As I watched the Lakers dismantle the Houston Rockets last night in game 5 of the NBA playoffs, I tried an experiment with Twitter. I followed the game on my iPhone using TwitterFon. It provided a fascinating new way to experience the game. I was able to listen in as Jeanie Buss (the Laker’s EVP) sent a “Tweet” to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, telling him to prompt Phil to replace Fisher with the younger and faster Jordan Farmar. I heard Kareem comment on the dominant defense that the Lakers brought to the court. I heard Jeanie say that she was sitting behind Denzel Washington “and his beautiful wife”. I heard chatter as people tried to figure out who the woman was sitting courtside with “yellow socks”. I heard Jeanie comment that she had “goose bumps” when the Lakers were up by 35 and the crowd spontaneously broke into a “wave” that went around the stadium 12 times. It was as if I was sitting next to all these people and was there courtside at the game.
It reminded me that Twitter is more about “listening” than “talking”. To become part of a community, you need to listen to those around you. If you listen closely, you begin to hear, smell and feel the environment. As I watched the game and listened to the conversations, I felt like I was at the game. This is what businesses need to do, to truly leverage Twitter.
I recently read an excellent article in BusinessWeek about How CEOs use Twitter. It was very well written and gave great insight into how 50 top CEOs are leveraging Twitter in their daily activities. They each listed their favorite people to follow. There were all the names you would expect (e.g., CNN, WSJ, analysts, other CEOs, fellow travelers, thought leaders). With the exception of probably two CEOs, no one mentioned the most important category – customers.
In simple terms, Twitter is a one-to-many communication tool. One person talks and many people listen. Today, Twitter is in it’s infancy, and let’s be honest – Twitter is focused on “shouting”. It has become a game to see who can get the most followers. CEOs are using it to pontificate to their employees. “Thought Leaders” are using it to build large followings around specific subject matter. There is a lot of shouting going on, but very little listening, by those that should be listening. If you look at the CEOs in this article, the ratio of people following them, to people they are following (with a few exceptions) is 10-1, 20-1 or even 50-1. Yes, they have important things to say, but they are missing a key value of Twitter – the ability to deeply understand their customers and their markets.
I believe that as Twitter usage matures, we will see a shift from shouting to listening. The novelty of executives building huge followings and “Tweeting” throughout the day will wear off. They will begin to realize that the larger business value is in listening. The smartest thing these CEOs could do is to turn Twitter upside down. 90% of these CEOs should have said “the top 20% of people I follow is a cross-section of my customers”.
Action Item: As I have said in other blogs, chatter is occurring all the time among your customers. They are saying good things, neutral things and bad things about your company, products and services. There is far greater ROI in listening than talking. Turn Twitter upside down and stop using it as a bullhorn and use it as a way to sit courtside as you watch and learn from your customers.
Update: There is now a second post on this topic. See part II by clicking here.
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