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Guy Vs. Guy: Twitter: Killer Marketing Tool or Pointless Waste of Time?

Welcome to Guy Vs. Guy! In this recurring feature, Rick and Dave square off on the business and technology issues of the day. This week's topic: Twitter. It's everywhere these days, but does it have any practical value? Can businesses (and business people) leverage it as a cheap, unique marketing tool, or does the dearth of active users make it much a-tweet about nothing?
Rick: When a technology lands on the cover of Time Magazine, as Twitter did last week, you know it has officially "arrived." It took a couple years, but Twitter has definitely entered the mainstream consciousness. And herein lies an awesome opportunity for savvy business users. You can go ahead and call Twitter a "pointless waste of time," but remember: That's what people said in the early days of blogs and social networks, too.

Dave: It's interesting that you are using Time, poster child of the Old Media, as some sort of yardstick for measuring tech relevance. The fact that Time is only covering it now, a year after Twitter "went mainstream," is ample evidence that the magazine is an out-of-touch dinosaur. This much is true: I'll never accuse your thought processes of having dangerous levels of clarity. Where was I? Oh, right: Twitter is a pointless waste of time.

Rick: That's what people said in the early days of blogs and social networks, too. (Must I constantly repeat myself with you?) And just as savvy business users turned those technologies into fantastic marketing tools, so have they begun to leverage Twitter. Consider the Realtor who tweets about new properties or price reductions. Or the local pizza joint that tweets a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. Or the CEO who makes himself seem more accessible, more personable, by tweeting about company happenings. If you're smart, the possibilities are endless. And let's not forget: Using Twitter costs a business nothing (or next to it). So what exactly is your problem with it?

Dave: I believe I summarized my problem with Twitter about 726 characters ago (need I point out that even that wouldn't fit in a Twitter post?)... Twitter is a pointless waste of time. Apparently, even the people that use Twitter agree with me. According to a recent study, 80 percent of Twitter accounts have fewer than 10 followers and 30 percent have no followers at all. 40 percent of all Twitter accounts have never sent a single tweet! Only 20 percent of Twitter users have sent more than 10 tweets. The service is a ghost town, but thanks to Ashton Kutcher, most people haven't noticed. How can a business get value of a service that has so little interest even from the people that took the trouble to set up an account?

Rick: Dave, Dave, Dave. Don't you know that 78 percent of all statistics are wrong? You're like Spock: You think that everything in life can be boiled down to numbers. Listen to your half-human side for a change. I guarantee you the reason people sign up for Twitter and then stop using it is they don't understand what they're supposed to do with it. (See "Twitter Quitters Don't Get It.") And I can see why: It's a seriously confusing and often annoying service. But you know what? So is Facebook. And several kajillion users decided to muddle through because they liked what they could get from it. The same will happen with Twitter: As businesses come up with smart ways to leverage the service (try actually reading my examples this time instead of just spouting statistics), users will join or rejoin in order to reap the benefits.

Dave: Rick, Rick, Rick. Thanks for the validation; in the article you mention, the author goes to great lengths to point out how most people don't "get" Twitter, but he doesn't really help us "get" it at all. Don't self-promote, he tells us. Great -- but that's the whole extent of his epiphany? Give me a break. How should you use Twitter? I suppose that's a secret reserved for the Special Few. Here's my main problem with Twitter, Rick: With so few people able to crack the Twitter code, what's the point of promoting your business for the 10 people, worldwide, that are Twitter-savvy Twitter disciples? If the local pizza place Twitters 2-for-1 coupons, how is anyone expected to know about it? Am I, as a normal guy, expected to go hunting Twitter for all my local businesses and start following them preemptively in case they do something cool? Or is the pizza place now catering to the 5 dudes in town that understand the nuances of taking advantage of Twitter? 'Cause my dad, and, I might add, I, would certainly never know about that coupon.

Rick: Wow. Not only have you missed the point (again), you can't even see the point. You need to turn the car around, drive five miles the other way, then get out your binoculars just to catch a glimpse of the point. Let me dumb this down to third-grade Economics, otherwise known as Dave's Level. Twitter: A free way for businesses to communicate with a potentially endless number of customers (both current and potential). Offer customers the right incentives to "follow" you, and presto: marketing success that doesn't come any cheaper. Look at ExecTweets, the cool app/service that tweets you the thoughts, ideas, and recommended links of nearly 100 top executives. It's brilliant, because it aggregates information that's potentially valuable to other businesspeople. Is any of this starting to sink in?

Dave: As usual, you are deliberately ignoring my objections (because you don't have any answers) and trying to make it sound like I'm the one who's missing the point. Again: How can businesses communicate with customers when (1) data shows that Twitter is a ghost town and (2) businesses have no practical way to connect with large numbers of their customers through the service? Your examples about local businesses are ludicrous because no no one who isn't some sort of hacker living in his parents' basement can reasonably be expected to ever find these tweets. And when your back is up against the wall, the best you can do is show me ExecTweets, which has nothing to do with your point. ExecTweet is a B2B site where business execs can wallow in each other's profundity. It doesn't do anything to serve customers or advance the bottom line. Is it brilliant? Doubtful. Does it serve executive egos? Absolutely.

Rick: Well, you ignored me first, so there. Nyah-nyah. You big baby. (1) Twitter is a ghost town? As usual, you're making wild assumptions based on presumptive math. It doesn't matter how many followers a user has or how many tweets he/she has sent. The fact is, Twitter has millions of active users, and businesses have an opportunity to tap those users while attracting new ones. You seem to think that because something hasn't happened, it won't happen. I'm talking opportunity, here. (2) Business can't connect with customers through Twitter? That's so ludicrous it barely merits a response. Ever seen a "follow me on Twitter" icon? All a company has to do is paste one on their site and presto: followers. Finally, given that you clearly don't "get" ExecTweets (it's not B2B, it's B2C), it's obvious you don't get Twitter, either. I look forward to the day when the light bulb finally goes on over your head, so we can laugh about yet another argument you lost.
Dave: The fact remains that unless your business happens to cater specifically to a clientele of 14-year-old narcissistic anime fans, Twitter will simply never be a significant consideration in your marketing plan. Your time is better spent (because Twitter might be free, but it still takes time, which is quite valuable) on almost anything except Twitter, in fact. Why? Twitter is just too much work for the average consumer to tap into, and the potential payoff is just too slim. But you'll never admit that, since you apparently don't even know what B2C stands for. I have a tweet for you: @justrick: ewe looooz.

Okay, who won the debate? Hit the comments to declare a winner and share your thoughts on the issue. When that's done, check out the previous Guy Vs. Guy entries, which are just as entertaining and enlightening.