Twitter isn’t real life, Facebook is..?
With more than 300 million active monthly users pouring out their feelings in 140 characters or less, many believe that Twitter is the best way to gauge real life. Some believe that it is even a good way of understanding (and selling to) the real world.
I’m a former Scotland Yard detective. I write thrillers based around real events. I also commentate on crime, terrorism and policing for the media. I have strong views and I tweet mainly serious stuff. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea and that’s fine.
I use Twitter to keep up with the news and interact with my readers. Sometimes I use it to promote myself, my business and my books. Occasionally I will tweet some light-hearted content. I also use Facebook and Instagram, but on Twitter I have ten times the number of followers. Time on Twitter, I always believed, was time well spent...
This is how #ducktweet broke my Twitter
On Friday afternoon, I was on a long distance train journey, travelling to a crime fiction festival in Scotland. At the book festival, I was looking forward to taking part in a panel talking about, among other things, social media engagement and branding.
As the lush rolling hills of the British Lake District slipped by, I was advised by a colleague to stop tweeting serious news and to, “Lighten up. Get into festival mode. Tweet some fluffy animal pics or something…”
Perhaps my colleague had a point - maybe I needed some light-hearted content to lift the mood?
On Saturday morning, as I walked along the street up in Stirling, (doing the phone staring thing you’re not supposed to do), I spotted a cute duck video that had appeared in my timeline. Another tweeter had used their own title and re-purposed it from a commercial company's tweet.
I decided to re-caption the video to something more relevant and share it legitimately from the original company’s Twitter account. I use a simple iPhone function that leaves the original company’s brand visible just above my tweet.
This was my #ducktweet...
You will notice that my tweet has a typo in it.
What happened after tweeting?
At the book festival, I had to switch my phone off so as not to disturb the first event of the day.
When I switched it back on, I could see that in just a couple of hours on a Saturday morning, #ducktweet had received more than one hundred thousand retweets and made 1 million organic impressions.
I couldn’t believe my eyes!
But more was yet to come...
#ducktweet began to pick up even more steam as larger and larger accounts shared it.
By Saturday night, the Twitter app on my phone would only work sporadically.
It simply couldn’t handle the traffic that this one tweet was getting.
Then famous celebrities started to retweet it.
Notable #ducktweet retweeters included:
Stephen Fry, the British comedian, actor, writer and presenter, with 12.8 million followers. He retweeted and added his own caption.
Ron Howard, the American actor and filmmaker, with 2.04 million followers, did a straight retweet without any new caption.
William Baldwin, Hollywood actor (31.5 thousand followers) tweeted back about how sceptical he was.
Cinnamon Toast Ken, (2.5 million followers), is a video game commentator who started uploading videos to YouTube in 2011. He tweeted back to say he was also sceptical.
There may well have been other interesting replies and notable retweets, but as I couldn’t access my Twitter account for long enough, I was not able to monitor who else retweeted and how large their audience was. The app was so unstable, it was also not physically possible to reply to more than a couple of people, nor to favourite replies.
By Sunday afternoon, my Twitter app couldn’t handle the frequency and volume of traffic. It crashed and shut down. As a result, my iPhone kept freezing, rendering it pretty useless to do anything much with at all.
In the first few days after I tweeted #ducktweet, it received more than 20 million impressions, 213,000 retweets and 413,000 likes.
27,500+ people clicked on my name, handle or profile photo.
Besides being flabbergasted by the frequency of retweets and replies, I was also surprised by the interest from the media.
A journalist from the Press Association contacted me about covering #ducktweet and asked if it was my video, I said no and explained where it had originated from.
Then The Poke, a British, left-wing satirical website, picked up a few tweets and ran a small piece about the debate around whether the #ducktweet video was real. We christened this the #duckdebate.
What did I gain from it in real terms?
You’ll remember that I said I was on my way to a book festival, and I was going to talk on a panel about social media presence and branding? As authors, we all need to sell books.
This tweet gave me a great talking point, after all, it had gone truly viral. I knew it was a great way to show how you could lift your profile and sales through social media.
The main positive thing that came out of #ducktweet is that it cheered most tweeters up. We all need a little happiness in our lives.
But what did it do besides the emotional benefits?
Before my panel slot, I made sure to check my book sales. Then I checked my web site traffic. This was all going to be great proof for my talk, or so I thought...
So by what percentage did my book sales and website hits increase as a result of 20 million+ #ducktweet impressions?
And here’s where it gets interesting…
In percentage terms, the uptick in hits to my website and books sales was a BIG FAT ZERO!
I’d picked up more than a thousand new Twitter followers in a few hours, but the viral tweet had had no real impact on my core business or anything else that I do.
Books sales and website hits have remained constant during #ducktweet, with not a single peak or trough. During #ducktweet mania I averaged exactly the same number of books daily that I’d been selling each day the previous month. I put this down to having my core marketing activity in place, which is successfully driving sales as it was.
But you might well say, ‘Well, you’re selling books, not ducks! If you were selling ducks, you might have won some business!’
And then I compared #ducktweet to the additional marketing activities which impact my book sales.
Let's take the example of a product review. You might send your product out to a blogger or reviewer for them to give it a test drive.
In this instance, I'm using the example of a book blogger, who reviews my new thriller, The Detriment.
It's a great review. She shares that review on her blog site and on Facebook. What she’s written really hits the nail on the head with regards to the messages I want to communicate in my thrillers.
The review is shared by approximately 45 book bloggers to their blog readers and receives around 2,000 hits from hard core book buyers.
As a result of this book review, my book sales increase by a third overnight.
Perhaps it’s obvious that a targeted book review is way more effective than an un-targeted 20+ million impressions on a viral tweet unconnected to my books. Maybe this is well known in marketing and advertising circles, but to me the difference in the numbers seems incredible - 20,000,000 vs 2,000 - with the 2,000 audience being better for me.
The size of the audience is therefore unimportant. Large volume doesn’t necessarily translate into large sales, or indeed any sales at all, without effective targeting, regardless of how vigorous audience activity is.
Does this mean then that, because of the way that we build audiences on Twitter, and the way content is shared there, that it is an ineffective medium for sales?
Twitter is all about numbers, it’s utterly obsessed with follower count, shares, favourites and retweets. The whole platform is built around this desire to build bigger and bigger numbers. In many respects it is the polar opposite of Facebook which has a focus on people that you know, and the people your friends know in real life. Twitter isn’t real life, but Facebook is?
The skill then is to try and establish quality followers and users from the huge volume that it produces. Surely I could harness this volume in some way, turn it into something meaningful?
I decided to look at the replies I’d received to #ducktweet.
There have been more than 4,500 individual responses. Looking through them (as and when Twitter didn’t crash!) it was clear that they fell into four main categories:
- People who were happy and uplifted by watching the #ducktweet film.
- People who claimed, because the film was shot from various different camera angles, that it was therefore a setup and a fraud.
- People who claimed that humans shouldn’t interfere with nature's natural selection and should have let the chicks die.
- People who just wanted to spew abuse, (which is well known on Twitter).
Perhaps if I engaged with one of the above groups, I might find that some of them were book buyers? After all, my thrillers revolve around uncovering real life mysteries, closing the gap between fiction and reality. “I can’t tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story…”
The company which had created the original video, posted a follow up - interviewing ‘duck man’.
You can watch it here:
I posted the new video and tried to engage with the sceptical group, hoping that some of these tweeters might turn out to be book buyers and one day take a look at my books which investigate real life mysteries.
But, if a viral tweet isn’t as effective in growing book sales as a modestly shared blog on Facebook, am I wasting my time on Twitter? Surely my time is better spent on Facebook?
It may be too early to answer that question. But my gut feeling is that Twitter isn’t real life. There has been no short term effect in anything that I can see, despite this huge exposure via a viral tweet. But the long term effects might be more difficult to decipher. Is Twitter more of a slow-burn sales medium than we understand?
I’ve looked at the original company which created and tweeted the video. Their tweet has had a few thousand retweets, but nothing near the exposure my tweet had. Interestingly, there is no obvious company branding within the actual video itself at all, and I wonder if this was a mistake - had there been embedded graphics in it, would this have been better for them and their visibility?
Or does the fact that I have a headshot and no branding on my AVI mean that people are happy to retweet it from me rather than a corporate account? Maybe my typo in the tweet ("hearted hearted") was the surprise psychological driver in the retweets?
I do wonder if like me, this company has noticed zero increase in hits to their website or sales. Marketers know a product doesn’t sell after a sole, single view, but I’m still shocked that all that activity resulted in no impact apart from an 8% increase in my follower numbers.
Maybe it’s the brevity of messages on Twitter, the 140 character limit? You’d be hard pressed to find a consumer that is going to be made aware of a completely new brand for the first time through one simple, unrelated retweet.
Experts believe it takes seven to 12 ‘opportunities to see’, these days, before a consumer will consider buying what you have to sell. I just have to nurture my newfound audience of 1,500 additional followers, then? More engagement with this new audience; more fluffy animal videos? Find out which of them, if any, are fans of crime fiction?
I wish I had the answer to why a viral tweet doesn't monetise your business straight away. In the meantime I will need to get tweeting and talking to my new audience, after all, Twitter can't be a complete waste of time, can it?
Here’s hoping that they don’t unfollow as soon as my crime, policing and terrorism tweets start up again...