Twitter: Is the End Near?

If you’re a marketer who has steered clear of Twitter, your (non)strategy may be paying off! It’s possible that this Twitter thing may just take care of itself.

In the middle of last year, Twitter’s growth slowed from 7.8 million new users a month to 6.2 million, according to a recent study from RJ Metrics. That report also found that only 17 percent of Twitter users updated their accounts in December — an all-time low. An earlier study by the Nielsen Co. revealed 60 percent of Twitter users do not return from one month to the next. Taking that into account, it’s tempting to conclude that Twitter is following in the footsteps of another social-media ghost town, Second Life.

In fairness, the raw data may be deceptive. Twitter’s proponents argue that its numbers appear low because so many people access Twitter via ways other than its Web site. But some marketers are ready to write the microblogging service off. “I’m not a big fan of Twitter,” says Joel Ewanick, group vp of marketing for Hyundai. “My Twitter meter has gone down.” Ewanick says he finds Facebook, which has copied most of Twitter’s best features, to be a superior platform. “[Twitter has] become the butt of a joke. You start seeing in popular culture people making fun of Twitter.” Geoff Cottrill, CMO for Converse, seconded that.

“Twitter is a little bit overrated,” he says. “There will be a new media toy that will replace it in a year or two.” Meanwhile, according to VentureBlog, Procter & Gamble execs recently told venture capitalists that they didn’t think Twitter was “particularly relevant to what they’re doing on the brand-building and advertising side” and that “they do not believe that Twitter will ever approach what they get out of a Google or Facebook.” (A P&G rep declined comment on the report.)

Like Second Life, Twitter has become a wasteland for brands. Verizon, a company that spent more than $1 billion on advertising in 2009, has around 5,000 followers — about 0.3 percent the amount that Perez Hilton has. Coca-Cola has 15,000. Apple’s not even on Twitter. And some corporate Twitter accounts suffer from prolonged neglect. Delta Airlines’ Twitter page went from June 17 to Dec. 22 last year without a single update. Delta reps could not be reached for comment.

Sienna Farris, director of social media marketing strategy for New York agency Strawberry Frog, says that Twitter isn’t for everyone. Farris, like other experts contacted for this article, says that all marketers should be mining the real-time mentions of their brands on Twitter, but otherwise, there are just a few areas where Twitter makes sense for marketers — customer relations management, the hawking of deals and as a vehicle for promotions. (Twitter also seems to be a great venue for smaller, lesser-known brands.)

When it comes to Twitter’s success among large brands, Dell is the exception that proves the rule. The PC maker not only has a large following on the platform, but also has some ROI to show as well. The brand claimed $6.5 million in Twitter revenues in 2009. About half of that came from @DellOutlet, a Twitter account dedicated to announcing deals at the company’s factory outlet (the rest of the revenues come from international Twitter accounts). Richard Binhammer, senior manager of corporate affairs better known by his Twitter name “RichardatDELL,” says that with its permission-based, real-time nature, Twitter makes sense for that brand. “At Dell Outlet, we don’t know what our inventory’s going to be from day one to day two,” says Binhammer. “It’s pretty unpredictable. It’s an outlet store, so it’s open-box specials.” @DellOutlet, at this writing, has close to 1.6 million followers.