The Sunday Mail Top 100 Adelaide Twits List: The Danger of a Twitter Fluff Piece

twitter-sunday-mail (Image by freeflyer09 via Flickr)I almost didn’t write about the Top 100 Adelaide Twits list because I don’t read the Sunday Mail and thought it best not to comment on an article I had not read.

However, enough Twits from the list shared scans and photographs of the article, or at least their bits of the article, that I have been able to piece it together. Here is the scan done by #4 @Tarale (I will replace this to a live link to the article, if/when it becomes available).

And this state of affairs is exactly what I hope the Sunday Mail was being strategic enough to pull off because otherwise the article would have been akin to predicting this year’s Brownlow Medal winner based on how many football socks each player had used in their career.

So let’s look briefly at

  • why this article doesn’t help anyone
  • how this article might harm some people
  • what this article reveals about news organisations’ real understandings of social media

Why this article doesn’t help anyone

It is just about numbers.

As we all know, statistics and numbers can be used to prove anything. We also know that numbers of themselves tell us very little unless we know the context in which they have been calculated or arrived at. For example, in the book Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, they compare the emotionally-charged figure that the price of holding democratic elections in the USA is a staggering one billion dollars. It it tempting to call for new laws limiting such wasteful spending, until the authors reveal that Americans actually spend that much every year on something as mundane as chewing gum. In context, we can see that the sheer size of the population and economy needs to be taken into account to help the first number make sense.

And so to Twitter.

The first thing that struck me was noting that the list contained the few Twitter accounts I have ever muted or unfollowed.

Why?

Because when people utter forth a continual stream-of-consciousness, typically about the minutiae of their lives, it becomes frustrating for those of us on the receiving end who need to wade through their dross for an occasional gem.

So, running a list of Adelaide Twits based on nothing more than how many times they have tweeted is the sort of banal journalism that is often lampooned by real journalists. It reminds me of the ‘insider’ gag that journos refer to when coming across pieces like this, it goes something like, “In Adelaide today, 5,000 residents had their homes flooded. There names were …”

The reason this article will not be helpful is because it illuminates the Twitterati based on noise rather than quality, insight, influence, or any other measure that would require more than a few calculations and a cut-and-paste job.

This is not to say the list is bereft of Twits who are interesting and/or helpful. Rather, it again shows the abdication of editorial insight resulting in throwing data at us to fill space rather than helping us interpret that data and make sense of the world. My full rant on that topic can be found at The Guardian Three Little Pigs video reveals truth about Big Bad Media.

The article will help the Sunday Mail though. It just got a huge burst of publicity (yes, and I am contributing) by using the old media trick of ‘flattery’. It has long been known that you shine a little light on someone and they will do your promotion for you. It could be a mention in an article, a photo in the glam section, a mention on the radio (that got me plenty of free pizzas back in my country radio days) or a promo on a television show. It is human nature to want to tell the world.Whenever media people want something, they/we have the option of stroking your ego and banking the result.

I would love to analyse the ‘buzz’ for the Sunday Mail today as a result of this clever ploy. In particular, I would like to see its lasting effect, its change in perception (I encounter a lot of SM negativity on Twitter) and any boost to revenue. Maybe that could be a follow up story next week?

How this article might harm some people

I believe this Twitter list might harm some people by reinforcing the stereotype that this social media channel in particular is full of twits.

When the top 100 is dominated by topics like tweeting about their daily rides on the bus, favourite bands and how they are feeling right now, some people will understandably but misguidedly deduce that Twitter is a waste of time and not for them, thus robbing themselves and their businesses of an incredible communication channel that enables access deep into organisations, institutions and interest groups, that could be crucial for their futures.

Another area of harm is that it focuses on numbers alone. This is the curse of much internet and social media marketing.

Too many practitioners go all gooey over numbers without actually measuring or aiming for influence of, engagement with or relevance to a person’s or company’s target audience.

Such an audience could be decision makers or influencers across a myriad of scenarios.

This mindset has all the hallmarks of the great snake oil merchants of online marketing like Google Adwords companies that masquerade as ‘Google’ through semantics and then ‘trick’ unsuspecting businesses into shelling out sums of money for expensive ‘clicks’ because they get paid by quantity of traffic, rather than quality. The same goes for many aggressive peddlers of SEO services, cheap websites and domain name registrations. But that is for another day.

For every business person or potential Twitter user who got turned off Twitter by this article, I despair. Such people and businesses will be robbed of an incredible tool that can be finely tuned to deliver leads and raise awareness for starters.

Only last week I was running more of my social media marketing workshops and watching small business people marvel over the insights and efficiencies these tools can provide to those willing to be ‘social’ in their marketing.

What this article reveals about news organisations’ real understandings of social media

Sadly, this article reveals again that papers like the Sunday Mail just don’t get social media. From a recent ‘shock horror’ revelation in the Saturday Advertiser a week ago that some Facebook applications access personal data – the same access that every user sees announced to them in very clear writing whenever they approve such access, to this piece in the Sunday Mail, I fear there is a disconnect inside News Corporation, or at least its Adelaide branch, between what the world is actually doing with social media and the paradigm from which their reporters approach it.

It appears that reporters are told to treat social media like it is some ‘new, fangdangled thing’ that can scare people or make them guffaw over its silliness. And off to work they go.

Intriguingly, the Sunday Mail Facebook Page has not been updated since February 3, 2012, so I fear the organisation might have had some bad experiences in being ‘social’ and decided to withdraw. Or they might just be using the Adelaide Now Facebook Page.

I am not only a marketer who speaks and trains on the topic of social media marketing but I am an ex-journalist and I lament this disconnect. It does not have to be this way. If any journalist would like to have a one on one chat about how the ‘real world’ and the ‘business world’ are using Twitter and other social media tools, I’d be happy to oblige.

I make this offer because the stakes are very high. These communication channels can level playing fields in markets and bring access to voices we need to hear. On my regular FIVEaa segment, Online Insights, we do get callers with questions about this ‘social media thing’ and Sean Perry and I do our best to debate and explain the issues.

Twitter is not perfect. Just like the telephone, its value comes in who is on the other end and what they are willing to share. But its value is enhanced when more people are connected to the network and its efficacy is enhanced when technology like Caller ID allows us to screen out the banal and the dangerous.

Steve Davis About Steve Davis

Steve Davis is Marketing Director at Baker Marketing, Adelaide. He is a public speaker, consultant, blogger, workshop presenter and podcaster, helping clients tap the goldmine of content they are all sitting on for sales and marketing outcomes. Steve has become a 'go to' man for marketing and social media strategy development, learning and implementation. You can read his articles here on Baker Marketing and also at theriteseries.com.au.

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