opinion

Twitter Burns Up Social Networking Scene

Bob Preston
When Angelina Armani tweets “good morning” to her fans, she gets 300 responses. Almost instantly.

Performers Nikki Benz and Courtney Cummz also reported similar activity on their Twitter profiles, and it’s no surprise, given the stature of these stars and the seeming personal contact that the hot microblogging website provides.

For the uninitiated, Twitter lets users write small alerts of up to 140 characters long. Ostensibly, the site is supposed to let people tell everyone else what they’re currently doing, but in actual use, Twitter has evolved into a flexible platform for sharing links, ruminations, photos and more. These miniature blog entries are called “tweets.”

Across the industry, performers and companies use Twitter for markedly different purposes, including everything from straight promotion to plain old goofing around like posting photos of what they’re eating.

Popular adult performer Courtney Cummz has perfected the art of goofing around on Twitter, using it mostly to stay in touch with her fans, as well as to provide the occasional update about her appearances and DVD releases.

“It depends on the moment,” Cummz told XBIZ, referring to the whims that prompt her to post a picture of herself and a friendly fan who helped her change a flat tire while out on the road. Cummz said she gets positive responses from one-on-one interactions like that.

In addition, Cummz said that she uses the image-hosting and URLshortening service TwitPic.com to include images with her tweets. On that note, Twitter has spawned any number of services like TwitPic, all of which aim to help users cram more information into their 140 characters. URL-shortening services like TinyURL.com and Bit.ly both let users miniaturize unwieldy URLs and post to their Twitter profiles with a few clicks.

Benz told XBIZ that, like Cummz, she uses Twitter to keep fans updated on her latest industry activity, though Benz added that she spends a lot of time interacting with fans, too.

“You should never use Twitter as a promo tool first,” she said. “You don’t want the fans to feel gypped.”

Benz added that although she mentions her live shows on Twitter, she seldom links directly to adult sites besides the one link to her official site, listed at the top of her Twitter page. Benz maintains a lot of social-networking profiles and is used to negotiating their tricky terms of service, but her Twitter profile, among others, remains standing.

Adult performers on Twitter spend hours responding to fans. Armani said she doesn’t always have the time to respond to all of them, but a glance at any of these stars’ Twitter pages reveal dozens and dozens of personal responses to fans.

But how does a corporate entity make use of a service like Twitter? XCritic.com Editor Chris Thorne told XBIZ that he was one of the first adult companies to get on board, and he’s never looked back.

“We’re getting about 500 new followers every two weeks,” he said. He currently boasts about 2,500 followers, and that means that a simple 140-character message can get to all of those people simultaneously.

Thorne said that the best way to promote yourself on Twitter is to straddle the divide between turning your site into a straight-up feed of your content and a casual chatfest.

“The sweet spot is doing both,” he said. “But too much yapping dilutes what you do.”

Other companies take different approaches. Naughty America’s barebones page keeps fans updated on the latest scenes across their paysites. Adam & Eve’s page sports a clever background image that displays the company’s contact information alongside a casual, joke-filled series of tweets.

In the online world, Peter Housley puts it simply: Twitter is a tool.

“The biggest problem with Twitter is that people log onto it and say, ‘What the heck is this?’ It’s not a user-friendly tool like Facebook, but it’s a tool.”

Housley has cashed in the Twittermania with a network of sites that aggregates adult industry twitter activity and operate under the corporation NaughtyTweet.com. In all, Housley told XBIZ that his sites track the daily goings-on of almost 600 performers, executives and other industry members.

So far, Twitter seems to be working. On the business side, Housley said that industry professionals who are industrious enough to brave Twitter’s strange shorthand and emphasis on the now can attract major traffic to their sites — but only if they’re willing to take it personally.

“Here’s the mistake that people make,” Housley said. “They go and make a Twitter profile and post some links to some porn gallery, when what people really want is the back and forth. People pay attention when you’re communicating with them.”

Performer Armani agreed. The former Digital Playground contract star told XBIZ that she uses Twitter to stay in touch with her fans and on top of her life.

“I would have missed a few parties if I didn’t have Twitter,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t check my email because emails are dragged out. With Twitter, you just get the basic details.”

Armani also praised Twitter’s transparency. Even though there are ways for users to send private messages and hide their activity, most users keep everything out in the open, and that includes what they say to porn stars.

“People don’t ask questions that are too personal,” she said.

As for tangible benefits, Armani said that the interaction between her Twitter and MySpace profiles has expanded her fan base appreciably.

For his part, Housley added that Twitter’s open, casual atmosphere makes it easier to approach new contacts in the industry. After all, it only takes one tweet to say hello.

Thorne agreed that he’s seen real results from his tweets, to the tune of 1,500 new visitors to his site every week from Twitter links.

But will the site last? Twitter executives are looking at a dismal one-month retention rate. That measures how many people keep using one month after they sign up for it. According to ComputerWorld.com, only about 40 percent of Twitter users continue to use the service a month later.

For perspective, Facebook and MySpace both had one-month retention rates that doubled Twitter’s in their early days. The companies now enjoy retention rates of approximately 70 percent.

Booble.com founder “Booble” Bob Smith told XBIZ he also doubted the site’s longterm prospects.

“It’ll get tiresome, get bought by Facebook and rolled into status updates,” he said, referring to Facebook’s Twitter-like status-update feature. “But it’s huge now. I’ve have been meaning to set up an account myself. I’m not sure what they’ll think of the boobs.”

Housley conceded that Twitter will most likely get bought by another site, but he added that ComputerWorld’s numbers may be inaccurate because so many people use Twitter without actually going to the domain Twitter.com, instead going through thirdparty services like TweetDeck or Seesmic.

One watershed event for Twitter happened back in January when airline pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III safely landed a plane in New York’s Hudson River. A passer-by took a photo of the event and posted it to his Twitter profile. The media took notice.

Twitter has been mushrooming in popularity over the last few months, most notably in April, which saw media titan Oprah Winfrey plug the microblogging site, as well as a feud between CNN and Ashton Kutcher to see who could amass 1 million followers first.

For perspective, after Winfrey’s endorsement, approximately 1 million new people signed up at the site. According to traffic-tracking service Compete.com, Twitter had about 30 million unique visitors in April.

Newcomers to Twitter will indeed encounter loads of shorthand, code and lightning-fast net-speak when they first log on. Even Facebook users have encountered Twitter-speak in the form of curiuous alerts that begin with the symbols @, # or the shorthand “RT.”

Briefly, the @ symbol is used to specify a user’s Twitter page. So @xbiz would refer to the XBIZ Twitter page. The # symbol is used to mark off keywords, or “hashtags” in Twitter parlance. “RT” stands for “re-tweet,” which is when a user sends out an interesting tweet they’ve seen.

Housley’s future plans include the launch of Twittertrackers that follow BBW models, as well as a tracker for gay adult stars. He also has an adult movie in the works that will spoof the Twitter world. The title will star Nikki Benz, Britney Stevens, Lexi Belle, Natasha Nice, Tiffany Tyler, Tara Lynn Foxx, Eric John and Wolf Hundson. Jim Powers will direct.

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