Twitter worth the extra effort

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I spent a couple of days buried in Excel last month analyzing the results of BtoB's survey of 387 marketers and business owners about their use of Twitter. Of answers to the survey's 39 questions, one stood out in sharp relief: Only about half the respondents said they are satisfied with the ROI of Twitter.

That seems a surprise, given that many marketers have told me anecdotally that Twitter is one of the most effective tools they've found for driving Web traffic, tapping into customer opinion and even generating leads. What's wrong here?

The answers began to emerge as I examined the opinions of the 20% of respondents who said Twitter had yielded revenue for their businesses. Two-thirds declared satisfaction with Twitter's ROI. These successful adopters have also been using the service longer, tweet more frequently and have larger followings than those who still await their first sale. For example, 40% of the revenue generators spend more than a half-hour daily on Twitter, compared with just 17% of everyone else.

Conclusion: The harder you work at applying social marketing tools, the better value you get from them.

This may come as unwelcome news to marketers that had been hoping that a little social media pixie dust would re-energize business. Perhaps they've bought the story peddled by too many consultants that tools are a panacea. But the reality is that any 13-year-old can set up a Facebook fan page (and a lot of them have). Achieving business success takes time and patience. The payoffs are search visibility, audience loyalty and trust gained from frequent and valuable interactions. For marketers that have the means and executive support to persist, the rewards are substantial. However, long-term thinking is rare these days.

Gartner has depicted technology hype cycles in a chart that looks a little like the Millennium Force rollercoaster in Sandusky, Ohio. New technology climbs toward a “peak of inflated expectations,” after which it plunges into a “trough of disillusionment” and then struggles toward a plane of real value. Over the last year, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn buttons have sprouted on business websites like dandelions. We're at the peak. Expectations are high. Disillusionment will follow.

By the end of this year, recent adopters will be writing off their blogs and fan pages as a wasteful distraction. They're right: Without strategy or commitment, the tools are a waste of time. As the hype fades, the committed minority will persist on a road that is already delivering real value for some and that will continue to pay off for those who put forth the effort.

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