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November 20, 2009

Why the Fortune 100 Is The Land Of The Tepid Tweeters

Sorry to break it to you, Fortune 100, but when it comes to Twitter, most of you really, really suck.

That’s the primary takeaway from a study just released by Weber Shandwick showing that while many of you may tweet a good game, the vast majority of you may think you do, but you don’t. Seveny-three percent of you have a Twitter account — in fact, among that 73%, there are 540 Twitter accounts; however, 76% of Fortune 100 tweeters don’t tweet much, and 52% are not what Weber defines as actively engaged.

Fifty percent had less than the 500 followers, which is even much less than a certain Social Media Insider I could name. Fifteen percent were completely inactive, with Twitter accounts acting either as place-holders — so that some rogue tweeter wouldn’t get to a corporate name first — or simply abandoned after a particular promotion had run its course. (Fine friends those accounts make; sure, just drop the tweeting once your needs are no longer being served!)

No wonder Weber is calling for big business to have, as the report is called, a “Twittervention.”

What is to account for all this tepid tweeting? Looking at the data more closely, it seems that most corporations, used to communications by PR or ad blast, don’t understand a central tenet of social media: it’s a conversation, stupid. More than three-quarters of corporations surveyed had 500 tweets or less — though a particularly chatty 1% had more than 10,000.

I’d love more detail about that data, such as how long the Twitter accounts have been active; it would be better to analyze tweet data within the context of individual accounts. However, one thing should be clear: conducting social media as a conversation automatically leads to more tweets, so the number of tweets is an obvious indicator of whether the account is being used to converse.

I’d also speculate that the people running the active accounts are the same people who have a relatively unfettered ability to tweet. It’s pretty hard to have a conversation when there’s a CMO looking over one’s shoulder and a lawyer looking over the other. Not surprisingly, many companies aren’t willing to give their employees that degree of freedom.

Yet more evidence that many big corporations don’t know how to converse in social media: the Weber data says that slightly more than half of Fortune 100 tweeters are bbbbooooorrrrriiiing. Fifty-three percent “did not display personality, tone or voice.” The good news is that roughly a third did.

So, corporations need to learn how to turn marketing communications into marketing conversations. We may have known that already, but it’s always a help when someone puts data around our gut feelings. The next question: Where does it go from here?

I wish the simple answer was that the tepid corporate tweeters could take a few social media courses, and suddenly, they would become the kind of Twit-izens that gain followers, brand advocates and essential learnings. But it’s not that easy.

The deceptive thing about Twitter, and other social media tools, is that they actually have two learning curves, something I’ve become much more aware of lately as I’ve started to conduct workshops in social media. The first learning curve is easy, and logistical: becoming educated about followers, hashtags, retweets, how to create an account, whom to follow, and so forth. The second learning curve is much, much harder: that one is concerned with how to conduct oneself, and especially one’s company business, in a social media environment. With individuals, it’s still fairly easy to explain that you should act in social media as you do in any social situation, like a cocktail party. Most of us wouldn’t have the temerity to start handing out business cards the moment we walked into a mixer.

But, historically, corporations haven’t been invited to parties. Thus, for most of them, turning communications into conversations is a much, much harder concept to grasp. Cheers.

Catharine P. Taylor has been covering digital media and advertising for almost 15 years. Contact her here.