CAN YOU HEAR ME?!? Amidst the twittery babble of social networking, please buy my product

OK, fine.  That footballer, that actor, and so on, allegedly.  Now we know.

I started using Twitter earlier this year, as a network-building tool to disseminate this blog.  I also reactivated a Facebook account, although that’s more of a friends’n’family thing (though my teenage daughter and I have a pact not to befriend each other – some privacy is still essential).

I’m no expert on WordPress’s site stats functions – a total readership count works just fine for me.  But here’s what appears to happen:

  • I add a new post – automatic emails to subscribers, and an automatic Twitter message.  I add posts to Facebook manually, and decided against peppering LinkedIn with my every tweet and post – it was all just too much noise.
  • Post-tweet, I get an immediate spike in readers, presumably among those who aren’t working for businesses that deny access to social networks in company time – ie all the sensible ones, outside of journalists, PR people etc, whom one would reasonably expect to stay alert to trends.  And then there’s the self-employed, sitting quietly at home, looking out the back window, prey to the temptations of 85 NEW TWEETS!  (Zadie Smith says, never work with internet access enabled, which I guess is fine if you’re an author, less practical if you’re doing business.)
  • Once my subscribers’ message and tweet have gone “below the fold”, though, the impact has largely gone, and blog readership thereafter is steady.  I know there’s a group that checks me out once a week, because I get a big Saturday spike, even if I haven’t posted since Wednesday.  They read Front of Store at leisure, like the weekend newspapers.  And Google (and Google Alerts etc) keeps the old stuff alive, particularly if I insert a few names of movie stars here and there.

As far as social networking goes, though, I’m a bit of a dull old stick.  Business tool, information source, occasional spontaneous chat, but I’m not a “Crowded train girl opposite looks like J-Lo” or “here’s a photo of my cat” kind of messageur.  Nevertheless, the messages pour in, from retailers, journalists, publishing houses, miscellaneous commentators and even more miscellaneous pals.  Treating it all like an email Inbox, carefully reading and noting each message, would lead to an early grave, but still… I don’t want to miss anything.

About half of those messages are trying actively to sell things to me – books, movies, digital devices, tickets to Leonardo at the National Gallery, and the services of other excellent industry consultants.  Because I’ve self-selected the accounts I follow, these are pretty well tailored to my interests – but most of them fly straight over my head as I scroll past them.  As marketing devices, Twitter and Facebook are failing to reach this user.

I think there are two issues here.  The first is that, historically, I go shopping when I’m the mood to shop (or when I have no alternative).  This applies in physical shops, and it applies online.  So all those messages from dozens of different commercial entities are – almost invariably – hitting me when I’m least interested in them – too busy, memory like a sieve.  And remember, I’m in my home office, much more open to marketing distractions than payroll workers.

The second is that I like to browse, rather like my Saturday Front of Store readers.  This applies whether I’m doing a dull compare’n’contrast across tins of soup, or selecting my holiday reading, or buying a new camera.  Both US Borders and Apple’s iBookstore have created “virtual bookshelves” online, which is a start – I’d certainly be happy to buy soup this way.

However, online marketing tools need to be more eclectic, to support serendipitous browsing, so that the consumer enjoys that “go on, surprise me!” sensation that is delivered by strong and imaginative retailers.  But also – wanting it both ways – I want the retailer to be attuned to my eclectic interests.  What am I hovering over?  What am I “picking up and looking at”?  And how quickly can the e-retailer discern my browsing propensities, as opposed to my necessary purchases – just because I’ve bought a book about how to sell my house, for instance, wouldn’t mean I had any further interest in this category.  And recommendation sites like Lovereading are very click-hungry.

Neither the timing problem or my desire to browse is satisfied by Twitter “mailshots”, or by grinding my way around different e-commerce sites, whether they’re run by retailers or by primary producers.  I know how long it takes to build a database of Twitter followers (please, no cheap shots about the quality of the content).  There are certainly e-retailers out there who are creating a novel experience, but not one that I’d return to again and again – novelty wears thin.  And there are plenty of efficient sites out there, where I can build my profile in Persil and Duchy Originals – but again, not a satisfying browse.

E-retailing now has a big slice of the consumer cake – around 10% of total retail sales in the UK.  But it’s still very immature, very price/convenience based, and with much more to deliver before it comes close to the pleasure of a good, leisurely stroll around the shops.

iPad: Apple.  Cat: author’s own