I have to admit, I am not sure this is a good idea.

Bill Gates starts Twittering.

I can't say for sure that it's not a good idea. I have just seen so many people, important people even, jump on the blog or Twitter bandwagon; because it's gained popularity, probably because someone is telling them they should do it, that I am wary. Very few have done this well. And boy do you have a microscope on you if you are someone like BillG.

So when I see something like this, I think back to some of my learnings from blogging. Not because I am important (I'm not...and not nearly as smart as him either). But because being effective at social media requires an investment; not just in time, but also in authenticity. It's an investment that not everyone is comfortable with or can even make work if they are. There's some little thing that people who are effective at this social media thing have; part voice, part mind share juju, part motivation and I'm pretty sure some pixie dust is involved. Here are some of the questions I would ask myself (not my marketing team!), if I were Bill.

1) Does this support a strategy?

Trendiness is not a good reason to adopt social media. Because when time gets tight, other priorities come up, and/or "the top of my head" is devoid of new things to post, authorship gets hard. And at that point, your marketing team are exactly the wrong folks to help you out. Sorry, marketing people. You have an important job that is about controlling the message. It's a job pretty inconsistent with social media. And I can spot marketing content a mile away. I'm not the only one. I'm not saying that marketing people don't get it. I'm just saying that asking your marketing team to be responsible for blog or Twitter content is like asking Paula Dean to write a diet book. Not a good fit. I know I am going to get it for this one.

2) Is that strategy long-term?

Social media relies on the building of community. And once you have built it, you kind of have to live in it for a while. If you don't, you will be missed. And your followers will feel toyed with. And then they will undo some of the good.

3) Does the tool have staying power?

Today's Twitter is tomorrow's ??? Seriously. Remember MySpace? (OK, not ready to put the nail in the coffin just yet, but I have a hammer in my hand)

4) Do the benefits of usage of the tool supersede the cost of my time?

Simple ROI equation. For someone like Bill, there has to be some significant R to justify that I. And his I costs way more than my I. Better garner some big-a** R. All I'm saying.

5) Do I know who my target audience is and how this tool can target them?

One of the most common social media mistakes I see, regularly: people don't take the time to understand who their target audience is. I have a feeling that Bill (and whomever else might be involved) has an idea who his target audience is. Because marketing folks can be really good at this exercise. The intended audience needs to be effectively matched to the tool. Well, actually the other way around.I tell people that the strategy comes first and then the tool. Well, part of the strategy is knowing your audience and that of the tool. If Ashton and all his followers are part of your desired audience, you're golden. Oh, I suppose there are some other twitter followers too.

6) Do I have something interesting to say? Frequently enough to not only attract but engage?

This, I have struggled with. And I am sure that I am willing to say some things that Bill would never say. He has a more interesting and important life than I do, but he also has more limits. Because the market doesn't care much if I rip on Steve Jobs, but if he does it. Well...you know. And when you do say something and it starts a dialog, then you have to respond. And that's not always convenient, especially when you are trying to help solve the world AIDS epidemic.

Anyway, we will see what will become of this. I definitely wish Bill a lot of luck with this. What can I say? I like the guy.  This almost had to be Bill's idea and authenticity and reach should have been really important pieces of what they are trying to do here. But I'm not really sure what the point is yet. And I am pretty sure that Bill's marketing and PR people aren't going to tell me.

Comments (6)

  1. Joe Hage says:

    Well, I will say this, Heather: I found out about Bill’s new site from someone’s retweet.

    Will he be as active as others on the network? I don’t know that he has to be.

    By the way, I love your tagline, "Exploring the fine line between clever and stupid."

    Joe Hage

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hi Joe,

    Yeah, I am sure Bill will get plenty of buzz. Will be intersting to see what happens when the initial chatter dies down. I am hoping good things.

    Thanks about the tagline…all inspired by "This is Spinal Tap" 🙂

  3. LauraN546 says:

    Awesome quote – "I’m not saying that marketing people don’t get it. I’m just saying that asking your marketing team to be responsible for blog or Twitter content is like asking Paula Dean to write a diet book. Not a good fit."

    Absolutely agree with you!

  4. Theresa says:

    Hi Heather:

    As a marketer and as an observer of social media, I agree with you. If you don’t know your true purpose for jumping on the SM bandwagon, then don’t. If someone at Microsoft heavily prodded Mr. Gates to get on board and he simply acquiesced, then the point has been missed. I actually don’t know because I was not one of the 100k+ people who chose to follow him in his first 8 hours on Twitter. I have a PC, but that’s where it ends.

    As you mentioned, he has a greater liability in joining the conversation, if in fact that is his intention. What remains to be seen is if he listens and acts. If we see changes in MS products because he’s on Twitter, then the ROI on both sides of the table will be huge.

    Finally, I know you were making a point in your first paragraph, and I don’t disagree with the notion that marketing people shouldn’t be the Twitter/blog police. I see my marketing role as maintaining brand strategy. Every brand stands for something and it’s our job to make sure the voice is consistent. If a company or person is doing that with full transparency and authenticity, then the social space is going to be that much easier; it  just becomes one more way to have a conversation and build community with their audience.

    Your tagline made me laugh. Have a great day!


  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    LauraN546 – Thanks! I try 🙂

    Theresa – Thanks for your comments. Bill Gates is representing himself and his foundation now, not Microsoft. I know we get some residual brand juju, but he’s not really here anymore, for better or wose (I think worse…I miss Bill). He’s got bigger things to focus his time on 🙂

    And I agree on your comments about the role of marketing. When it comes to social media, it’s more of a supporting role. The voice needs to come from the individual.

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Here’s a story from today: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2010890341_billgates26.html

    Hope Bill (andhis team?) are seeing social media as a conversation, not just a publicity generator.  Please, Bill, show people that you are really listening.

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