Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How The World Has Changed!

So, where were you Sunday night when you heard the news about the death of Bin Laden?  Actually, a more pertinent question should be, HOW did you hear about the death of Bin Laden?  This question matters because it reflects how technology has fundamentally changed how we receive information.  Again, this isn't a newsflash like lightning from the sky.  Technology has a history of changing information gathering and dissemination.

It started with the printing press, moved along into radio, then television and ultimately computers.  There's no denying that smartphones have been the next evolution in that process.  But what happened Sunday night was surprising. 

I started a tweet...that started the whole world cheering!

I actually found out from a post on Facebook.  A friend of mine works in a Washington D.C. newsroom and posted the news on his Facebook page just minutes before I received the breaking news alert on my iPhone.  I was watching some cable TV show, blissfully unaware of the world-changing events taking place.  But once I saw the FB post, I immediately switched to the networks in an effort to make sure it was real. 

Being the news junky I am, I switched between CBS, ABC, FOX (always interesting to see how they handle their news).  I even took a moment to peek at ESPN, just to see how they might be handling the information.  Remember, this was about 40 minutes before President Obama made the official announcement on television. 

Of course, the networks were all over the breaking story.  However the most fascinating moment of the night for me emerged from Philadelphia, where the Mets and Philly's were playing a usual early-season nighttime game.  Suddenly and without warning, a buzz started to rise from the crowd of 40-thousand in attendance.  Within minutes, the crowd erupted into an impromptu chant of "U-S-A, U-S-A!"  There had been no official announcement made over the P.A. system, or flashed across the scoreboard at that point.  Just thousands of folks receiving the news on their smartphones.

Instead of waiting to hear the news on network TV, instead of dealing with vague rumors until the President confirmed the facts, Americans, heck, the world, was flashing the news as quickly as millions of fingers could type and hit send.

An Avalanche of Tweets

And the numbers back this up.  According to Twitter on Monday, a record 12.4 million Tweets were sent per hour following the revelation that Bin Laden had been killed.  Mashable.com noted the following from Twitter:
"At 11pm ET, just beore Obama's speech, users generated 5,106 tweets PER SECOND, the highest single volume of tweets during the night.  At 11:45pm, just when he finished his speech, Twitter users were sending 5,008 tweets per second."
Even the average from 10:45 pm to 12:30 am ET, three-thousand per second, resulted in a whopping 27,900,000 tweets in just two hours and 35 minutes.  That's impressive, no doubt.  But, like everything else, these numbers need to be placed in context.

There's no doubt that the flood of Tweets prove, once again, that it is a powerful tool to relay information.  It's easy to type in a few keystrokes, hit send and now someone else knows what you know.  But what happens to that information?  Certainly getting the news at light speed is valuable, however what happens after that initial blast of information remains crucial.

News has been changed forever by Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites.  But ask yourself what you did immediately after you heard the news.  The majority of individuals, when possible, did what I did; turn to a news network to get more information. 

Twitter hasn't destroyed news.  In a way it's enhanced it.  It has opened the lines of communications between newsroom and the average Joe.  It increased the speed in which we get news headlines.  What it hasn't done is replaced news itself.  In the end, all Twitter can do is provide headlines.  While those may catch the eye and raise interest, we still need those headlines, those bits of information to be filled out with details and context.

I didn't sit around waiting for more Tweets to tell me what had happened.  I went to my BBC app on my iPhone right away for any details.  I then checked out my AP app., all while switching around the networks to get more information.  Twitter can only raise the flag, it can't tell the whole story.

So what does this all mean?

From a news standpoint, it's a bit comforting.  When news breaks, it alerts folks to tune into their local tv stations or check out the networks, or news websites for more details.  And as long as the headlines continue to be newsworthy, people will continue to tune in. 

Ultimately, though, it means that despite the power and the reach of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, they're only good up to a point.  At some point you have to provide them with the meat of the story.  FB and Twitter can tease and inform, but they can't tell the whole story. 

As a small business or non-profit, you should pay attention to this point.  It really comes down to the old problem with advertising.  If you advertise one thing, and the product or service is completely different, eventually consumers will get wise.  The same thing goes for quality.  You may do a great job getting people to try out your latest dish, but if it's not good, you can be sure they won't be coming back.  Worse yet, they'll tell everyone they know how awful it was.

If you're using Twitter to get information out about your latest special or deal or interesting tidbit, you have to follow up on that tweet with real quality.  If you tweet about a blog, that blog had better be worth reading, otherwise, it will eventually be ignored and your readership will decline. 

What we did after we saw the initial tweets about Bin Laden's death is typical of what folks do when they see an interesting tweet about any topic.  The first thing they do is to check it out.  People are cynical, they are cautious, particularly when it comes to their pocketbook.  Your tweet may get them to check out your website, business, non-profit, blog, YouTube site, etc., but if you don't have the quality to back up your Twitter headline, you'll lose those followers and Twitter will become useless to you.

Don't think of Twitter as a singular marketing tool.  Think of it more like one part of a bigger machine.  Before you can even begin to use Twitter effectively, you HAVE to spend time creating your product or service.  You have to make sure your blog is interesting.  You have to make sure that the final destination is worth the trip. 

Because remember this.  Twitter can be used by larger entities to get the message out.  But it's at its most powerful when in the hands of the individual user.  You may get your tweet out to thousand of people, but that is only the beginning.  Once those people have tested your product, they'll have the last word.  If they liked it, they'll tweet their friends and let them know.  They may even retweet your future tweets. 

If they didn't like what you're selling?  Then you could be in trouble.  Because just as they'll tell friends if they like you, they'll tell EVERYONE who will listen if they don't like you.  That aspect hasn't changed, despite the influx of technology.  In fact, it's just enhanced that typically human behavior. 

In the end, if you can't produce what your Twitter headline promises you could end up in the worst place of all, and that's simply being ignored.  If people are complaining, they're at least talking about you and you have a chance to answer the critics.  If you are ignored, your organization becomes persona-non-grata.  And on Twitter, there's nothing worse.

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