Since we last dropped into the Twitterverse for a look at available tools a year ago (“Twitter Tools,” Feb. 9, 2009), Twitter has exploded as a tactic for marketing and PR professionals. Overall, Twitter sported almost 23 million unique visitors per month at the end of 2009, while almost every large brand—and many small ones, too—seem to be managing one or more Twitter accounts.
At the same time, ancillary applications for the microblogging service have evolved, making Twitter more productive and, from an analytics standpoint, more informative.
A year ago, the Twitter application list was dominated by a then just-emerging class of Twitter clients, including Tweetdeck, Seismic and the Mac-only Twitterific, which sought to improve on the Web-based interface at Twitter.com to make it easier to read, manage and reply to one's Twitter feeds. In addition, a handful of search and analytical tools began to appear, led by Twitter's acquisition of search engine Summize, which it built into its service, along with third party services like Twellow, an online directory; Twitalzyer for tracking trends; and TwitterStats, which includes some sharp graphing tools.
What a difference a year makes.
Today, it would be rare to find a marketer that not only is managing a single Twitter feed—either for themselves or a companywide feed—but more than likely juggling a slew of them across different departments or, in the case of marketing agencies, across a cross- section of clients.
The requirement to manage multiple Twitter outgoing accounts is one important new requirement. Also important is the need to manage multiple feeds, spurred on in part by Twitter.com itself, which last year introduced a new feature called “Lists” that lets Twitter users segment their followers into groups. Keeping up with lists—creating them, following them, etc.—has emerged as a key Twitter activity.
As for stats, last year's third-party and largely Web-based analytics tools and capabilities are allowing users to both manage their tweets and track keyword and usage trends from the same interface. In particular, Twitter tools are beginning to echo what one might find in a Web analytics tool, allowing users to accomplish tasks such as tracking real-time trends based on keywords and hashtags; analyzing the reach, follower growth and overall influence of individual tweeters; and tracking the “reach” of one's Twitter network, essentially getting a feel for one's ecosystem in a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” type way.
Perhaps the most important new category of tools for marketing departments is so-called multi-account tools, enabling team members to simultaneously contribute to multiple Twitter feeds. These tools make it easier for a marketing team, including external “helpers” like marketing or PR agencies, to contribute to a single feed. It also lets teams that have to manage multiple feeds do so via a single integrated environment rather than using multiple Twitter.com log-ins. The best-known multi-account tools—each bragging a strong list of corporate users—are HootSuite and CoTweet. Other contenders with some multi-account capabilities include TweetFunnel and SplitTweet.
Most Twitter team tools have some standard functionality at this point, including the ability to manage multiple accounts, have multiple log-ins for different contributors, manage workflow (such as assigning tasks or scheduling tweets), spit out sophisticated stats and metrics and more.
While many marketers still use standalone clients or even Twitter.com for their tweeting, the convoluted workflow requirements for keeping up with Twitter, not to mention all the other social networks, scream for a more capable tool. HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes, for instance, calls his company's app “the ultimate social media dashboard,” and in recent months has added LinkedIn and Facebook postings to its Twitter core. HootSuite counts Dell, Fox and MSNBC among its customers.
Meanwhile, CoTweet recently took its support of corporate tweeting to the next level with the introduction of its Enterprise Innovators Program, a for-fee service that add new analytics tools and other capabilities to the platform to support more sophisticated, team-based tweeting. Early adopters included mainly b-to-c marketers, such as McDonald's, Microsoft and Starbucks, but the program is a good fit for b-to-b marketers as well. “Team collaboration is key” for managing more complex, corporate Twitter presences, said Jesse Engle, CEO of CoTweet. “Businesses have different requirements than consumers when it comes to social media engagement.”
Twitter itself rolled out a new feature last year dubbed “Contributors” that helps differentiate between multiple users of a single Twitter account by running a byline of sorts next to individual tweets in a single timeline. Twitter also drives a key Twitter search service and has played around with opening up priority access to its full Twitter API blast to users—again perhaps for a fee. Beyond those individual features, Twitter has long been promising so-called business accounts that would build team and analytical features into Twitter.com.
Which begs the question: Will Twitter ultimately unveil the ultimate business Twitter tool? Or is it in the process of being created? M