter Conference

140: The Twitter Conference, presented by the Parnassus Group, is currently in its second day at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. The event focuses on many business aspects of Twitter, and has drawn speakers including Levar Burton, Tony Robbins, Tony Hawk, and even a guest appearance by PeeWee (Paul Rubens) Herman, along with Jonathan I. Ezor. The panels have covered entertainment, comedy, brand management, customer relationships, and software development.

There have, though, been a few common themes throughout the different presentations: the culture of Twitter, and authenticity. These have particular relevance for advertising and marketing efforts using the Twitter service, because of the rapidity with which a misstep on Twitter is publicized. As one speaker said during a panel yesterday, "People are so quick to tweet negatively that if you get it wrong, you can get it very very wrong."

Twitter's culture arises out of the intimacy which users feel from the service (as if it is enabling 1 to 1 communication, even if in fact the tweets are going out to 2 million different users), since the only users whose tweets one sees are those one has chosen to follow. Direct messages may only be sent to users who follow the sender, and services like TwitPic enable easy attachment of photographs, often within seconds of their being taken. Twitter is meant for short (140 characters), quick and personal messages, and overt advertising (or, even worse, advertising pretending to be a non-commercial message) strikes users as false and inappropriate, even where the same message might be fine as a banner ad on Facebook or a blog site. The culture of Twitter, though, does lend itself to certain focused types of marketing efforts, especially prize promotions and competitions, but remember that the law still applies even to a Twitter-based sweepstakes. While some users criticized any advertising-based tweets, others are fine with them, so long as they clearly disclose what (and for whom) they are pitching. (In fact, Twitter ad network was a featured sponsor of the conference.)

Another clear message coming out of the conference was the demand for authenticity. To a one, attendees and even the celebrity speakers sharply criticized so-called "ghost tweeting," where a publicist or agency posts messages to Twitter "as" the celebrity. Users can (or at least believe they can) spot "ghost tweeting" whenever it occurs, and rather than feeling a closer connection to the celebrity, it completely turns off prospective followers (who may also be prospective viewers or customers).

Twitter can be a tremendous channel for building relationships with customers, but it can also be a quick route to a bad reputation as well. Marketers and advertisers seeking to explore and exploit Twitter should be very aware of the culture its users have developed, and the authenticity they require, in order to maximize the value of any Twitter-based marketing/advertising effort.

Our advertising and Internet business practices are addressing Twitter-related issues for many of our clients. Please let us know if we can be of any assistance. You may also follow Jonathan Ezor as @ProfJonathan on Twitter.

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