The Potemkin Villages of Twitter

Prince Grigori Potemkin, lover of Catherine the Great, was supposed to be developing the Southern Ukraine and Crimea.  When Catherine announced her plan to tour the area in 1787 to see how this development was coming along, Potemkin is believed to have panicked and erected painted facades of villages  with nothing behind them along the desolate banks of the Dnieper in order to give the impression of economic vigor.  The single flock of sheep on hand was driven from fake village to fake village during the night in advance of Catherine’s progress.  Potemkin later went mad and died from a high fever after eating a whole goose but that’s another story.

What brings the prince’s madcap scheme to mind is a recent tour of the empty steppes of  the world of corporations on Twitter.  Vast acreages of Twitter real estate are peopled with non-tweeting corporations, some of whom have considerable followings notwithstanding their muteness.  Presumably, many of these companies are in the early stages of developing a Twitter strategy and decided they needed to squat on their own brand identities in the Twitter-sphere in order to prevent rogue elements from getting there first.

Allowing for a moment that there is some legitimacy to this approach, it still seems to us that there is a huge missed opportunity here.  Even if the first tweet is “we’re coming soon,”  that’s still one more tweet than zero, but there are other alternatives: what about following other more active companies in your industry or industry news sources?  These links can always be deleted, if necessary, once you start tweeting for real.  What about asking the open question: “what kind of information would you like to receive from us on Twitter?” or “what would you like to talk about?”  Engaging the stakeholder base in this manner is a good way of starting the relationship.

The evolution of Twitter is a perfect illustration of the maxim that the best way to figure out how to make use of a social media platform is to experiment with it.  From thought leading consultants and computer companies to local pharmacies, everyone is discovering a slightly different way to benefit from Twitter and provide value to stakeholders.  Getting one’s feet wet seems to be the answer and we’re willing to bet the Twitter stream is warmer than the Dnieper in March.


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