In spite of being one of the darlings of the tech savvy and one of the most valuable startups out of Silicon Valley, Twitter was a relatively unknown phenomenon in India till it rose to fame during the 26/11 attacks.
Ordinary Indians in and around the affected areas started tweeting live what they were seeing before their eyes, before the Rajdeep Sardesais and Barkha Dutts reached there.
So what is Twitter? Think of an ordinary SMS that you send to your family and friends. Imagine if you could beam this SMS into the whole wide world for anyone and everyone to see and respond to.
That's Twitter, where you follow people who tweet interesting stuff in 140 characters; similarly, others can follow what you tweet.
Twitter gives you the opportunity to broadcast your life, thoughts and feelings. It gives you the vicarious pleasure of peeping into other people's lives in your timeline — a long stream showing all tweets from those you have chosen to follow.
Twitter is different from Facebook in that Facebook is the place where you lie to your friends and Twitter is where you are honest with complete strangers.
This bunch of tweeters and followers has suddenly become quite large — about 37.5 lakh Indians, according to comScore. Where there are so many people, can brands be far behind?
Unfortunately, most brands approach Twitter with a mass marketing mindset where they thrust advertising message down the consumer's throat. For such traditional brand owners, Twitter has been experimenting with 'promoted tweets' where brands pay to have their tweet show up at the top of search result pages, Promoted Trends and Promoted Accounts.
It is worth noting that when Twitter promoted brand messages in a bar at the top of its official iPhone application, consumers derisively called it the "Dickbar". There are reports that soon, branded messages will start appearing in consumer's timelines.
The problem from the consumer point of view is that they won't know what their original opinion is as opposed to the advertiser's. Also, if these tweets become frequent, they would become bothersome for users.
As for brands, the downside is that tweets within the timeline only appear for a short time at the top, so during busy periods they could be missed. Also, consumers would have no qualms in replying to promoted tweets from brands they dislike with negative comments.
More often than not, brands are not prepared for the potential waves of negative feedback.
But more fundamentally, is promoted tweets the best way to connect with consumers on Twitter? Twitter is about conversations that consumers are having with their Twitter friends online.
Think of it as your college canteen. A branded message is like a promoter coming to your table while you are in a deep conversation with your friends, interrupting you and giving you spiel on a brand. How would you react? Not very positively, right?
Besides, consumers who are interested in a brand are already following it on Twitter.
A promoted tweet is like holding a megaphone and shouting at consumers — the spray and pray method of marketing. It goes against the grain of internet marketing which is contextual, targeted and permission-based.
In a nutshell, consumers are already having a conversation on Twitter. Brands should try to become a part of that conversation, not interrupt it.
The writer is COO, Contests2win.com.