LI Scary Twitter

The Scary Side of Twitter

When Twitter prepared their IPO in 2013, the buzz got loud enough that perfectly rational people may think they need to add Twitter to their campaigns — just because everybody is doing it. But before you jump into this platform . . . there’s something you should know.

Come close so we can whisper it in your ear: Twitter can be a very scary place. (Cue spooky organ music and a howling wolf.)

Lasting Impressions NewsletterTwitter messaging is immediate, and that makes it an attractive platform to include in campaigns. Broadcast television, publications and even direct mail have excruciating long timelines for production and distribution. Further more, Twitter operates on a no-cost platform, for now, which is an even more attractive attribute for some. These seductive characteristics — fast and free — are seldom a good strategy for business marketing as a rule.

The Twitter-sphere is still a rowdy place to put your message. There isn’t a review process or authoritative body to keep the dialogue polite and accurate. Anyone and everyone can voice their opinion and readers can deem it “gospel”. The lack of authority present on Twitter keeps the foundation constantly shifting and that can be hazardous to your brand.

Furthermore, Twitter messaging requires repetition to reach your audience. John Podhoretz, editor, writer, and self-described Twitter addict, calls Twitter a “rapidly moving river where messages are quickly washed away as though it never existed in the first place.” In practice, even a well-written tweet can disappear as quickly as if it were written on a sandy beach at high tide. Generally speaking, tweets don’t have much staying power. Unless they’re funny, or include a picture of a baby or puppy.

There are some pretty shady characters on Twitter, taking up valuable bandwidth and possibly sitting right next to your message in someone’s feed. No doubt, Twitter magnifies personal choices and activities, and then broadcast it to the entire world with often dramatic consequences. A handful of personalities easily illustrate how the need to tweet can devastate livelihoods and families: Anthony Weiner, Jofi Joseph, or Alec Baldwin. (Scratch that last one — that guy is bulletproof.) It’s a unique attribute for a marketing platform, and that is reason enough to carefully consider whether Twitter should be the first communication medium used to reach those valuable customers.

There are a few more creepy points to consider before you tweet  — if you dare.

  • 140 280 characters. Keep it short ’cause that’s all the space you’ve got to get your message across. Twitter doubled the character count in each tweet in 2018, but you still need to be concise. Also assume that each tweet will be read as a single, independent message and avoid stringing several together in sequence to get the whole message out. For a little perspective, the outgoing message on your voice mail is probably 250 characters when written out, spaces included.
  • Context doesn’t count. Relying on cultural context or current events beyond the 140 280 characters in your message is problematic as you can’t control when, or where, your message will be read. This fascinating because the Library of Congress captures and catalogs all the tweets sent each day. As of January, 2013, nearly 170 billion tweets sent from 2006 – 2010 have been archived. In October of 2012, the Library of Congress archived nearly 500,000,000 tweets A DAY. How do the researchers assigned to the program make sense of all those tweets? (Update: Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the Library began a new policy to capture selective tweets instead of all messages and no longer publishes the number of tweets retained.)
  • Twitter has it’s own language. Not only are you limited by the number of characters used in a tweet, the message has to coexist with unique code phrases and cues. Hashtags (#), acronyms (LOL, MT, D and so on) and special characters ( web addresses) show up frequently in tweets requiring the reader to use an extra layer of comprehension to understand the message. Here’s a list of 34 Twitter definitions that can help you get a grip on the language. It’s also regular practice to invent abbreviations for common phrases in the middle of thread. If the audience isn’t familiar this style of communicating, or sharp enough to comprehend the authors meaning, the message sweeps past them in a grey noise of jumbled characters.
  • Twitter Quitters. 36% of new Twitter users quit using their accounts in 2013. Update: More than one million users quit Twitter after three months in 2017. It moves too fast, it’s too hard to follow, and some “just don’t get it.” The adoption rate for Twitter is already narrow and is hampered because of points 1,2 and 3 above.
  • Bots (as in “Robots”). Nearly 24% 15% of the accounts on Twitter (Update: or about 48 million accounts) are automated, digital accounts that are not tied to a person who can read your content. Some of the nonperson accounts are spam, and some are regenerative sharing your tweet with a wider audience. It’s a unique component that can further dilute your audience.


Did you jump? Get the stuffing scared out of you? It’s all in good fun for Halloween. But there is a lesson here — there’s a very narrow path where Twitter can contribute to your marketing initiative. Just know where you are headed. Don’t go in there alone. After midnight. During a full moon.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013. A few sources and statistics were updated in May 2018 and are noted above.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Good points, Elke. I have a Twitter account that I visit once in a while, but I wouldn’t call myself an avid Twitter user. I just can’t keep up with the quick flow and fractured nature of the conversation.

    That said, Twitter can be a great resource for a company that can directly respond to tweets quickly and thoughtfully. For example, if @XYZCompany sees a tweet from somebody complaining of a bad service experience, they can publicly address or correct the problem.

    1. You’re right, Laura. Customer service is a great use of Twitter for quick answers or initial issue reporting. Especially when tweets are paired with photos to document what’s going on. If the matter is too complicated or emotional, communication can degrade pretty fast. Companies can use Twitter for initial points of contact for customer service, and then quickly direct customers to more traditional means of communication to resolve the matter more completely.

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