The Twitter Tragedy – Lost In Live

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It doesn’t really matter how many people are following you on Twitter. What really matters is how many people actually see your tweets. The two are not at all related, and this one major factor is why Twitter should never replace a Blog or anything else you are doing in the online channels. Twitter is a live channel and once that moment is gone, it’s gone. Just like that radio program you just missed.

This seems to be one of the biggest challenges that most Marketers don’t want to discuss about Twitter. Even though all tweets are archived, searchable and indexed by the search engines, the amount of people that actually dig into the archives or search for past tweets is probably smaller than minimal. On top of that, the only way to look back on someone’s Twitter history is by date. There are no categories, tags, etc… The value of this content is low because it is staggered, messy and not all that search friendly (and even if it was, the context is all but lost if you are not in that moment of when it was first created).

This does not mean that you should not use Twitter.

It just means that even though someone is following you, there is a big chance that they never see any of your tweets simply because when they are on Twitter, you may not have posted a tweet in and around the same time that they are there. There’s something else: Twitter works best when the people following you are actually not following that many other people. The more people they are following, the more likely it is that your message will get lost in the shuffle (if they even see it at all).

Here’s the Twitter tragedy: the content is live, short, fast and has no long tail.

Many people have abandoned their Blogs and other channels for the immediacy and ease-of-use of Twitter. It is, without a question, a different type of communication, way to connect and place to build community, but it is not an alternative and should not replace anything else you are doing in these social circles. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to keep consumers in your loop, answer individual questions or post quick blurts about what’s going on, then Twitter makes it easy to publish. But, the content is next to useless for any other consumer who is searching for the same answer at a later point in time.

Twitter is cool, fun and a very interesting place to post, follow and engage in some great chitter chatter, as long as you remember: on Twitter people don’t see you because you’ve left messages. They only see you when they are there. Also, unlike like Blogs – where posts that are older get more search engine love due to traffic, linking, etc… Twitter is the opposite: the newer and fresher and more frequently updated tweets are the ones with all of the value.

What an amazing Twitter it could be if you could properly archive tweets, organize, sort and search them more efficiently (beyond Twitter Search).

Do you think Twitter is more than an "in the moment" channel?

(hat-tip to Julien Smith).


  1. Mitch, I don’t see the same limitations of Twitter since a Summize/Twitter Search on any term is as good as searching by tags, IMHO.
    I agree that the sheer volume of Tweets and Twitters makes it very easy for your stuff to get lost in the river of noise. However, by the same token, blog subscribers don’t always see everything either or read faithfully, although there’s usually less noise to filter to find the signal, so to speak.
    Twitter doesn’t replace your blog, agreed and Tweets are a disposable form of conversation like phone calls or notes passed in class.
    But the combo and Twitter and blogs are like peanut butter and chocolate – delicious when together.

  2. I just wish Twitter Search wasn’t something so completely different and was more integrated. I also wonder how many people beyond the very geeky (like me) even know about it?
    I also wonder if people put an equal amount of thought into who they follow on Twitter as they do into subscribing to someone’s Blog?
    Ugh, even more thoughts now…

  3. A “tweet” does seem to have a shelf life.
    That said, an update that’s truly interesting could travel, as retweets, far and wide, reaching people that might not normally hear your message.
    I don’t think twitter can be your only form of online communication if you have a message you truly want others to hear.
    Rachel / @dreaminaction
    By the way I found your blog via your twitter update.

  4. People are excited about Twitter because of the immediacy. This only works because there is a large enough group that is constantly willing to be gently distracted by the numerous messages flowing on the screen.
    In the long-run, the majority will realize that they are simply not built to handle ADD-like interruptions. This accounts for the need to go dark from time to time.
    Twitter will never replace blogs as a medium. People who have “abandoned” their blogs will return to them as their immediate Twitter communities/groups settle down and learn to incorporate the fast-paced medium into a more manageable / less distracted routine.
    If you want to dip into the thought-stream, it’s perfect. Most people should realize that’s all it is. How many people really think hard before they tweet? I’d lay a bet that most don’t.
    As a result, I’m not so sure that searchable, organized tweets will be of use in it’s current form as a communication medium — unless they expand on the 140 char limit.
    Twitter is like a continually scrolling human-readable stock ticker.

  5. Dangit — my comments are beginning to sound like multiple tweets rolled into one comment. Who else subconsciously starts to fit their thoughts into short, concise sentences? Perhaps this is a good thing.

  6. I want to add, I wouldn’t have found your blog w/out following you on twitter.
    Twitter is more like a networking cocktail party. I collect a lot of business card and follow up on the few that are interesting to me.

  7. Mitch, you have put this exactly right. As my followers have increased (and I “only” have 146) it’s harder to see all their tweets. Since I can’t be on Twitter all day… when I am working I tend to have it off) and so when I go back on I scroll through the tweets to see what’s been said. And then I try to reply to any tweets and directs – late. For the tweets, everything has already moved on of course.
    Twitter is very much “in the moment.” And when you are already time-stretched it’s difficult to see how business people can use Twitter like that even though there are benefits. Not only is blogging more permanent, but it’s also less pressurised and frenetic… and real conversations can be found weeks and months afterwards. Personally I don’t think Twitter will replace blogs.

  8. By the way I always seem to see your blog posts! 🙂
    “Twitter is like a continually scrolling human-readable stock ticker.” LOL! That’s a very good description.

  9. I use Twitter as a new service, its all about in the minute, you check in every now and then, look back a couple of pages then move on. is great for market research on your brand or category…
    Have to agree Mitch, the uptake of Twitter is absolutely tiny… once you’re in it it seems big and busy. Traffic has tripled (according to Hitwise to 0.015% of overall internet traffic its like a drop in the ocean.
    Based on this blog, that would mean total users is up to around 9,000… 0.4% of Australia’s population…
    All considered, its a great by the minute news service for me 🙂

  10. I do think Twitter is more than an “in the moment” channel. It is not so much a channel as it is a live conversation mediated in a time-shifted medium with rapid back and forth from the participants.
    Akin to a coffee shop or other live meeting place where you know your peers (or simply people who you’re interested in listening to) often hang out, Twitter enables you to eavesdrop (as a predetermined condition of the interaction) on a wider conversation with the “speakers” who understand that what they say is meant for anyone to hear (and usually directed at those who follow them).
    The benefit of the semi-live conversation in Twitter is auto-flagging of one’s own name via mentions (@) and through direct messages. You only really care if you missed something that directly references you or if someone was trying to have a conversation with you. Otherwise you can live with not always being in the live (conversation or stream).
    I rarely blog and only occasionally use Facebook but I have a strong social media network through Twitter that is highly beneficial from a business and social level.

  11. Unlike Jaiku, tweets have no permanent online legacy footprint. But Twitter can point to standard web content and you can measure effectiveness that way. You can also use another reach metric to show the profile-building advantages of Twitter. But don’t expect these kinds of connected community analytics to be as easy as opening another tab on your existing webstat package.

  12. I couldn’t agree more that using Twitter and blogging shouldn’t be an either/or equation.
    Unfortunately, the very immediacy of Twitter that most of the commenters praise is one of the key reasons why more thoughtful blog posts are starting to fade away.
    Twitter will be to traditional blogging like television was to reading a book.

  13. I agree with Craig Moore’s view that it’s like a coffee shop conversation or as I’ve explained to people like the conversations you might have during a break at a conference. To highlight the power of Twitter: I met Craig Moore on Twitter not from his blog and via no other source. He is a social media participant whom I’d likely not have met without twitter even though he lives less than an hour away.
    I wonder if your impression is based on the way you use twitter. Many twitter users use desktop applications like Twhirl, TweetDeck, TwitterFox that provide an entirely different experience.
    Using Tweetdeck changes the entire use/experience by allowing custom views based on groups, search or twitscoop live results. I can isolate my local twitter users allowing me tie together more meaningful conversations while still being able to wade into the flow of my “all tweets” feed whenever I want to participate and share. As a marketer I can keep a number of saved searches based on campaigns, competitors and etc and track live tweets on specific topics.
    Twitter should not replace blogs or other online marketing tactics but should compliment them as a new vehicle for reaching and more importantly interacting with real people with more immediacy.
    BTW: I haven’t been subscribed to this blog but was sent the link via a post on twitter.

  14. Mitch,
    Spot on, as always. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I’m running a quick survey asking “Is Blogging Dead?” In response to the recent articles in Wired and the Economist. Interestingly, the answer is overwhelmingly “no.” Click on my name to take the survey. 🙂
    P.S. I re-tweeted your post but decided to weigh in on your blog as well, for precisely the reasons you mention.

  15. I never expected Twitter to do more than it does.
    I’m quite happy with posting my tweets more than once a day and it does seem to work for driving people to my blogs or for fast communicating.
    I never would think of giving up my blog in exchange for Twitter, but Twitter is a great addition.

  16. You don’t mention TweetDeck much Joel, and I find it to have made the ROI on Twitter more than justifiable. Similar to Jay Gilmore’s comment above.
    Like your Tweets, and now I’ve found your blog. Twitter can be immediate, and can be more with TweetDeck, for Grouping and Search. Also Favorites allows using nuggets from the stream.

  17. Valid points and things to think about, but overall it seems as if people have accepted this as normal for Twitter.
    There are a lot of things that Twitter could to do make finding, searching, using, mining, etc… all the data more useful, but i wonder if Twitter has any plans on doing this – would it compromise the ‘purity’ of the original concept?
    I like this newer tool:
    It aggregates all the social media type tools and groups things by date and has a feature that allows you to create a ‘story’ with a start & end date – then it captures what you do douing that time & creates a ‘story’ type slide show. very cool and they are adding new features.

  18. It’s a great point. Perfect example: I follow a live public feed of people tweeting “iPhone app” using Tweetdeck, and I see the same questions asked dozens of times every day (especially “What’s the best iPhone app for Twitter?”). The repetition of effort — reinventing the wheel — occurs because the answers are lost due to their inherent transience.
    Not only do the answers get lost, but the questions do too. The more people following you means that a greater number of people might see a given question you pose, but if each of them is following hundreds or thousands of others, what are the odds they’ll glance up at the exact moment when your Tweet goes sailing by?

  19. Mitch, I agree with you completely, and I’ve all but abandoned my Twitter “peeking” of late. I find that when I’m busy and have no time to tweet and look at others’ tweets, I’m so far behind that I am hardly interested in what’s going on.
    As I’ve said before, I find Seesmic much more satisfying.

  20. Mitch: I agree with you for the most part — and am very much one of the guilty ones who’s decreased his blogging because of Twittering.
    Now I may be in the minority here, but I *do* use often to look through back tweets, particularly for conferences/unconferences that I attended or wished I could have attended.
    Also, individual tweets *do* show up on occasion in search engine results, but you’re right: Blog posts hold a much more powerful long-tail power. I just need to change my writing habits to do more blogging again!
    Bryan Person | @BryanPerson

  21. For the most part tweets are like a one time broadcast. If people are listening they may respond.
    But, because the tweets are archived on the web they are easily searchable and accessible.
    Platforms such as tweetdeck allow viewers to follow key words that they care about.
    For example, I follow photography. I’m able to keep up and not loose out on key conversations that may bo of interest to me.

  22. I absolutely agree this article in the way that twitter cannot and should not replace regular blog. To use another media comparison, Twitter is the breaking news and Blogging a documentary film. Blog are about content, twittering is about newsreel.

  23. The tragedy of Twitter is that it was pretty fun and exciting before the marketers all decided to spoil the fun by synergising it into their strategy. Oh well, at least it’s opt-in, unlike all the stupid e-mails I keep getting from marketing agencies begging me to blog about their latest crap.

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