Letters, May 10, 2010

Published on .

Does Twitter offer an unparalleled world of data or is it just noise?

RE: Bob Garfield's "The Twitter Kool-Aid Is Much More Than Just Sugar Water" (AA, May 3)

You forgot Pillar No. 4: accessibility.

Back in the day, you used to have to know lots of smart people and talk with them directly to hear their thoughts on new trends and what is of interest to them.

With Twitter, I can follow ad gurus, CMOs, journalists, sports stars, celebrities, world leaders -- anyone of interest -- without having a personal connection to them. It takes little effort, and it's free.

I can see what they are excited about or what makes them tick. Of course, not all smart people use Twitter, but the pool is large enough that I'm able to get quite a few stimulating points of view or insights each day.

Remember when you had your first power lunch with the smart older business person who entertained you with stories about the business and painted a vision of what was going to be next? Today you can just log on and everyone from Alex Bogusky to Sir Richard Branson will tell you all about what is of interest to them.

For example, I saw a new-business presentation from Crispin Porter & Bogusky that I thought was incredible -- and only because Bogusky posted it on Twitter. Of course he broke the site because so many people retweeted it that it couldn't handle the bandwidth. But a few years ago, how would I ever have had this privilege? I would have to know him well or work at their offices to get this kind of insight.

On Facebook you have to know people and friend them. On LinkedIn, it's kind of the same but not as personal. On Twitter, you can find someone AND know who they think is worth following, for nothing. And to me what is tweeted can often be more valuable than what you find on the other two.

Last thought: Sure, there are those who are way too into Twitter. And you can't really find it meaningful trying to follow everyone or watch the stream all the time. But to ignore it and be critical is just plain near-sighted.

Twitter is not the answer, and eventually I suspect it will peak, like so many trends do. But this type of information consumption is fairly raw and genuine to many people, so I suspect it will influence things greatly down the road.

Interesting comments, Bob.

Unfortunately, your premise suffers by your easy (and stereotypical) dismissal of focus groups. Rather than "12 random nimrods blathering about subjects about which they may not even have interest, much less knowledge, much less insight," you probably -- or should -- know that focus group participants are usually well-screened and surprisingly knowledgeable about the category being discussed, if not intimately familiar with the specific brand. While the process is far from perfect, there are valuable insights to be gained from a few hours spent with multiple groups and meaningful -- usually two-way -- discussions.

Getting the same feedback from the Twitterverse is limited by your followers, their engagement in the topic, their biases (they are your followers, after all) and your ability to sort through a large (or disappointingly small) number of responses.

There's no question that there's something to be gained from the "data mine" that is Twitter. But you're not gaining insights from a billion tweets. You're getting comments from a few dozen, most likely.

I can't believe I'm spending this much space defending focus groups after years of complaining about them, but your off-the-cuff dismissal of an often-valuable research tool tells me you haven't spent much time in an agency sitting behind the glass or poring over the verbatims that come out of such an exercise. I've seen far more great campaigns launched on the back of an insight from a focus group discussion than from a Twitter feed.

Your dismissal of a tried-and-true tool just to curry favor with the digital cognoscenti just makes you look ignorant and foolish -- not like a guy who now wants to provide wise or sage counsel to the agency world.

Very well put.

I'm still on the nay-saying side of the Twitter fence. For the most part, I feel it's a big pool of narcissistic, toque-wearing, plastic-glasses-wearing hipster geeks gazing at their smartphones for the better part of their waking day (yours truly included).

Time will tell. I just feel that 140 characters is such a constricting, random limit.

That said, your post, particularly from the POV of a skeptic, presents a pretty convincing argument for why Twitter could be useful.

CORRECTIONS: RE: "Do You Know the ABCs of DSPs? Agency-Relations Teams Pitch In" (AA, April 12). Debra Meyer's name was misspelled in a sidebar and her name ran with the wrong photo.

RE: "Game of Chicken Against Leader Pays Off for Chick-fil-A, Popeyes" (AA, May 3). Church's is no longer owned by AFC Enterprises. The story also erroneously described Popeyes' previous logo.

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