Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 22, 2008 1:02 PM

Why You Need To Be Looking At Twitter

Twitter is becoming ever-more powerful. You can tell when businesses, brands and governments start putting skin in the game.

Were you just as shocked as I was to see the attention that the general election in Canada was giving to Twitter on the night that we chose our government? Every so often, the TV hosts would shift over to this huge plasma screen and pull up quotes from across the country to get a gage of what Canadians were thinking on Twitter and how they were feeling as the results unfolded live.

If you don't know what, exactly, Twitter is, think of it as permission-based stalking. Much like any other online social network, Twitter enables you to set up your own profile for free (a fairly simple and painless process). Once your profile is set-up there's a big white box at the top with the question: What are you doing? With only 140-characters to answer (about the length of a very short sentence or a SMS text message) you can say whatever you want. It could be as mundane as, "taking the dog out for a walk" or as interesting as, "McCain finds solutions in what hasn't worked in the past (oil drilling, diplomacy by force). Obama finds solutions in new ideas." Much like life, the messages you see posted from others on Twitter (also known as "tweets") can be ridiculous, useless, fascinating and down-right compelling.

The true power of the Twitter network is in how many people you follow (you add the people you are interested in receiving tweets from) and - more importantly -how many people are following you (just how interesting are you... really?). It turns into a difficult balance. The kind, humane thing to do may seem to be to add anyone who is interested in following you, but that can quickly lead into a constant flow of tweets from people you don't know and can't relate to. On the other hand, part of the fun of Twitter is in discovering new people and creating newer online relationships. Just like Facebook and MySpace, you're going to have to find your best balance.

There's been a lot of back and forth online about whether or not Twitter is a powerful tool for businesses to embrace or just another shiny object that winds up being more time-suck than anything else.

It's a common debate. It's one we've seen take shape on anything and everything. This includes the Internet - in general. Think back to when the Web was first commercialized... all of the same articles and editorials we're now seeing about Twitter and business are (almost) word for word the same articles people had in the early 2000's about whether or not the Internet is a valuable business tool or a huge productivity killer. The same debates raged over the mobile phone, BlackBerry, email, Blogs, telephones and the list goes on and on.

All new technologies that cause some form of disruption are open to this type of conversation and criticism. As the technology takes hold in our day to day lives, it becomes even more apparent. These changes usually cause discomfort and uncertainty. So, how do you decided if something like Twitter is a valuable tool for your business or not?

One of the easiest ways to see if there is a business value to Twitter is to see if someone (anyone) is talking about you in that environment. Summize was a website that would search all of Twitter's tweets based on keyword queries. It was such an efficient tool that Twitter acquired them earlier in the year. Over at http://search.twitter.com you can do a quick search to see if you, your companies, the brands you represent or even your competitors have any form of conversation taking place around them.

The other reason to take a serious glance at Twitter is the community. It is quickly becoming a more mainstream form of communication and content. Companies like Dell and Comcast have made serious in-roads by having some of their marketing and communications staff engaged in one-on-one contact on everything from customer service issues to new product launches to generally just being a "friend" in the community. Seeing unbiased information about laptops from a company like Dell makes me increasingly more interested in trying their computers out - specifically when their competitors are nowhere to be found and obviously not listening to the conversation.

The Twitter fascination has to do - in part - with the speed and size of the content coming through as well. Increasingly, some of the bigger named Bloggers are abandoning that platform in lieu of Twittering their life. It's much easier to scrape together 140-characters than a semi-well thought-out Blog posting. The content is much more snackable, digestible and portable to the community users as well (you can even get Twitter on your mobile device).

Just this past week, Britney Spears (and her marketing entourage) announced that she is on Twitter (http://twitter.com/therealbritney). Though it's doubtful we'll get a moment-by-moment personal account from her during court proceedings, it does speak to how she will be marketing herself going forward. Twitter enables Britney (and your business as well) to create direct relationships and communicate in the exact same way with people who either care or are just curious about what is going on.

CNN also got into the Twitterverse in a big way when anchor, Rick Sanchez, not only joined the platform but is encouraging his audience live, on-air, to join, take part and share their thoughts. Through Twitter, Sanchez's reporting is becoming more and more conversational with his mass audience. As of this writing he has nearly 27,000 people following him.

The overall verdict on what Twitter is doing for communications is still out.

It's a relatively new platform and it is still showing signs of growth and development (as both a viable business and as a new form of communication). Ultimately, Twitter is another new tool that may be of value to your business toolbox. Take a look, try to wade through the nonsense and find the diamond's in the rough. Like all new digital platforms, my recommendation is to not dive on in and commit yourself unless you're really able to dedicate the time it will take to truly derive value from the channel.

If you want to just be a Twitter voyeur for a bit to better understand the type of content and people, be sure to check out their U.S. election feed. This web page is grabbing all content that has U.S. politics-related terms in Twitter, and dumping them into a centralized live stream of conscience feed.

How do you feel about Twitter having the mass media, brands and government joining in the conversation?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation, that will be published tomorrow. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

- Montreal Gazette - Why you need to be looking at Twitter.

- Vancouver Sun - Why you need to be looking at Twitter.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Adam Morse
    Mitch Joel

    There is a new form of social media that is hitting the web right now. Soapbox - a project from Social42 allows people to call in and voice their opinions on the presidential candidates. After they leave their message it gets turned into an mp3 and is then posted on the site to be listened to, commented on, or shared.
    It will be interesting to see what the other applications of this technology will be.

    http://www.social42.com

    Reply
  • Posted by AB
    Mitch Joel

    Its interesting how so many companies are latching onto Twitter - thinking just having an account and writing about itself will make gen. y's come a runnin'. They should at least do something worthwhile with it.

    Reply
  • Posted by Warren Sukernek
    Mitch Joel

    So many companies, publications, and celebrities have joined Twitter over the last few months. The Twitter community/technology is definitely being adopted by the mainstream. Hopefully, the real value it provides, broad scale two-way communication, won't be ignored by the new entrants.

    Reply
  • Posted by Erik
    Mitch Joel

    I still think that Twitter is wasting a lot more time than it can bring benefits.

    Reply
  • Posted by anon
    anon

    Twitter's nice for a form of short, real-time updates. However, I never saw the appeal of putting every single step of my personal life on it. :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Justin Beach
    Mitch Joel

    The thing about Twitter and any other social media is that you have a choice. Britney may be on Twitter but I won't get updates from her - same goes for CNN (though I added the CBC). Anyone who wants to can start a Twitter account, or Facebook or whatever but I still get to choose whether they are a part of my experience.

    Reply
  • Posted by Drew Diller
    Mitch Joel

    Just saw this site via SmashingMagazine. Very attractive, kudos.

    Reply
  • Posted by LEADSExplorer
    Mitch Joel

    The Return On Investment will decide.
    In order to post on Twitter, you need to write content. Interesting content packaged in 140 characters.

    There is a major cost involved in gettign these messages created for a company.

    In case of stock traded companies there are even more limitations on what can be written. Thus even higher costs.

    Only 1% of our visitors come from Twitter although we Tweet several times a day on two accounts.

    The advantages are for smaller companies having somethng to tell. Creating interest - else the company has no followers.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bigboyg
    Bigboyg

    Twitter is overrated.

    Reply
  • Posted by Eric Harrison
    Mitch Joel

    I really like twitter. I think I would use it a lot more if I had a better way to use it (like from an iPhone or something).

    Reply
  • Posted by JJ
    JJ

    I wouldn't mind trying twitter out

    Reply
  • Posted by Jasmin
    Mitch Joel

    I like it only if there is an actual person tweeting on a regular basis.

    I started following VanityFairer and once in a blue moon, I get twitter-spammed. That's a horrible use of Twitter, but I haven't un-followed them yet because I sometimes find neat articles in their tweet-spam that wasn't in the magazine.

    Reply
  • Posted by Simon Burgess
    Mitch Joel

    I find twitter is as addictive as facebook...for a short time. Like facebook I find myself going off it for a while, maybe if I don't have enough time to be constantly updating.

    My problem with it is that it feels like a form of narcissism, for people who think that others would want to know about the minutiae of their life. Maybe that's because I'm not following many people who update regularly and therfore am mainly seeing my picture and message every time.

    I'll give you an update in 3 months time to see if I'm still using it...

    Reply
  • Posted by Gavin Heaton
    Mitch Joel

    Twitter is not just about sales and marketing ... there is plenty of additional value for businesses -- from customer support to innovation, there is a raft of opportunity. The challenge is to be focused and strategic ... and then to follow through (as you say) to find those diamonds in the rough.

    Reply
  • Posted by Amod Munga
    Mitch Joel

    I blogged about the Twitter phenomenon down here in South Africa a while ago. Locally the uptake has been slow, but I see plenty of positive ways to apply Twitter as another arrow in the marketing quiver. Don't overlook the power of this app.

    Reply
  • I think these comments are a great indication of how we are right in the middle of this newer disruption.

    Gavin - great point. I think most businesses look directly to the sale and not the long term and lifetime value of the consumer through better communications and ultimate transparency.

    I'm curious to hear what others think.

    Reply
  • Posted by Robert
    Robert

    I have often implemented systems and then visit the users after six months to find they are using the system in totally unexpected ways.

    Sometimes you have to try things out for a while before the benefits become apparent or you find your own way of using the technology.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dan York
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, Nice post... and I definitely agree with you that Twitter is something that we as communicators need to be at least watching if not participating in (as you and I do). I would not, though, that I didn't see the link to *your* Twitter account anywhere in this article? Or did I miss it.

    Nice piece,
    Dan

    Reply
  • I think it's good that they're getting involved with Social Media, even if it is Twitter.

    They need to make sure they update pretty often though, it's just another channel where their brand integrity is put on the line.

    Reply
  • Posted by Neil Chapman
    Mitch Joel

    Crisisblogger Gerald Baron discussed the phenomenon when we saw the tweets one Galveston-based reporter was filing following the devastation brought about by Hurricane Ike. http://tinyurl.com/5fkb7n.
    LA Fire Dept have also been using Twitter to direct notifications to fire-impacted residents - http://twitter.com/LAFD.
    It's not just a 'toy', but is already demonstrating it has some extremely valuable uses.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kipp Bodnar
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch

    Nice job on this post. I will start by saying that I am a big fan of twitter and consider it my most valuable network.

    That being said I think despite being simple it takes many people a while to understand the complete power and application of twitter.

    The reason for this as you stated is they twitter is only as valuable as the people you follow. The people you follow act as filters for information that interests you an allow you near real-time access to information like no other platform but for maybe FriendFeed.

    Twitter has helped me find great personal and professional opportunities and if anyone reading this post still does not understand the power and value of twitter, I urge you to contact me and I am happy to help you understand, because I want more smart people to follow on Twitter!

    Kipp
    twitter.com/kbodnar32

    Reply
  • Posted by Jonny Campbell
    Mitch Joel

    Yep

    Reply
  • Posted by Susan Murphy
    Mitch Joel

    I think it's important to note that, like other social media platforms, Twitter is only one tool in a very long and ever-growing list. Just because some people have had success using Twitter for business does not mean that every company should immediately set Twitter in its sights as the next big marketing engine.

    Personally, I like Twitter for a few reasons. First, I find it entertaining to hop on and hang around once in a while, see what people are talking about, get into some good conversations. It's kind of like going to the pub for a pint. Second, I like how easy it is to communicate - sometimes I get a lot done using Twitter. It's particularly handy for setting up meetings. Third, I do like that I've made some good business connections on Twitter - even found clients.

    It's certainly not the be all and end all solution. But it does have its place. It's up to each person to figure out how it serves their needs.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jodi
    Mitch Joel

    I have to say that I find Twitter creepy and that I feel a little bit like an accomplice in the downfall of human interaction when I integrate it into sites for my clients.

    I haven't touched my own Twitter account for months. There is such a thing, it turns out, as too much information.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dean
    Mitch Joel

    Ah.. that's why this text's longer than usual. Indeed a good one though!

    I like that Twitter goes more and more mainstream, I enjoy the experience.

    Of course, it brings some more crap, as usual, but it also brings more opportunities to collaborate, share, and communicate with new people we would never have connected before.

    Viva Twitter!

    Reply
  • Posted by frank
    Mitch Joel


    I love that Twitter is a new type of technology that is still in the 'evaluation' stage overall. yea, there are lot of people using it and a decent amount of companies (even some large ones), but in general it still is not mainstream - which i love.

    the reason i love where twitter stands now is mostly due to my fascination with what will happen. will it get adopted in the corporate world or will it stay a 'back channel' type application that only tech geeks use?

    As far as your question ...

    "How do you feel about Twitter having the mass media, brands and government joining in the conversation?"

    I welcome this ... and can't wait to see how innovative people do great things with the tool.

    ---
    http://twitter.com/franswaa

    Reply
  • Posted by Alex
    Alex

    Genius

    Reply
  • Posted by Simon Burgess
    Mitch Joel

    Just as a response to a comment I left on here Last October, I wanted to update on how useful Twitter has become to me.

    Responsible for the social media presence of www.insidemex.com, a lifestyle magazine portal for expats in Mexico, I have used Twitter very successfully to connect with bloggers in our sphere, new readers and also potential clients and contributers.

    I now use twitter every day on a frequent basis, using it to update my followers on new articles as well as interesting articles on other related websites. I have found that by creating relationships with our followers, actually interacting with them, recommending articles that are specific to their interests works much better in generating good will and retweets than simply promoting articles on our site.

    Twitter takes a few weeks to get used to but once you realise that it works much better when you share ideas, cool websites etc than just simply recording your every move.

    I'm glad I stuck with it!!!

    Reply
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