There’s a lot of enthusiasm among companies to use Twitter to reach a new audience. That’s great. What’s worrisome is using it to “push” a series of marketing messages and treating Twitter like another marketing channel.
If you don’t understand why that’s a problem, keep reading, but here’s a hint: Remember pop-up ads?
Here’s a bigger hint: The Web isn’t a push medium. Push too hard and your message won’t be received by anyone.

The Web is a “Pull” Medium

The Web has always been a “pull” medium. While websites “push” content to visitors, visitors must first choose to go there (“pull”). Then, things like e-mail subscriptions, and later RSS, allowed users to decide what content they wanted without having to go to the site itself. Now in the age of social media/Web 2.0, we can pull content from dozens of sites onto our iGoogle and Facebook pages.

Advertising Blindness

At the same time, we’ve become blind to advertisements—a push mechanism. It’s not that the offers don’t appeal or relate to us; we just don’t like to be pitched to like we are by TV, newspapers and even DVDs when looking for (pulling) information.


Search has tilted the balance further toward “pull”. Why do we need flyers or newsletters pushing information at us—usually at times we don’t want or need it—when we can do a detailed, specific search of up-to-the-second information at the moment we need it, be it plane ticket prices, the latest music or where you can grab a burger. This ultimate “pull” ability has confirmed our expectation that we are in control.

Enter Twitter

Twitter has become a fast, efficient way to share and spread information like an interesting article, funny video, neat tidbit, or breaking news—Michael Jackon’s death, the protests over the Iranian elections, earthquakes in China and Haiti.
Marketing teams who don’t understand Twitter hear these stories and want their messages to spread like that, and figure they should pump out message after message, waiting for them to “go viral” like the Star Wars Kid or the “25 Things” Facebook meme.

Why Pop Up Ads Failed

Ten years ago, similar thinking went into pop-up ads: Rich advertisements that had sound and motion and links. Appearing in their own window meant users had to pay attention. It would be like TV, only better.
Sounded like a great idea.
How many share that opinion now? Pop-up ads failed because they ignored the fact that users are in control and don’t want to be marketed to.

Why Twitter Campaigns Will Fail

Similarly, “Twitter Campaigns” will fail:

  1. They rely on the same “if we built it, they will come” thinking of the dot-com boom. The reason the boom went bust is the Web is a “pull” medium—it is impossible to force your content at someone. Someone has to want to find it.
  2. Like pop-up ads, no one wants to be marketed to online, so if they find your Twitter feed full of advertisements, they won’t follow.
  3. Users know anything you say can be found later via search.

Use Twitter the Way Users Expect

There’s plenty of articles out there on how to use Twitter, but I’ll touch on a few.
Twitter allows interaction via the @ message. Rather than pushing out one-way messages, use Twitter to ask questions and engage clients. This confirms the idea that users have control over their online experiences.
Timely Content
A large percentage of Twitter users interact via their smartphones. It takes a second to tweet and a second more for it to reach your followers. That means instant updates can reach followers anywhere, not just their computers. So, provide time-sensitive information. This is why Michael Jackson’s death spread so quickly—the situation changed moment by moment.
High-Value Content
The reason some things on Twitter go viral is users feel it is worth it to pass it along. Not for financial or political gain, but because it furthers the bond between friends and colleagues. A discount on airfare does not do this; a change to your common world—like a cool new iPhone app—does. Furthermore, this information is probably something that someone might not think to search for. So what information can you put out that need to “bubble up” to the surface and strengthen those bond?