That is the question facing high-profile personalities and brands the world over. The pressure to create an account on Twitter has been mounting, and the 140-character broadcasting service has a user base that goes up all the way to the President and beyond, even as high as Oprah.
But Oprah's decision to join Twitter is worth examining, primarily because it happened to late in Twitter's life cycle. Not since the invention of the Internet itself has an online service received as much media hype as Twitter, and that hype grew to a veritable frenzy around the time Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN to a race for first to achieve a million Twitter followers back in April of '09. We'll call this moment "Twitter's peak."
Most organizations that achieve Oprah's size and weight -- and I mean Harpo, not Oprah the woman -- have problems moving nimbly enough ever to be technology leaders. To really get out ahead of the pack in terms of technology, you need to be able to identify emerging technologies before they filter down into the mainstream, and you need to be willing to assume the risk that goes with employing a new technology -- not just whether it will work, but whether it will work in your favor. But Oprah has been a bit of a pioneer, with her New Earth classes broadcast exclusively over the Internet, and her regular use of Web cams as part of her show. (Yes, others did the Web cam thing earlier, but she was the first to strike a deal with Skype and bring a level of quality to the segments not previously achieved on TV.) Oprah has earned her place as a technology leader in broadcast television.
But what Oprah was doing in joining Twitter was not leading, it was following. She joined on the same day Ashton made his million mark. And while that worked for Oprah, because she could create a TV segment around it, it is not what I would advise other celebrities or brands to do.
There are two reasons you should use new technology to market your brand. One is to generate media buzz simply for the reason that you made use of a new technology. I would call this either the Blair Witch approach, or the Snakes on a Plane approach. When the Blair Witch Project came out, marketers of the film used what was called at the time "guerrilla marketing." They used the Web to generate hype about a real Blair Witch legend, which furthered the uncertainty over whether or not the film was a piece of nonfiction. But the stunt was successful primarily because it generated buzz -- not just because of what they did, but how they did it. People took notice -- journalists took notice, the media took notice -- for no other reason than that these savvy marketers used the Internet in a way it had never been used before. Same general principal with Snakes on a Plane, whose marketers used a technology that allowed users to customize a voicemail message for their friends in Samuel Jackson's voice.
The second reason to use technology to market your brand is to reach an audience that heretofore has been difficult to reach, and to communicate with them in a way that no one has ever communicated with them before. I was never a big fan of Rachel Maddow, primarily because I don't watch TV news. Who has time? You have to sit down in one place. You have to disconnect yourself from activities that might take you to other rooms, such as laundry or kids playing in the back yard. But I discovered Rachel Maddow through her iPhone ap, which I could watch anywhere, any time, as long as I'm in range of a wireless connection. This is the simple, straightforward reason for using new technology to market your brand. You expand your reach.
So before you jump on the Twitter bandwaggon -- and a vast, vast waggon it is -- ask yourself what you hope to gain from tweeting. If what you're hoping is that you'll generate buzz, tread carefully. You don't want the buzz to be that you're a late-comer to last year's technology.