At this point in its evolution, enough businesses have found effective ways to use Twitter as an effective communications tool to successfully squash those who still doubt its impact. Yes, it can actually be used for something other than posting stupid pictures of your cat or tell your friends what you just ate for lunch.

While Twitter’s ranking on the “shiny new toy” scale has waned recently, you should never worry that there isn’t always something new waiting in the wings to hold the attention of social media geeks around the world few more minutes.

Enter: The Shorty Awards – for the best producers of short (140 characters or less on Twitter) content in 2008.

Shorty Awards

While it has evolved and proven itself, Twitter is still a pretty immature technology. If Twitter is like high school, consider the Shorty Awards a loosely organized popularity contest, complete with class clowns attempting to stuff the ballot box.

The Shorty Awards are completely driven users tweeting their votes and nominations for their favorite users in a number of different categories (best brand, advertising, business education, etc) helping to organically spread the word about the contest and spur even more voting.

But the truth is that most viral content on the web is complete fluff – eye catching, but lacking in any sort of real value, and that is where the Shorty Awards come in. As long as you have your expectations in order, you won’t miss a thing. Just try replacing The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal by getting all your real news from Digg.com and you’ll see exactly what I mean. And no, I’m not calling the latest apple product news or tech toy “real news.”

After a quick look at the list of Shorty Award nominees and those that weren’t named (but clearly should have been) it is clear that this is really just a group of Twitter users who have become the best at pimping themselves out to their followers with no clear understanding why they were doing it in the first place. The contest may be one of the worst ways of actually measuring public opinion, but may do a pretty decent job at measuring someone’s ability to blindly market themselves for an award that they themselves don’t completely understand the value of.

Savvy AuntieEven Melanie Notkin, a finalist in the Shorty Awards “Brand” category for Savvy Aunty, points out that a far more influential twitter user on behalf of their brand, Zappos CEO Tony Shieh, wasn’t even a finalist and decided to gracefully bow out of competition.

Everyone wanted to win, but no one is quite sure why. There is no big prize at the end. No BusinessWeek cover story. You just know that someone else wants it, and on that premise alone, so do you. Thankfully not everyone was so heavily struck with a case of shiny new toy syndrome and were actually able to call the Shorty Awards by what they actually are.
@mvolpe: “I think the shorty awards are total crap. Just saying.”

The ultimate winner in the brand category @MarthaVan, who tweets on behalf of Action Wipes, noted that for her “The challenge for a small business such as mine is always getting national publicity. I entered the contest in hopes that the national news would pick up on the awards and thus bring awareness to all the winners.”

For Martha, the time investment in promoting herself and outreaching to her followers for votes was well worth the gamble that winning would actually provide some real business value and lead to additional sales or national visibility for her company. So far, that time hasn’t come.

So much of what is emerging in social media is new and needs to be experimented with, tested and measured to fully understand its ultimate value, so I’m not blaming the Shorty Awards for any of their missteps along the way. I actually give them credit for playing around in this new area, but the true danger comes in when people begin mistaking what they are actually measuring and replace a fun experiment with a new are of technology for something with legitimate value.

Written by Matt Peters
Matt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandemic Labs, and enjoys thinking about, writing about, and talking about social media marketing whenever someone will let him.