Tweaking Twitter for the enterprise

The key for organisations wanting to learn how to best utilise Twitter lies in understanding the subtle differences between it and other social networking tools.
Written by Sam Higgins, Contributor on

Sam Higgins, research
director, Longhaus

(Credit: Longhaus)

commentary Having started a foray into micro-blogging in January of this year, Longhaus was certainly not the earliest adopter of Twitter. However, it has proven to be a useful tool alongside our other communication channels.

While only 12 per cent of Australia's 7000+ medium to large enterprises have adopted corporate social computing, 14 per cent are currently piloting or planning to use these technologies and a further 31 per cent are considering adoption in the next 12 to 24 months.

It is no surprise then, with services like Twitter emerging onto the main stage in the last 12 months, that we're regularly being asked by clients and vendors why we use Twitter and what the benefits are. This confusion is made even more acute when it is recognised that many of us, especially those in the ICT industry, are already surrounded by so many other social network services. The key lies in understanding the subtle differences between Twitter and other social networking tools.

Twitter is a combination of a micro-blogging service and a social network. That is, it provides the traditional publishing functionality of a web log, with the profile linking capability of a social network. But unlike LinkedIn and Facebook, which are intentionally closed, Twitter is designed to be an open, public network. Twitter also uses short messages (only 140 characters), and highly pervasive client options, allowing short bursts of communication in broadcast mode to a wide audience.

The best proof of Twitter's broadcast concept is the humorous send-up in "Real Life Twitter" available from the CollegeHumour site in which comedian Dan "takes his tweets to the streets" and starts yelling status updates aloud. It seems hilarious and might even make you a little Twitter-phobic, until you remember that before radio, TV or the printed word, yelling society's major and important updates was the full-time job of the Town Crier. Once you recognise that Twitter is a broadcast medium then its role in an overall social network and communication channel strategy starts to make sense.

We know that many firms advertise on radio and TV. Multi-channel approaches of this type are sure ways to maximise both communication exposure and reach. So whether it is for business or pleasure, the broadcast nature of Twitter can be aligned and complement other communication channels, such as email, RSS, web presence and even an adjunct to LinkedIn and Facebook by sending selective updates from Twitter to Facebook or LinkedIn.

When thought of as a broadcast channel the benefits of Twitter are much easier to identify. For example, the benefits for an advisory business, like Longhaus, are:

  • Twitter updates can be re-broadcast (the re-tweet function) by other "networks", allowing our message to reach a far wider audience with the added benefit of credibility

  • Twitter is public so anyone with a "receiver" can listen to our broadcast at anytime

  • Twitter updates are persistent so once broadcast they are like a billboard and stay visible long after they are posted

  • Twitter is searchable which provides a means for people to go back through the "catalogue" of broadcasts and begin to listen in at anytime

  • Like radio or TV, the messages delivered can combine a level of entertainment, news and sponsors' messages designed to drive behaviour. For us that means driving people to engage with our website and its content.

  • Again like radio there is access to a feedback mechanism. Listeners can "ring in" via replies and direct message features to respond to content

Like any broadcast medium, the final word on Twitter is the consideration of balance. As a Twitter user it is important to remember to combine the right levels of entertainment, news and company messages to retain your audience.

Remember, in the Twitter-verse you are the radio star.

The best starting points for use of social networks

Twitter: broadcast medium combining entertainment, personality and company messages. Update regularly and combine entertainment, news and company message with some personality. Think radio DJ, but avoid the cheesy one-liners!

LinkedIn, Plaxo, Spoke: a directory medium for maintaining an online professional presence comprised of resume, address book and connections with clients and professional colleagues. Especially through the use of tools such as the LinkedIn Outlook Toolbar which allow you to keep in touch with your network even as members move from job to job, and role to role. Update status via Twitter.

Demonstrations of business expertise and acumen through participation in answering questions and making referrals.

Facebook, MySpace: a diary or journal medium for maintaining an online personal presence comprised of private activity and connections with close friends and family. It is the people who care for you who are happy to check out the slideshows comprised of happy snaps from your latest holiday, see how much the kids have grown and take the time to "write you a quick note" via your wall.

This article is by Sam Higgins, research director at Queensland-based ICT analyst firm Longhaus. It first appeared in the company's journal Longview and is published on ZDNet.com.au with Longhaus' permission.

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