An Analysis of Corporate Geospatial Tweets

September 30, 2010

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Tina Cary keeps a list of geospatial companies that tweet. Adena Schutzberg reviewed the tweets in the list for two days in September, the 9th and 10th, when the list included 130 companies. Schutzberg put the 234 tweets into 10 categories to get a sense of what was being communicated. Some tweets fell into more than one category.

In this article, Schutzberg and Cary share the categories and how many tweets each contained, and provide their observations on the data.

Below are the categories and the raw number/percentage of tweets in each:

75 (32%) About Us - These tweets included links to white papers and articles about or referencing the company, company blog posts, meet our employee(s) stories, and links to company newsletters.

40 (17%) Weather - One organization tweeted the current weather 40 times during the two days. I presume these data were from an automated service and that the conditions noted were at the company headquarters.

30 (13%) Presentations - These tweets included "we will give/just gave a presentation" at an event, "see us on TV," "join us for a chat" or "see us in a video." The ones related to events rarely had links to content, while all the others included a link.

20 (9%) Press Release - These tweets provided titles and links to company press releases or about products the company sells.

18 (8%) Retweets (RTs) - A retweet is essentially forwarding a tweet to that company's followers. The idea is that the message is important enough to share with a larger community. Few of the retweets included any commentary on the original tweet.

17 (7%) Sign Up - These tweets included requests to sign up for events or demos, to vote in some sort of balloting or to provide feedback on websites or topics. The requests for feedback numbered just two.

16 (7%) Other - These tweets covered topics such as "Happy Birthday," "Follow Friday" (a list of suggested tweeters to follow), "what I'm reading" and "FYI." One company offered URLs with no further explanation. These "URLs out of context" constituted the majority of the "Other" category.

12 (5%) Pictures - These included links to satellite images of areas in the news and pictures of company staff. The Boulder wildfires were still raging during this two-day period.

7 (3%)  Good Article - The tweets referred to an article not about the company, but deemed "good." Some of these were about topics or technologies relevant to what the company offers. Many of these were also retweets.

5 (2%) Thanks - These tweets thanked those who had offered kind tweets or offered congratulations to the company for some achievement. Many were retweets.

Adena Schutzberg's Observations

One-way Street
There was one thing that was missing from nearly all the tweets in all the categories: the @reply. That is, almost none of these tweets were directed at anyone in particular. Instead, they were all sent out, in bulk, seemingly unprompted by a user's or potential user's or partner's query or comment. These tweets suggest that, at least over the two days studied, Twitter was used as a one-way communication tool, a broadcast mechanism. The most interactive action was asking followers to do something (see "Sign Up," above). Other than the two requests for feedback, there were no efforts to interact on Twitter itself.

All About Me!
As often happens in a one-sided conversation, the main pronoun used in these tweets was "we." That is, most of the content was about the organization itself, not about its partners, users, resellers, etc. Save for the two highlighted requests for input, there were no queries to followers of any kind. That suggests to me that those behind the content creation for these tweets were thinking not about the new social/interactive media, but about broadcast media: non-social, non-interactive, old media. In particular, they were posting information into the ether just like TV ads or print advertising.

I can only guess that the company spewing forth weather was in a bind. Someone, probably early on, may have set up an automated weather distribution and then could not seem to undo it. I know this happens, as someone did that with our All Points Blog and then contacted me about how to "turn it off." I had to remind them that they, not we, had turned it on in the first place!

Most Entertaining
Reading the 200-plus tweets was a bit taxing, but one organization's tweets stood out because they were clear, varied and offered something of immediate value. Which organization was that? NASA. I'll agree NASA may not be on everyone's list of geospatial companies and it does not "sell" anything in the way that many on this list do. Still, the tone of the tweets and the clarity was very appealing. Come on, tell me you wouldn't want to check on this: "Chat now with summer intern Heather Arneson about what she's doing to keep planes on time even in bad weather." I might even follow NASA after I finish writing this article!

Biggest Waste of Tweets
A tweet with just a shortened URL in it and nothing else, such as (that's an intentionally fake URL), was perhaps the least appealing corporate use of the service. First off, there was no telling, in most cases, the full URL of the target, so it was possible you were headed for a virus-laden site or worse. Second, would you click on a link if you had no idea whether you were heading to a video, a "great" article, or a press release? And, how would you know if it was of interest? If the organization can't take a few minutes to use the rest of the 140 characters to explain why you should click through, I think its Twitter ID should be revoked.

Identity Crisis
The best news about these accounts was that most had complete bios on Twitter with the full company URL and a description of the organization and the nature of the account. The most common adjective used in the bio of the account: "official," as in "the official account of" this company. A few had an individual's picture and name associated with them. The only oddity in a quick spot check of the bios: one large company had a picture of an individual (a man) but no indication of who he was!

Tina Cary's Observations

Average Tweets per Day
The 234 tweets from 130 companies averaged out to 1.8 tweets per company. Since the time period was two days, this seems to indicate that on average geospatial companies tweet no more than once a day. This may mean companies are trying to keep the time investment low while they explore what works for them.

The overall impression made by the categories is that companies are primarily using Twitter as a broadcast medium, though the Retweets, Other, Good Article and Thanks categories did add up to 20%, or one-fifth of the tweets, suggesting the companies are trying to "be social."

Not Enough Retweets
As a marketing consultant, the fact that few retweets had commentary makes me sad, for I see that as an opportunity to add value for one's followers. Sharing the reason why the company believes that tweet is worth retweeting would give the company more personality/identity.

Follow Up
I think it could be interesting to take a snapshot like this quarterly over the next year to see if this pattern holds or if, as companies become more experienced, new patterns emerge. Another possible variation of this would be to divide the companies on the list into three categories based on when they joined Twitter, and see if the pattern varies with experience.

Our Conclusion
Our goal here was to review how geospatial companies are using Twitter. We are hopeful it will help them and others think about what's possible beyond simply having a presence on the social network. Even thinking through which sorts of tweets would be of interest to companies and your customers and potential customers might spark some ideas. As Cary has suggested, it would be valuable to revisit this list in the future to see if things have changed significantly and we'll try to arrange that.


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