Friday, April 2, 2010

Twitter Speakerboxes vs. Socialistas

Are you or your company a Speakerbox, or an engaged Socialista within a community? When you show up on a follower’s feed, do they get value from what you are saying? Do you come across as more than just a marketing mission statement?

The Speakerbox

When I first started using Twitter, I was amazed at the amount of people that would turn every posting into a complicated version of, “Hey, I’m cool, look at my blog!” They were usually businesses, and came across as not understanding or embracing the concept behind Twitter. They also presented as very self centered – littering my feed space with a never changing torrent of, “Look at me-isms” with tag-along links to their blogs.

What I find interesting about the Speakerbox, is they take all shapes. In my twitter community I have had Speakerboxes ranging from marketing companies (?!?) to fitness “gurus” selling the latest get thin quick scheme. One of the first things that come to mind about these feed killers is, “why take yourself out of the conversation?” It comes across as lazy, and lacking interest in the two way conversation that twitter makes simple and quick. It could be a product of automation, a lack of understanding of twitter, or a poor strategy – either way it’s not a competent use of the technology.

How do you identify a Speakerbox?

  • Soon after following them there is a high quantity of tweets directing you to their blog
  • You don’t see them participating in conversations
  • When they do participate, any statement is usually topped off with a link to their most recent blog post
  • They provide little value – their message is basically the equivalent of a TV ad, easy to ignore
  • The often lack personality or voice in their mass of tweets

The Socialista

This person could tell you how to be a rockstar in 3 tweets or less. They are engaged, and provide (sometimes interesting) insight or entertainment with every tweet. They go out of their way to be interesting, and they make themselves a valuable addition to your twitter feed. Very few twitter users are or ever will be Socialistas, it takes a high level of dedication as well as a directed strategy. An effective Socialista will promote their message, but will make their message part of the conversation. They are not afraid to jump in and provide suggestions or ideas within a subject they know well.

In time a Socialista will become a person (or company) that a twitter user will go to as an authority, or a trusted source of opinion. If trust is a currency, these people have it in great abundance. Often these Twitter rockstars, the Socialistas will become the first stop for many people when they are looking for related information. The Socialista eventually gains the position of trusted voice, and with it the ability to persuade viewers into trying new products, services, ideas, or food.

The characteristics of a Socialista:

  • They share knowledge first, promote their product/ service second
  • They have active back and forth relationships with other twitter users
  • There is a defined character, a personality behind the tweets
  • They are accessible, and someone that people want to talk to

Which works?

It comes down to your goals. What are your success metrics? At one time Twitter success was counted by number of followers. Today, our understanding of the space has matured, and many have realized that active and engaged followers have more value than simple numbers. The Socialista will find that their followers are active, engaged, and interested in what they have to say. When the Socialista suggests a product or idea, people will listen.

At its core, Twitter is a tool for engaging people quickly and concisely, the Speakerbox approach works counter to that model. It also sends an underlying signal that your company is holding themselves back from what is a cordial, inviting, and active social meeting place. I would hope that fewer people are joining Twitter with the goal of becoming the digital equivalent of a carnival barker. The Speakerbox undermines the message they preach, and reduce their value with every posting. The Speakerbox quickly becomes an unwelcome guest and will find that with time their message will fall upon fewer and fewer ears as they become little more than white noise in the feed.

Twitter offers an opportunity to present your brand (personal or corporate) in an approachable manner, don’t ruin that chance by forgetting to listen, and neglecting the conversations around you.

Some of the people and companies doing it right are:

@ruhlman , @jetblue , @brewcrewtv , @stonebrewingco

(I do like beer, food and travel…)


  1. Dave,
    Great thoughts, you are making me a better twit.


    PS. Conversations is what we should be having and I promise to do better. I have certainly failed in that aspect of twitter, and to be honest I sound like the company you describe as annoying.

  2. Haha, to be fair, I want to make public that we found each other on twitter after I had written this!

    I read your blog post re: FourSquare, so I know you get it, sometimes it is a matter of finding the right amount of time to invest, as well as finding the right people in your twitter stream to use as springboards for conversations.

    I'm a sucker for fermented drinks, so I'll be sure to offer myself up as a springboard.