Bizzers ponder power of Twitter

Microblog success range from jokes to causes

Twitter has been a boon for media-savvy celebs, giving them the ability to quickly and cheaply bond with their fans.

But the microblogging site has proved problematic for media companies.

Twitter seems to work as a “one-to-many,” sometimes with the “many” talking back, but when it becomes “many-to-many” — that is, when it’s a company with no identifiable face or personality sending out messages — Twitter seems to fizzle.

Worse, while Twitter helps generate buzz and “mindshare,” there’s no clear connection between that buzz and the revenue — be it ratings, box office or record sales — media companies crave.

When it comes to attracting Twitter followers, the reigning king and queen of the site both favor direct interaction with their fans.

Ashton Kutcher has been using the site to tubthump his June 11 Lionsgate release, “Killers.”

Via Twitter, Kutcher has pointed fans toward a promotional game, #KillerClue and to a preview of 13 minutes of the movie on the pic’s premiere night.

But even Lionsgate was unsure prior to the pic’s release whether all of Kutcher’s efforts — and his 5 million-odd followers — would bump the box office. And Lionsgate itself, with only 25,000 Twitter followers can’t approach Kutcher’s reach.

Britney Spears, who recently dethroned Kutcher as most-followed tweeter, has continued to gain followers even without a recent album release or tour to promote.

Spears’ manager Adam Leber told Variety (via a Facebook message), “She now has the ability to directly interact with and mobilize her fanbase on a consistent basis. … Almost equally as important is the fact that she finally has the ability to debunk the enormous amount of rumors and falsehoods that are told about her on a regular basis.”

Kutcher offered a similar idea in a K Buzz interview: “The one thing that people do that most frequently misuses the social Web is that they use it as a broadcasting device as apposed to a listening device.”

That’s fine for celebs and stars, but do Paramount or CBS have fans in that sense? Auds like their movies and shows, but how many people care about hearing from the company?

And after a company has listened, what then? Studios and networks tend to require numerous approvals for all official communications, while Twitter demands nimble responses in a single voice.

Readers expect messages on a certified celebrity Twitter feed to be from the celeb — or at least an authorized stand-in. Many celebs, including Kutcher, write and post their own messages. Leber posts more often than Spears on her Twitter feed, but signs his posts.

That personal touch seems essential. Without it, companies don’t generate vast followings or much dialogue with fans. Even Spears’ label, Jive, has just 19,000 followers, compared with her 5 million.

Alyssa Milano’s Twitter streams show the dilemma clearly. The thesp has a personal feed, where her aim is to be “a responsible community member,” with almost 900,000 followers. She was less successful with a second feed directly promoting her ABC series “Romantically Challenged,” getting only 13,000-plus followers before the show was cancelled. That feed has since been renamed “Alyssadotcom.”

Conan O’Brien joined Twitter after he left NBC. His approach: Tweet sparingly with one-liners that would have fit in his TV monologues — but not coincidentally, plug his tour and new show: “I’m in KC,” O’Brien tweeted on May 16. “I like my BBQ like I like my women, HOT. Also, rubbed with molasses, coffee grounds and cayenne.”

O’Brien quickly amassed nearly a million followers. The net that jilted him, NBC, has just 33,000 followers on its main feed, while Jay Leno’s bland Tonight Show feed has 56,500.

Still, it’s not clear NBC has much reason to worry. Leno’s demo may not care much for Twitter, and the Twitter demo may be content to read Coco’s tweets on their smartphones — and to skip his new cable show altogether.

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