Posted by: kevinliebl | May 13, 2009

How Businesses can Leverage Twitter – Turn it Upside Down

Kobe Bryant

A 40-point win for the Lakers in Game 5

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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  1. Excellent thoughts.. makes total sense!

  2. Kevin,

    Mastery of the obvious. Great insight Kevin…..couldn’t agree with you more!

  3. interesting!

  4. Brilliant! Yes, to answer your question, I did miss the link to your article. I recently joined Twitter, and admittedly so, admired those with the most followers. Your thoughts bring an interesting vantage point and wonderful insight as to how Twitter should be used, especially for business owners and high level executives. Thank you!

  5. Yes – I had a similar expereince when I “listened-in” to a live concert in Radio City Music Hall – when Sir Paul McCartney sang with Ringo Starr to raise money to teach a million kids to meditate (TM) – my experience is here:

  6. Makes perfect sense! I’m new to Twitter and trying the get the most of all the myriad of technology tools available!
    Thanks Kevin!

    • Ed,

      It is a very simple, but powerful tool. Spend some time researching the ways you can use it and you won’t be disappointed. If you are very serious about learning how to leverage social media in your marketing efforts, take a look at “Groundswell” in my suggested reading. It is an excellent book by the analysts at Forrester research. Good luck and email me if you have questions or if I can help.

      Best Regards, Kevin

  7. Kevin,

    Thanks for the post. I just attended 140 | The Twitter Conference. One of the most interesting panelists was Ross Mayfield, founder of SocialText. He noted that people in organizations will participate in communities at the level that is most comfortable for them. For the vast majority, it is simply listening. It’s a great lesson for me to remember I don’t always have to be active or insightful all the time – often just listening and learning is powerful.

    I’m compiling a series of blog posts on what I learned from the conference (

    Brent (@smokejumper)

    • Brent,

      I just checked out your page. Thanks for the notes on the Twitter conference – very interesting.

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Kevin

  8. Sure thing Kevin – I’ll have a couple/few more posts about the conference over the coming days.


  9. Kevin,

    On one hand I agree with you, we have two ears a only one mouth for a reason. But you are missing another important point – ratio or customer to a CEO is a million to one and that one has more important things to do than listening to millions of shouts, most of which is junk anyway. That’s not a CEO, who should listen to the customers on twitter, but rather marketing departments.


    • Alexei,

      An excellent point. Thanks for bringing it up. The ratio of customers (or target market – including prospects) to CEO is a challenge, but I would argue that it is all in the execution. For example, the CEO could follow the top 50 customers or better yet a cross-section of the top customers. It is far better to “listen-in” on conversations of 50 than to zero. Alternatively, the CEO can simply search within Twitter on company keywords (e.g., product names, brand names, etc.). The CEO could also follow discussions within the company (e.g., sales executives chatter on market challenges, engineering chatter, marketing chatter). The key point is that there is a new tool that can be used to listen to raw data.

      While I agree with you that this is even more important for the marketing department (the subject of other blogs), the problem in most companies is that the marketing department typically doesn’t forward data (or results) to the CEO. If/when they do, it is often watered-down and positioned so as not to create any uncomfortable issues. The real value for the CEO isn’t to be constantly monitoring every piece of data, but to rather drop in and listen from time-to-time. Listen for trends, issues – both good and bad. The value is that the CEO can now (as needed) listen to discussion in raw-format and unaltered. They can hear directly from the customer what is happening. This is significant and extremely powerful.

      Thanks for the comment.

      – Kevin

  10. Thanks for the reminder about listening. I am going to update my latest blog about Twitter to include your point and add a link to your blog.

    I hope you and others might find some thoughts or discussion points on my blog called, Twitter is a wast of time:

  11. As a newcomer to Twitter, I read your blog with great interest. It will take some practice, patience and creativity for biotech executives like me to learn how to use this tool, but I am sure they will. I thank my friend and colleague Toby Elwin for bringing this to my attention.

    -Jack T. Leonard, Ph.D.

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