Monday, April 9, 2012

Is Twitter ‘Jumping the Shark’ with new marketing partnerships?

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Is Twitter advertising threatening its relevance?
The fifth season of the sitcom Happy Days began with Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (The Fonz) water skiing in his trademark leather jacket and jumping a tiger shark being held offshore in an attempt to prove his manhood to the world.  The entire series was launched by an episode in which the character made famous by Henry Winkler, attempts to prove his manhood by jumping 14 trash cans, a new record, on a motorcycle. While the series lasted 11 seasons, the aquatic themed episode marked the beginning of the show’s ratings decline from the number two spot then to 55th in 1984.

Webmaster and radio personality John Hein first used the term “jumping the shark” to describe the latter episode’s stunt as the moment a television show is grasping at straws and running out of ideas to remain relevant or of any quality to its audience. Since then, the phrase has become synonymous with the beginning of a downturn in popularity and relevance for anyone or anything, from a public perspective, that leads to its ultimate demise.

Recently at SXSW, Twitter and AmEx announced a partnership whereby Twitter users can synchronize their account to earn savings on their AmEx card by re-tweeting  #tag deals from both offline and online retailers. The early adopters of this new program include the likes of Best Buy, McDonald’s Whole Foods and Zappos to name a very few.

I am making another bold prediction, right here, right now. This may be Twitter’s jumping the shark moment. In other words, when businesses start to embrace Twitter as a coupon pushing medium, I predict it’s going to be flooded with people putting #bestbuy, #amazon, #wegmans, and #giveme1dollarandIllsellmysoul.  This will undoubtedly relegate Twitter to the ValuePak crowd.  It will be a slow trickle at first, but it won’t be long before corporate spam dominates Twitter.

In itself, Twitter is a self-promotion medium and a very powerful one at that. It’s a way to say to the world, “Hey look at me. Here is what I am doing. You might be interested in this. This is hilarious” and so on. I use it to promote this very blog.

There’s one very important distinction between the way I use it and Twitter advertising. The people who follow me on Twitter choose to follow me. What’s to prevent Twitter advertisements from showing up in my feed from some followers and blocking out the content they really want to read? What’s to prevent the ads from populating your feed or blocking out your tweeted messages so much that they’re lost in a sea of Twitter advertising? What’s to prevent you from seeking and alternative way to get your message out?

What can save Twitter from jumping the shark?

The medium must become a source of searchable instant information: Twitter search. Twitter could be a “real-life” or reality version of Google, with information and answers instantly available from experts. Make that into a searchable database, and you have something that won’t be destroyed by corporate promotion. What the heck, I wouldn’t be opposed to having small related banner ads that could accompany the interface at the bottom of the page.

At their onset and always in the back of their minds, dot-com and new media start ups have how it is that they are going to make money or go public. It goes into the business plan and they take it out to investors. They must remain agile in their thinking about selling ads or services to make it a viable business proposition for investors, and here’s the key, while remaining relevant to their audience. Currently Twitter advertisers use campaign boosters and engagement tools to promote their products and services, a system which allows users to choose what brands or services they want to follow.

When you put the advertising in the hands of the users and it goes viral enough times, you’re not only relegated to the ValuePak crowd, you’re right up there with the “The first 1,500 people to click on this link will get a free iPad – I am not kidding” spammers.

In all reality, one could tell you to simply block all of your worst offending followers.

But then again, should you choose to do so, didn’t you just lose part of your audience?

With this new form of Twitter advertising and promotion, I can almost picture the fin rising from the water, dimmed slightly by a ramp-cast shadow, and hear a familiar diatonic cello chorus building into crescendo in the back of my mind.