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Twitter’s shifting winds. Dead Social Media Walking?

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I never was much of a Twitter fan. Years ago, people whom I respected for their business savvy told me I had to start using it.

“But I don’t want to,” I responded. “It seems so pointless. ‘I had scrambled eggs this morning.’ Who cares?”

“You don’t understand,” my career-advising friends told me. “You have to, if for no other reason than to build your brand.”

Well, I hadn’t known I had a brand, but apparently I did. But why did I have to build it? And why through Twitter?

Yet I dutifully did as I was told. I signed up for Twitter and started tweeting, although I never liked it. Before long, I had thousands of followers.

That was success of a sort, I guess. But I never did figure out what to say on Twitter. Facebook was totally different. It felt freer, more open, more wide-horizoned. Twitter by contrast felt as confined as a procrustean bed.

And then of course there was this blog, which afforded me all the opportunity I really wanted to communicate instantly and intelligently with others through social media.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t love Twitter. There’s been a spate of media reporting in the last few days about the company’s problems. On June 11, CEO Dick Costolo, under fire recently for Twitter’s failing to hit revenue and profitability targets, resigned (or was pushed out; who knows?).

On June 12, Twitter’s stock price was at $35.90, its lowest in more than a year despite a surging stock market. On June 14—yesterday (and coincidentally my birthday)–one of Twitter’s biggest shareholders, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, told the Financial Times than Twitter’s next CEO, whoever he or she is, “has to have tech savviness, an investor-oriented process and a marketing mentality.”

Things have gotten so bad that a Harvard professor recently called Twitter “the BlackBerry of social media.” (Ouch!) BlackBerry’s stock has basically flat-lined for the last three years.

What’s the problem? It was described well on the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog: It’s virtually impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. And on twitter there is a lot of chaff…up to 90% of a typical twitter feed is basically a waste of everyone’s time.”

I’ve been a big advocate of social media for wineries for years, although I never drank the Kool-Aid that some people apparently did, who thought that social media (and especially Twitter) was the greatest marketing tool ever. My attitude was, social media can’t hurt. If you have a few minutes during the day, you might as well do something on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest. Who knows? You might actually drum up some sales. But I never thought social media should be anyone’s fulltime job, unless the winery is so well-heeled that they don’t care.

I think these latest travails of Twitter represent a tipping point of sorts. Social media flared up in the mid- and late 2000s like a wildfire sweeping across a drought-stricken plain. It seemed for a while that everyone in the world was going to abandon traditional forms of communication and go digital.

But perhaps the wildfire has now consumed much of the fuel that gave it breath. We in California understand the behavior of wildfires. They rage only for as long as the dry offshore winds drive them. But the wind always shifts; once an onshore pattern kicks in, the wind sends the fire back over land it has already consumed; and the fire, deprived of fuel, dies.

What wind is blowing social media now, and in which direction? We may have only to look at Twitter to discern the answer. And the lesson for wineries (there always is one)? Be smart in your choices of which social media to use, and how often, and at what cost. There is, and always has been, lots of chatter out there to convince you of its value. While this chatter has been enthusiastic, it has not always been accurate.

  1. Phil Grosse says:

    Gee, Steve, couldn’t you have said that in 135 characters or less?

  2. I finally got around to looking at Twitter just last week. Typical for me, I get on board just as something is going out of fashion.

  3. Most of my Twitter feed is interesting and I get a lot of joy from it because I limit who I follow.

    People let artificial social “rules” of Twitter dictate their use of the medium: you follow me, and then I follow you. This is what’s killing it.

    Only follow people whose feeds are interesting and your Twitter experience will be much better.

    I also enjoy Twitter much more since I lost my inhibitions about blocking people who are rude to me personally out of the blue.

    Now I use the “block” button liberally, and the “follow” button conservatively, and I love Twitter.

  4. Richard says:

    Generally, I try to be short and humorous when commenting. But, on this one I will seriously say that one can only hope that “anti-social media” is dwindling down and will eventually stop. I never engaged in Facebook or Twitter – I don’t want to share what I did this morning nor share photos of whatever on my page…

    Social media, so called, has been the death knell of actual face to face social interaction. Many people have no idea even how to introduce themselves in a “real” social situation these days – and no, I am not picking on any group – it is across the board – from baby boomers of my generation to someone just beginning to realize there is a world beyond their neighborhood…

    Unfortunately, change isn’t easy – and suspect that social media will continue to limp along without really changing or knowing what has happened to them/it (sort of like the Republican Party)… So, Steve, think your prediction of it’s demise is slightly premature…

  5. To Blake’s point, it’s how you use the service that matters. If you indiscriminately follow people who follow you then you end up with a useless, noisy stream. Constrain your follows to people whose opinion you really care about and the value goes up dramatically.

    There are so many ways the signal-to-noise can be improved for Twitter and even though they’ve shot themselves in the foot by eliminating third party client innovation, they’ll figure it out. $23B market cap… an indispensable information utility for hundreds of millions of people. Twitter’s not going away.

    Having said that, I remain convinced that wine needs its own social network.

  6. Stefano Poggi says:

    I think you might have a lot of Social Media professionals weighing in on this one….

    A small part of my job is the US social media for an Italian winery. I’ve only done it for a little while and haven’t seen the need to commit a lot of time to that part of the project, but I do feel that that time investment has reasonably returned results. Twitter in particular makes it easy to engage with customers one at a time and make an impact. However, to be perfectly honest, I rarely read my Twitter feed and just concentrate on searching out folks that might be interested in having a direct link to the winery. As was mentioned previously, smart engagement does make for a better experience.

  7. There is a large difference between using Twitter for social interaction among peers as Blake does and trying to create “a brand”, which Steve and I tried.

    Thousands of followers, very few of whom ever really interacted with content that I posted and only a few who ever become readers of my paid site.

    I gave it up because the returns were low. Just as Steve does, I communicate most effectively through my blog and through emails with my subscribers. I don’t have new releases or a story line that I want someone to buy into so perhaps Twitter is not the best medium for a publication anyhow.

    But, using Twitter the way Blake does has very little to do with building a brand. It is just a way of communicating with chosen “friends”, and that is fine. It, however, does not build Twitter’s brand either, and that is why, whether Twitter limps along or disappears, it has not great future in its present guise.

  8. Charlie: I’m not communicating with “friends” on Twitter. Very few of the people I follow are my actual friends, though some I know professionally. The people whose feeds I follow are ones that enrich my life and knowledge and don’t junk up my screen with one-word conversations.

    Everybdy has to have their own social media strategy. Mine is to enjoy it. I try to write the kind of tweets that I personally would enjoy reading, but I don’t promise to follow anyone. If someone wants to follow me, that’s their choice.

    I’m not trying to build a brand, no. But I do have 7000 followers, and Twitter does help spread the news about work I’m doing for various media entities.

  9. I remember when “I had scrambled eggs this morning” was the way people mocked blogging. And of course there were bloggers who did just write about tedious personal minutiae, but they didn’t attract or keep many readers.

    I wonder if Twitter’s problem isn’t so much the signal-noise ratio (after all, Sturgeon’s Law says that 95% of everything is crap, not just Twitter), but that it’s harder to monetize. You can’t fit ads within a tweet, so the only way to market it is to have the tweets BE the ads, and consumers aren’t interested in reading those and can easily tune them out.

  10. I’ve seen tweeting as an online group txt format that anyone can join, provided you have the time. If you have the time to sit in front of a computer and have conversations with fellow tweeps, great. But there is a lot of reactionary, instant analysis/judgement, and tangents that make the twitterverse one that I don’t interact with simply because of structure, or lack thereof. Nor do I believe that 135 characters are enough to express a thought or series of them.

    Grab Grape Nuts and Milk, is an effective tweet and txt.
    Accident on E580@HighSt combining Waze and Twitter is useful.
    Drinking Cabernet in Dry Creek…who cares

    Discussing IPOB or California Cabernet is best done on a blog where we can explore a series of thoughts and meaningful debate with 300 words or more.

    I get more mileage out of Instagram and FB.

  11. I find Twitter very useful. Most wine bloggers interact quite a bit and we get to know each other. Then we meet in person at various wine events such as the Rhone Rangers and Tapas. We also interact with winemakers and others at wineries. That makes for a more personal experience when we visit those wineries. In addition 27% of the traffic to my blog is via twitter referrals.

    Through Twitter I have found more interesting wines then I ever would going to the local wine store or reading industry magazines that love to tout wines at $50 to $150 a bottle and up.

    There are many wine events I would not even know existed without Twitter, especially smaller local events.

    If you are well known, social media is not that important but when first starting out Twitter and Facebook help you get known. If a new Robert Parker were to come along today how would they get recognition? Certainly not by having a mailing list sent to established wine outlets.

  12. Bob Henry says:

    “It seems so pointless. ‘I had scrambled eggs this morning.’ Who cares?”

    In the immortal words of American satirist Tom Lehrer (excerpted from the introduction to his song “Alma”):

    “I feel that if a person can’t communicate [*], the very least he can do is to shut up!”

    [*cogently and compellingly — Bob]

  13. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal
    (November 6, 2013, Section and Page Unknown):

    “Small Businesses Question Twitter’s Usefulness”

    Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304672404579182020224461560

    By Yoree Koh and Sarah E. Needleman
    Staff Writers

    . . . analysts, advisers and Twitter executives themselves say that cultivating and reaching an audience on the short-message service can require more time and effort than many small-business owners feel they can afford.

  14. Bill Stephenson says:

    My wife and I were part of a 4-couple dinner Sunday night in Nevada City. Ages ranged from 48-58, all professionals, 3 small business owners.
    2 of the business owners use Twitter daily to promote their brewery/restaurant (Daily specials, events, new brews, etc.)and to a lesser degree use Facebook and email alerts for the same reasons. Neither keeps a personal Facebook account because they don’t want to know what their employees are doing in their free time, and vice-versa. Twitter is very useful for them

    Everyone else at the table, myself included, is on Facebook.
    We all made arrangements to meet for dinner through IM.
    Made the reservation through Open Table.
    After dinner 2 members posted the meal on Facebook.

    Each of us, in our own way, is either dependent on or effectively using digital media but twitter seems to be the best business tool.

    At dinner I reminisced, since all 4 guys were from the same high school (1981 & 1982), about how “back in the day” we used a phone-tree and good ol word of mouth to socialize. Living in a mountain community in the 80’s some people even had Party Lines.

    Interesting to live through the changes of the past 30 years

  15. Josh Moser says:

    IMHO wine stores and wineries are not using Twitter properly. When I get an email from a wine store talking about some great wine, they should also be sending out a message via Twitter with a link that will allow you to purchase a wine. Very few people follow me on Twitter, but often times, when I tweet about a wine I am drinking, I will include the price and where it was purchased. Below is an example –

    Josh Moser ‏@VinoServant Jun 13 View translation
    Purchased 2014 Bertani Bertarose Venezie IGT – #wine http://cellartracker.com/w?2119724 . $15 at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park.

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