With his novel The Tao of Twitter: Changing your life and business 140 characters at a time, Mark Schaefer provides an easy-to-read manual on how to successfully use Twitter. He acknowledges that many first time users become fed up with the platform after a week and quit because they simply do not understand it. This is partly because there are no instructions given that go beyond the first step of creating an account making the site seem puzzling and daunting. Schaefer’s purpose for the book is to demystify the foreign language and etiquette of the medium such as trending topics and retweeting in a casual manner and to persuade readers that Twitter can be for virtually anyone despite first glance. Although the literature is geared towards those seeking to learn how Twitter can be utilized as a business tool, the guidelines he offers are generalized enough to be helpful for any new tweeter. Even as a relatively avid consumer of this type of social media, I discovered some of Twitter’s capabilities that I was unfamiliar with before reading this book.
The Tao of Twitter establishes and is structured as the path or Tao one needs to follow to understand the fundamental aspects of Twitter. It is primarily divided into three Tao, targeted connections, meaningful content, and authentic helpfulness, which Schaefer believes are the basic elements through which all business advantages are created. His relevant and practical examples allow readers to see how the three work together to generate a successful marketing strategy on Twitter. For beginners, he even prescribes a feasible regimen that is designed to seamlessly integrate the once awkward and alien tool into their daily lives to the point of domestication. Although he concedes that the platform may not be for everybody or business, Schaefer ensures that with persistence and commitment one can reap many benefits from Twitter usage even if it does not directly manifest into a sales lead.
Under the title of “Targeted Connections”, Tao One proposes the importance of social capital. Twitter is primarily a source of bridging social capital or the resources you gain from weak ties with others, such as following celebrities or former classmates. This type of connection allows for one to encounter new knowledge that one would not have accessed otherwise. Thus, the more individuals one follows and followers one has, the more information one will be exposed to. Schaefer describes, “Think about Twitter followers like atoms flying around inside of a chemist’s test tube, bumping into each other randomly. Obviously the more atoms you have in the tube, the better your chances that a reaction will occur.” However, he also emphasizes that the quality of your followers is just as important as the quantity. If the information sent by a tweeter is reaching many people, but it is not relevant to the majority of them, then the effort is not productive. Users should aim to surround themselves with others who can help and learn from them. Also, there is a trade off between the number of people one follows and the amount of valuable, personal interactions one can have with them. It is impossible for a person to have a strong relationship with each of his or her thousand followers. Depending on one’s business strategy, the key is to build a manageable, targeted community of like-minded individuals, which may require time and effort to accomplish.
Skipping the self-explained Tao Two of the need to provide meaningful content to grab people’s attention, Tao Three focuses on the high value of authenticity on Twitter, which Schaefer posits as the most ignored factor by tweeters. In order for one’s business to be effective on the platform, one must be aware that Twitter is structured around what the author labels as P2P or person-to-person connections. This is the critical distinction between traditional marketing and new media. Until recently, a message would come from a single source and be broadcasted to multiple points of contact through outlets such as radio and television. Twitter is a space where people “hang out” and have conversations about almost anything. They do not expect to be advertised to. Consumers in this commercial culture are tired of being sold to and increasingly deem advertisements as unreliable sources of information. Therefore, companies need to tailor their tactics to adhere to this fundamental difference in communication. Schaefer asserts that since Twitter is a forum for personal human interaction, one must treat relationship building on it the same as one would offline. This requires a sense of helpfulness without an expectation to receive anything in return. For example, when one offers assistance regardless of personal gain, others perceive it as a genuine gesture and are more likely to trust one in the future leading to the possibility of further interaction. “In an always-on, real-time, global world of communications, the priority is on human interaction that leads to connections. Connections lead to awareness. Awareness leads to trust. Trust is the ultimate catalyst to business benefits.” Twitter users have the capacity to differentiate exploitive advertising from authentic helpfulness and will react accordingly.
Although The Tao of Twitter delivers a strong introduction to the platform for beginners, it fails to mention some concepts that I find pertinent to be an effective user. Schaefer alludes to the fact that communication on Twitter is a two-way highway as opposed to the unidirectional stream of traditional marketing with his notion of P2P, but he does not delve into the topic enough in my opinion. Consumer feedback is a major feature of having a company’s appearance on Twitter because of the brand’s increased accessibility to the public. A business is almost expected to respond or at least read all the tweets the account receives. Prior to Twitter, customers would send emails or call service representatives with complaints, with the negative comments staying between a small group of people. However, nowadays, one can tweet about one’s qualms with a company that can be easily be read by their entire network. This is significant considering it has become more common for individuals to rely on their friends’ opinions than on advertisements when making a purchase. Thus, a negative tweet has the possibility to cost a business a number of customers. Marketers should realize that they have less control over the image of their company on new media in comparison to conventional outlets because people use Twitter to voice their opinions however they want, which can be in a way they did not intend. As a result, I believe Schaefer should have included more on what to expect with consumer feedback and how to deal with it.