Everything You Wanted to Know about Web 2.0*: Twitter

guide-twitterTwitter is a relatively new Web 2.0 phenomenon that is blazing a new category, which some people term “microblogging,” because all Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters, and twittering is reporting.  Twittering can be done via a plain old cell phone via text (SMS) messaging, via a web browser or via a smartphone, and it is chiefly a broadcast activity: twitterers push SMS messages out to their networks.

Like most things Web 2.0, Twitter began within the B2C, pop culture context, but I predict that it will become a staple for enterprises by 2010.  Twitter is very transformational, and it holds significant disruptive potential for business processes.  Here I will outline its use for forward-thinking CMOs, CEOs, CIOs and other executives.

Twitter Overview

When you access Twitter via your iPhone, Blackberry or browser, Twitter presents you with a Google-like box and the persistent question, “What are you doing?”  Just like anything else, people interpret and share very differently, but the business context is our focus here.  You have 140 characters to send a message, which either goes to: 1) the entire global Twitter community (the default); 2) your restricted Twitter network of “followers”; or to an individual (this is called a direct message, or “DM”).  The twitterer controls these options, of course.

In practice, with millions of messages going out daily, the only people who really view your messages (called “tweets”) are the people who sign up to “follow” you.  Followers receive SMSs or emails notifying them of your tweets.  No one can follow you unless you let them, and,you can cut someone off from following you at any time.

twitboxTwitter is “roll your own” presence.  You report on what you are doing.  Increasingly,  project-oriented knowledge workers collaborate and therefore have dependencies to/from other people.  These dependencies mean that everyone is in a state of flux, and it can be difficult to communicate with people because we have so many “modes” of communication, each of which is best at certain types of content (e.g. face-to-face, email, voicemail, phone, audio (podcast), video) and requires different levels of attention.  Twitter, in providing presence, enables people in flux to report their status and to ask for help in small, specific chunks to which followers can easily repond.  It enables communication by reporting status.  The more in flux, the more heterogeneous the circumstances around team members and the more dynamic the project, the more value Twitter can add.

Twitter Summary

Twitter is another thing Web 2.0 that is difficult to grasp until you experience it, but let’s observe these highlights:

  • Features
    • Twitter is asynchronous and ultra-efficient from many perspectives: 140 characters is a very small package, and tweets can be very meaningful in combination. Members are not limited to the number of tweets they may send, only by the chunk size.
    • It uses the SMS network and is superior to voice in terms of connectivity; if you’re on a trade show floor, chances are that you can’t make a call very easily, but you can often SMS or twitter.
    • It is global and pervasive; any cheap mobile phone can SMS, and most of the world communicates extensively via SMS (the U.S. is a laggard).  Your tweets can be received by people who are roughing it, who are barely “on the grid.”
  • Prevalent uses:
    • You report on what you are doing. Understand the dynamic work context around people with whom you share dependencies. Connect more often using the most appropriate communication channel.
    • Mobile workers can report their status or tidbits of useful information.
    • Events increasingly have Twitter feeds to report to participants status changes and unscheduled opportunities.
    • Travel status. Microblogging about important changing conditions from within meetings. twitter is quite discreet compared to other modes of communication and, like other text-based communications, it is easier to multitask, especially since the chunks are so small.
  • Vendor examples: Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr

Business Applications

There are myriad uses for Twitter, but here are some that I am talking with people about doing this year:

  • Trade shows and conferences—marketers are only too aware of how much trade shows cost and the difficulty in showing ROI. Trade shows are very fluid environments in which tiny windows exist to connect with highly desirable prospects. Exhibitor teams can use Twitter to give real-time information to each other regarding competitor activity or prospects’ presence. How about having prospects sign up for your booth’s Twitter feed to receive relevant tweets and the possibility of prizes?
  • Sales and engineering team collaboration—tech companies have extremely valuable people who often have titles like “pre-sales engineer.” Sales engineers are extremely important because their input to prospecting and proposals means that they affect revenue. When companies can leverage sales engineers better, they will see revenue increases.
  • Collaborative deadline-driven project work—several team members must collaborate to produce under time pressure, and their deliverables often depend on the status of other people.

Barriers to Adoption

  • Not understanding the concept or the business application.
  • Difficulty in communicating the value proposition to all the people necessary to make the project a success.
  • The perception that twittering may be frivolous.
  • Confusion with or negative association with instant messaging, which is actually quite different in terms of user experience. Instant messaging is similar in that it is text-based, but the context is far more conversational, where Twitter is broadcast, with the option to send DMs.
  • Lack of process thinking about communication and how to make it more efficient.

Learning More

If you are interested in learning more about Twitter, or how to use it, I’d be glad to discuss with you to see whether using it might make sense for what you’re trying to accomplish. I help companies to plan, create and execute communication programs using Web 2.0. Also see:

(warning, some get geeky ,^)

*But were afraid to ask ,^)

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