Twitter, Iran, and Social Media Marketing

19thJun. × ’09

I have dabbled with Facebook and Twitter over the last several months and have immersed myself in the growing litany of webinars, seminars, blog posts, and white papers about social media and business marketing.  A few mornings ago,  I read a NY Times article about the US government requesting Twitter to delay maintenance that would have shut down the network just as Iranians were lighting up the Twit-o-sphere with election protest tweets.*  My prediction is that proponents of social media marketing will point to this as proof of Twitters power and applicability.   That’s exactly the level of rigor applied when pundits conclude that all businesses need to get on the social marketing bandwagon or suffer erosion of sales and market share.

I’m not converted.  Not yet.

I have opined in an earlier post that social media activities should be categorized as branding initiatives.  And I absolutely believe that companies need a social media strategy to protect and promote their brand.  But I’m ascribing a much narrower benefit and use for social media marketing than most of the effusive yea-sayers.

Consider the following factoids about Bank of America and Dell, Inc.:

Bank of America –  59 million customers worldwide

Dell, Inc. – 76,500 employees, about 300 million in unit sales in 2008

Let’s consider some differences between the two.  Bank of America appears to be doing little with social media while Dell has been aggressive.  BOA operates in the financial service and banking sector (most unpopular at the moment), while Dell markets sexy computer products.  BOA is far the larger company in terms of customers, employees and revenue.

Dell gets a lot of credit for using social media as a marketing tool, BOA, just about none.  Now, consider these factoids:

Twitter…

Bank of America – 1,279 followers.

Dell – 658,679 followers.   And you might take a look at this Twitter-friendly media placement regarding 2008 Dell sales:  Twitter has made Dell 1 Million in Revenue

Facebook…

Dell – has  31,391 fans.

Bank of America –  has 1,722 fans.

At first blush, it looks like Dell gets it right and BOA doesn’t get it at all.  Dell appears to have earned $1 million in 2008 sales from Twitter.  We’re left to guess at BOA’s Twitter revenue, but I’ll bet it’s nil.  BOA has 1,722 Facebook fans.  That sounds like a respectable number, but remember, BOA has 59 million customers.  Their ratio of Facebook fans to customers is a pathetic .00003.

But Dell, who ‘gets it’ has a Facebook fans to customers ratio of .0001.  A lot better than BOA, but still not very impressive.  And if we look at the ratio of revenue ascribed to Twitter as a ratio of income to followers the number is very modest $1.52 per follower.

I’m not suggesting with all this that Twitter and Facebook have no business marketing applicability.  But I am suggesting that before you launch your agency into a social marketing initiative that you take a sober look at the amount of time you will spend on it, and the likely tangible benefits.  And watch out for the hype.

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*”…there are less than 10,000 Twitter users in Iran (Sysomos via BusinessWeek) and less than 100 of them seem to be active.” – from a post in Gauravnomics Blog, questioning the media-attributed role of Twitter in the Iranian election protests.  It’s worth a read, and points up the effect Twitter hype has had in misrepresnting the impact of the service in other than business contexts.

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