Lessons in Existential Dread From Twitter’s Flight School

When the phrase “Twitter Flight School” appeared in my feed this morning, I wondered if the company was somehow going to teach me to pilot an airliner. But, alas, it turned out to be just an online tutorial teaching marketers how to use Twitter. Or, more accurately, a gauntlet of blandly comforting, if distinctly plying, materials trying to convince marketers to use Twitter.

Twitter, you may recall, is in a funk, with gloomy investors casting disappointed looks over growth reports, like so many disapproving in-laws. The flight school is a gimmick the company threw at marketing agencies a few years ago, and either because it worked or because you’ll try anything once when you’re taking on water (could go either way), now anybody can “enroll.”

Marketing to marketers is surely a violation of the old “don’t con a con man” principle, but let’s give this thing a fair shake. I chose the “Executive Flight Path,” because it sounded like the closest I’d come to flying business class this year.

What follows is a series of exemplar Tweets from celebrities and Twitter employees, accompanied by slogans that hurl at you like fastballs from a pitching machine, with arguably the same result on your cognitive capacity. Examples:

[jump] “Twitter is now. The birth of the royal baby was just one of many historical moments that unfolded on Twitter.”

I’m pretty sure the birth of the royal baby actually unfolded in a delivery room in a London hospital, as it should, but okay.

“Twitter is for everyone. It’s filled with millions of real stories filled with honesty, enthusiasm and beauty.”

Also: trolling, Trump memes, and Vines of exploding hoverboards. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“The everyday storytelling opportunity is to serve up a tweet against a hash tag and do it in a way that shows that we’re with you.”

Translation: Don’t let them find out you’re a narc. For the love of God, make them think you’re one of them.

Once the indoctrination is finished, the supposed meat of the thing is a series of “case studies” detailing various companies’ promotional Twitter gimmicks.

For example, Audi wanted to market cars to millennial women, so it lobbed Promoted Tweets at them during Pretty Little Liars. Apparently, studies show that millennial women skim Twitter while watching Pretty Little Liars. If you’re a 20-something woman who woke up on a Wednesday morning three years ago with an overwhelming urge to take out a five-figure car loan, mystery solved. But something tells me you’re not.

In another case, Budweiser promoted that 2014 anti-drunk driving puppy ad on Twitter. Yes, that one that was so traumatic that you, ironically, felt the need to drink immediately. The Twitter tutorial points out that a lot of people watched it on Budweiser’s Twitter feed, but the marketing lesson there seems to be that if you put a video on your feed, people will watch it there. Which, yeah.

Then there was the 2014 General Electric campaign composed of vines and YouTube videos of the company’s stress-testing machinery senselessly crushing everyday objects, like sunglasses and baseballs.

This is the sort of compulsive behavior that should probably be treated with serious medication, and I’m not sure how it’s supposed to put me in the mood for a new refrigerator, but even I have to grudgingly admit that it’s pretty awesome to watch a teapot get smashed by a 5,000-pound piledriver in slow motion. So, fine, they’re not all bad.

The tone of this whole thing is desperate enough that you want to keep clicking through the pages just out of pity, but the impression that the desired effect is to get you to talk like a one-off “Silicon Valley” character fills you with a sense of existential dread as you do.

Of course, I’m not a marketer, so maybe there are valuable insights here I’m not privy to. Or maybe someone with a sadistic sense of humor should email blast the flight school link to Twitter shareholders and then wait to see if the closing price dips? Don’t everyone volunteer at once.

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