The Twitterisation of the Adverati

NEW YORK - It goes without saying that everyone in the Ad Biz is always looking for the next big thing. Although, in the case of Twitter, it might be better expressed as looking for the next little thing.

Perhaps this is because, to paraphrase famed screenwriter William Goldman, "In advertising, no one knows anything." And, we've certainly proved that time and again over the years.

The current frenzy over Twitter within the advertising community has been fuelled by the realization that if you were left standing on the platform with your trousers around your ankles as the MySpace/Facebook/LinkedIn train steamed out of the station, you'd better be damned sure you don't miss the Twitter Express this time.

I mean, let's face it, clients have been reading about the impact of social media and networking in The Economist and Harvard Business Review for simply ages, well, at least a couple of months.

They're probably talking about it right now on the golf course with other Captains of Industry.

"So, Snidely-Brown, I hear you're buzz-hacking social networks to virally promulgate an authentic ethos."

"Actually, CJ, funny you should mention that, we've already moved on to implement the guerilla Twitterization of a Cluetrain strategy."

Which certainly goes to prove my point. You'd better know all about this stuff next time you're stuck on the golf course with a client who also happens to be a Captain of Industry.

There are hordes of pundits and 3.0 versions of Faith Popcorn out there right now telling us that Twitter is the ultimate brand building platform.

Never mind that for years we've lived with advertising Tag Lines using way more than 140 characters, and they still didn't make sense.

Those of you long enough in the tooth might remember the great Barry Day exercise, where he would take a couple of famous Brand Tag Lines, then mix and move the composite words around on a magnetic board, creating an endless permutation of nonsensical phrases.

And, if you could comprehend the futility of that exercise, then you've grasped the significance of Twitter.

It doesn't have to make sense -- few things in advertising and marketing do with the benefit of hindsight -- the thing is it's "Now" or as they love to say here in the States, it's "Awesome."

Even better, it's an emerging "Platform." Which is geek-speak for "another black-hole agencies can pour money into."

Right now, millions of people are Twittering each other what they just had for breakfast or how successful their last bowel movement was.

And if you are a total masochist, you can even share the increasingly banal thoughts of world champion Twitterer, Steven Fry, particularly when he gets stuck in a lift for a few hours -- but then as BR's editor puts it he is a Twitter god.

There are a couple of things to consider when deciding if Twitter should be part of any marketing program.

The Twitterati love collecting fellow Tweeters, just as the same kinds of people obsess about gaining more friends on Facebook than anyone else in the known universe.

As someone recently defined Facebook, it's actually a MMORPG in which the objective is to collect "Friends".

The same could be said of Twitter, with the proviso that you can only converse with your friends in a form of haiku.

Yes, you could argue that there is possible value for agencies and their clients in building these Tweet lists, perhaps even creating a following for a brand -- the problem is that once you decide to actually try to get some kind of return out of it and in so doing, become overtly commercial, the Twitterati will be turned off, because you are no longer social, you have become disgustedly anti-social.

Something the Wizened of Oz's henchmen running MySpace seem increasingly incapable of realizing.

In spite of all the current hoo-ha and enthusiasm, Twitter is a very long way from being a viable business model.

There's no question that having already raised over $55m in VC money, the principals will one day walk with mega-million personal fortunes after the inevitable IPO. But, right now, I defy anyone to demonstrate how they can generate sufficient revenues to remotely equal the company's current valuation.

But then again, the same is true of Facebook and many other social networks.

Having been in business since 2006, Twitter has yet to sell a single ad or make a penny in revenue.

Currently, the consensus of opinion seems to be that Twitter will eventually monetize itself through the value of its real time search capabilities -- and Facebook is waking up to that as we speak.

Just as YouTube was originally thought of by its purchaser, Google, as a video hosting service, it has now become the second largest source of search queries on the internet.

The value inherent in Twitter search is that it monitors prodigious amounts of chat in real-time.

As with Facebook, Twitter is also spawning the creation of a growing number of applications. While these do not generate revenue per se, they increase the value of Twitter as a platform.

There is also some talk that commercial users of the service might be able to buy dedicated or validated accounts, which would authenticate to the Twitterati that any Tweets they were reading, were in fact from those they claimed to be.

I've been accused in my various writings of being anti-Twitter, which is not strictly true. I have no problem with users who want to engage in short, staccato messaging as they interact with people of similar tastes.

The major problem I have with it as a communications medium is that it takes to the extreme what is increasingly happening to advertising in general in a digital age. The loss of context.

Apart from basterdizing the richness of language when we text in a geeky shorthand, we also run the risk of misinforming the intended recipient.

This is bad enough when tweeting someone you know, but when using it as a marketing tool you are attempting to persuade a mass audience with those 140 characters.

The result at best might end up being futile, at worst, it could be disastrous.

"Et tu Brutus" are three pretty powerful words, but only when read within the context of the thousands of others that make up Shakespeare's play.

George Parker is the perpetrator of BrandRepublic blog, MadScam in the UK, and adscam.typepad.com, in the US. It is without doubt, one of the most foul and annoying, piss & vinegar ad blogs on the planet. His new book, The Ubiquitous Persuaders, has just been published by Amazon and is currently setting the ether ablaze. He will continue to relentlessly promote the crap out of it until you are forced to stab yourself in the eyes with knitting needles.