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Twitter, Can We Talk?

by Mack Collier  |  
May 22, 2008

Seriously, we need to talk.
For the past few days, the site's been going through another of its infamous "Twitter's down again, isn't it?" spells. These problems always lead to grumpiness from many of those using Twitter, and the inevitable "where else could we go?" discussion pops up. This time, many decided to launch a "Twit-Out" and avoid Twitter entirely on Tuesday.

And these constant problems are what we need to talk about. Many of us understand why Twitter is down. We get that the site is trying to meet demand and is having trouble scaling. But what many of us do NOT understand is why Twitter is keeping us in the dark about the process.
So here's my request to the good people at Twitter: Start actually using the service.
Think of how many Dell reps are on Twitter. You can't swing a bad pitch without hitting one. But where are the Twitter employees using the service as we do? What would happen if just 2 people from Twitter were on the site evangelizing and engaging Twitter users? GeekMommy said it best:

But I'm still of the opinion that they really need a community representative whose sole job is to interact with the Twitter community and make sure things like yesterday's outages and issues are understood.
Twitter is a great service & their people work hard - but it doesn't come across that way when there's nothing but static on the airwaves.

Here's a BIG secret for businesses that deal with negative comments by users/customers online; most of that negativity comes from the fact that we think that you aren't valuing or listening to what we have to say. Start actually engaging us, and the volume of negativity will go WAY down.
Just ask Dell.
So that's my advice to Twitter. Take a few bucks from those millions you've just raised on funding, and hire a community evangelist that will help bring the voice of the community back to Twitter, and vice-versa. Or if you don't want to do that, there are MANY Twitterers that would volunteer to be the voice of the community for you. Here's one.
So Twitter, don't be afraid to reach out to us. While we complain when you are down, we love the service and really want to see it do well. But we can't tell you that if you won't listen.
Twitter users, what say you? Would you feel better about the constant problems if Twitter was active in the space and giving us feedback and support? Or should we all shut up and take it, since it's a free service?

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Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier

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  • by Daniel Johnson, Jr. Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    It sounds like you're not aware that Twitter has a presence over at . There's a post over there related to the downtime: Your post comes across as though you're whining. It's good to take a break from technology. Seriously.

  • by Igor Poltavskiy Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    Let's hope that recent Twitter VC funding helps to solve Twitter problems:)

  • by Deb Dib Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    As a week-old Twitter newbie, I'm amazed at how many times the site has gone down. And at the complete lack of communication except for the lame screen that says they'll be back. Sheesh. For a site completely built around community and communication, they sure don't live what they preach. Not much brand integrity there! I hope they take your advice, get some employees on the site as user-evangelists, and get their act together -- because I am starting to really enjoy tweeting :-)

  • by Ann Handley Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    I've wondered about this, too, Mack. If this is them, they haven't been trying too hard, as the last post was Feb.: I do check in with the Twitter blog occasionally to see what's up with spotty service. (And this post from yesterday helped: Nonetheless... why doesn't Twitter... well, Twitter?

  • by Justin Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    They do *sort of* post on what's up (or rather, down) with Twitter at: Doesn't look like they're too good about updating, though.

  • by Donna Papacosta Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    I too don't like Twitter being down. But let's keep in mind that it's a FREE service, eh?

  • by Leslie Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    I think the folks behind Twitter believe they're running a technology company, not a community site, which explains why they don't often "break the fourth wall." I don't mean that as a slam, just as a point of reference. Twitter's origins (as far as I know) were a weird bit of code laying around Odeo that no one knew what to do with. Compare that to a site like Flickr which IMO was built with the intention of creating a community of users from day one. Regardless, they should obviously be updating their corporate blog to note outages. That's a no-brainer.

  • by mack collier Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    Daniel I'm aware of Get Satisfaction. Also aware of the blog. What I am talking about is Twitter having an ACTIVE presence in their community. It's Community Building 101 to join and participate in the community you serve. I *love* Twitter! It's expanded my personal and professional network significantly the last few months as is the best online networking site I've ever seen. But that doesn't excuse Twitter not embracing its community. Look at the blog post that Ann linked to. Even when there are problems, there are SO many evangelists that are willing to stand by Twitter and support them. But why didn't Biz and Jack and Ev, or someone else, take the time to explain the problems ON Twitter to the Twitter community? A ton of people follow those three, but how many of them even know the blog exists to check it for updates. Twitter is an amazing service but their community-outreach sucks. And they don't have to be a pay site for me to see that.

  • by mack collier Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    "As a week-old Twitter newbie, I'm amazed at how many times the site has gone down. And at the complete lack of communication except for the lame screen that says they'll be back. Sheesh." And this is another reason why I get upset. Because I know that there are a ton of people like Deb that are just discovering Twitter, and when they are immediately greeted by constant outages (which no explanation that they can see), then they may want to leave. Twitter just got another round of I think $15 million or so in funding. Take a few bucks out of that and hire a community evangelist. Hell there are dozens of power Twitter users that would VOLUNTEER to be the liaison between company and community. Twitter simply needs to learn to respect its community enough to let us know what the deal is. THAT alone would squelch much of the complaining. Being a 'free' service doesn't give them a hall-pass and posting an update on a blog that most users have no idea exists isn't the solution either. Get out in your community and talk to us. Seriously they should not have to be told this.

  • by mack collier Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    Leslie I think you are on to something. And it appears from the tweets I've read the last day or so from Jack and Biz and Ev, I hear a very decided 'Guys we know there are problems, leave us alone so we can fix them!' tone. I think they need to hire a community evangelist. Someone that's passionate about the service (won't be hard to find someone that is), and that wants to see it succeed (won't be hard to find that either). Twitter might be a free service now, but they obviously have plans to monetize the service down the road, which is another reason to reach out to their community now. And no, I'm not throwing my hat in the ring for this position, but I will be MORE than happy to suggest many people that have the passion and love for Twitter and its community, to be the go-between between company and users.

  • by Leslie Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    Thanks, Mack! Yes, I agree, they need an evangelist. It's actually funny to think how many current or former evangelists (Heather Champ, Scoble, etc.) are already on Twitter. Maybe they could poach one? ;) On the other hand, it would be nice to see a fresh face plucked from relative Twitter obscurity. I'd also love to read what Matt Haughey has to say on this topic:

  • by Becky Carroll Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    I am another one of those who just started - on Tuesday, I think (my luck!). I have been somewhat frustrated with the service performance, but I can be very patient. The difference between what you are talking about, Mack, and what Twitter is doing at GetSatisfaction (which is great!) is the difference between being proactive and being reactive. If Twitter were more proactive, then they would do things like engage in the community they have built and communicate issues that way. To make customers go out to another application to "seek out" information is not very customer-focused. Twitter, I think you can do better! I am looking forward to becoming an avid user.

  • by Alan Wolk (Toad) Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    Mack: Could not agree more. Their service site (getsatisfaction) is a major PITA to use and isn't easily accessed. A community evangelist would be a huge step. But I'd settle for a little note on the Home screen acknowledging that there have been issues. Cause someone who gets that customers count is going to come along, introduce a similar service with features like "temporary mute," court the influencers and... Twitter will be history.

  • by Levon Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    Every large scale Internet company goes through growing pains (better known as: server expansion). We saw the same with MySpace and are still seeing it with Skype. It is to be expected once traffic multiplies so will the need to add servers to accommodate such traffic.

  • by Penny Sansevieri Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    We broke Twitter. We were using it for a micro-blogging campaign. Sorry guys! Ok, I'm kidding. Ironically it went down in the middle of a BIG campaign... Twitter: bookgal

  • by vaspers aka steven e. streight Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    You're not "whining". You're expecting a web site to be usable, reliable, and fully functional. Web 2.0 has nothing to fear, but success (i.e., scaling) itself. As a site like Twitter becomes popular, the servers get pounded. But down time is not the only problem on Twitter. Many user requests have been ignored for some reason. Like an accurate @ in reply to that links to a specific tweet, not just the most recent. Jaiku and Pownce are viable alternatives. I have my Twitter messages automatically feeding into Jaiku.

  • by mack collier Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    "The difference between what you are talking about, Mack, and what Twitter is doing at GetSatisfaction (which is great!) is the difference between being proactive and being reactive. If Twitter were more proactive, then they would do things like engage in the community they have built and communicate issues that way. To make customers go out to another application to "seek out" information is not very customer-focused." Bingo. It sounds like Twitter is tech-focused, not community-focused. Which is easily corrected, just bring in someone that's passionate about the community to connect the two. Startups do this all the time, why can't Twitter as well?

  • by Aimee Kessler Evans Thu May 22, 2008 via blog

    It all reminds me so much of Typepad ca 2004, when it was down every other week. SixApart was smart enough to engage Anil Dash to scan the blogosphere for all Typepad-related negativity - and to respond appropriately via comments in a truthful and personal maanner. It was a smart tactic - he became the friendly and understanding face of SixApart, and probably kept a lot of us on board. Twitter would be wise to do the same (or similar).

  • by Shekar Prabhakar Fri May 23, 2008 via blog

    It is amazing how many organizations, even the ones that charge for their services, seem loath to be part of their customer/user community unless it is asking for more business. We almost seem afraid of what we will find and the work we will have to put in to fix it.

  • by mack collier Fri May 23, 2008 via blog

    And today we had 'ArielGate', and the only response I saw on Twitter was Evan scolding us as being a 'mob' that implied that Ariel was confused and/or lying. I've seen some hints that Blaine left Twitter due to 'philosophical differences'. Starting to wonder if he saw the writing on the wall...

  • by Leslie Fri May 23, 2008 via blog

    I just read via SpinThicket that Twitter is reaching out to a handful of users to create a marketing video: Julie Haddon, aka julietweets, is the marketing person mentioned. But her tweets are all private: Oh, snap!

  • by Kevin Horne Fri May 23, 2008 via blog

    Mack: I know this is largely about Twitter (which I don't care to use), but I hope your larger point about management actually using its product doesn't get lost. This one is always impressed upon me when I ride the LIRR for a nice weekend away, and something in the system breaks down. And riders are left to fend for themselves, sometimes for hours. No back-up trains, no buses, no announcements. Always seems to happen late on a Friday night when management is gone for the weekend - no one can be reached. It's in those instances I always say to myself "there is no way management ever rides its own trains, because they would never let this happen to human beings." Then Monday comes and i've forgotten all about it. Probably just like they planned it! ;)

  • by Sean Howard Fri May 23, 2008 via blog

    Brilliant Mack!!! Sort of INSANE now that you point it out. One of the primary tools any evangelist uses would be Twitter... Cobbler's children syndrome perhaps???? ;)

  • by mack collier Fri May 23, 2008 via blog

    "I know this is largely about Twitter (which I don't care to use), but I hope your larger point about management actually using its product doesn't get lost." Willie Davidson was once asked if Harley-Davidson made an effort to conduct market research to get better insights into the wants and needs of their customers. Willie replied (paraphrasing): "Oh sure, we're in constant communication with our customers. We ride with them all the time." Twitter doesn't know what its community wants because they aren't a PART of our community. They don't use the tools the same way we do, and for the same reasons. But they should.

  • by leigh Sun May 25, 2008 via blog

    Guys - we've all seen this before. Twitter is facing a classic case of first-mover status. They're the first mover in this category - they're growing too fast and they're in WAY over their heads! Unfortunately - while the VC $$$ infusion builds hope -- they don't exhibit maturity when it comes to technology management, communication, policy management and decision making. It would be comforting to see it in ONE area... right? But they've got one thing going for them -- they've got tweeters... a whole host of people DYING to be fans...and hoping for the best. The thing is, if Twitter doesn't get smart about how to manage its business fast - they're in trouble. Moreover, I think fans are incredibly understanding when you're honest with them... if Twitter doesn't get smart about how to handle it's incredibly vocal (BY NATURE!) and participative audience, that audience will turn on Twitter and maul the company like wild dogs. ....and someone with "second mover" status will sweep in, learning from Twitter's mistakes and do it better. Just my .02 cents for the day.

  • by Tim Jackson Mon May 26, 2008 via blog

    Just look at the number of comments this post has already generated... on a holiday... to see how passionate people are about this topic. Clearly, Twitter is pretty insignificant in our worlds... NOT! Well, you certainly have heard enough questioning about "complaining" about the outages of a free service from me. BUT... the bigger issue in this post, I believe, is the 100% squandered opportunity to actually BUILD community when the site is having problems. From my experience doing many years of Customer Service work, customers (users) just want an answer/ explanation- even if they don't like the particular answer. Any answer is better than total silence. By being active in the community they built, they will earn more respect and trust- even if they continue to have constant problems- and they look like total heroes along the way. They can take a known problem and turn it into a community builder by embracing people and essentially asking people to "come grow with us". A billion years ago, I worked for a company that had a product that experienced A LOT of problems in the first few versions. We had a very vocal and active community. We acknowledged the complications we were facing and engaged our community. In the end, having to send the product back to us for service became a "badge of honor" and a symbol of their pride of ownership. PLUS they got to feel that they were HELPING US in our development cycle- further increasing their cool factor as early adopters. Sound at all familiar here? Twitter- here is my promise to you; if you engage and interact with your community, you will always win in the end. That's my Five-Star Guaranteed Tip for today. You can reach me at @TimJackson

  • by Dawn Tue May 27, 2008 via blog

    I've been reading alot about Twitter on MarketingProfs and have decided to check it out. With the limited time I have, I've tried to access the site to no avail, much to my chagrin. All the technology's just a matter of good branding. Twitter will continue to grow if the properly serve their "customers," whether they're paying or not. The fact that it's a free service is no excuse. If they can't handle the traffic--free or not--they need to fold up their tents and go home! If they correct this problem and they have happy users, the brand will build itself--no advertising necessary.

  • by Joel Libava Sun Jun 1, 2008 via blog

    Mack, The elephant is a perfect image. Like' The bandwidth that twitter needs is like "The Elephant In The Room!' Joel Libava

  • by Joel Libava Sun Jun 1, 2008 via blog

    Mack, The elephant is a perfect image. Like' The bandwidth that twitter needs is like "The Elephant In The Room!' Joel Libava

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