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Shut up and tweet: Finding the business benefits of Twitter

I’ve succumbed to the call of the “tweet.” In the Web 2.0 checklist of the best, I can add Twitter to the short list with the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Yammer. And although the novelty still lingers, the whole thing seems like a lot of work. But is this constant connectivity beneficial in the business world?

Many execs are unsure about Twitter (what are the business benefits? Is it too time-consuming? Is it actually effective?). Further, with ROI more important than ever, the inability to measure Twitter’s influence and success is unsettling. Without a way to track ROI, how can anyone justify spending time throwing around status updates?

From a companywide perspective, the thought of being in constant contact with your peers and colleagues is attractive – but only if everyone is using it. If it’s just you and your five closest work buds in a Yammer social circle, where’s the business value in that? Shouldn’t this be about connecting with people you wouldn’t normally get the chance to share ideas with? But if the entire company connects and shares insight and ideas – well, then we may be on to something.

The Twitter turn-on for me was the spider-web effect. If I can follow a certain number of knowledgeable, credible people in my field (and get them to follow me) I’m exposed to their followers, possibly their followers’ followers and so on. So now, rather than just asking my team of co-workers if they know of a CIO with a PMO I can tap for article insight, I can tweet about it. With the right followers (and a little luck), I can find a CIO directly who wants to talk about PMOs. I can find out what people are saying about it, test the waters for interest levels, make connections – all in 140 characters or less. But, again, that’s with the right followers, and finding them can be tricky.

For now, I’m embarking on a Twitter trial (a Twial?) to weigh the business benefits. I invite you to follow me and share your thoughts on Twitter (or below): a beneficial trend?

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OK, I've blogged for almost a decade, moderated forums and ran websites. But here's what's stopped me from Twittering so far:: I have a strong suspicion that I'm really not [I]that[/I] interesting. And -- not to be rude, just honest -- if I don't find [I]myself[/I] so interesting that I want to tell everyone what I'm up to or thinking, am I likely to be that interested in what [I]other[/I] people are up to? No offense to my friends and colleagues who do Twitter. I just don't know if there's really much more to explore about me than what they can find out via our accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace; our personal blogs; and forums. I'm already getting work and personal emails throughout the day, as well as Facebook status updates and notifications about replies to my blogs and sites. Do I really have the bandwidth for another channel?
I think it is beneficial, but the greatest benefits come from using Twitter as one of the several modes of your communications. Each, twitter, blogs, e-mail, facebook, etc. have roles, strengths and weaknesses. It is useful for starting discussions that may move to other venues, notifying people of things to check out that you might have missed, letting people know you have updated your blog, etc. I don't have time to continually check the untold number of blogs for updates, but if I get a tweet that one has been updated, it will spur me to go read it. I have found twitter to be far less time-consuming that I thought. And tools, like [A href=""]TweetDeck[/A], make managing your Twitter feeds a lot easier. I agree, that the trick, though, is building the right network of those to follow and followers to get the most benefit - but isn't that the case with most all communications? :)
Kristen, [let's try this again with closed links!] Good luck with your Twitter adventure. Twitter Search - [A href=""][/A] - is a great way to find people who are talking about topics that are of interest to you. There are also lots of social media people on Twitter who are also worth following such as @jowyang, @aaronstrout, @jstorerj, and @pistachio to name a few of my favs. People generally try to keep a balance between business and personal tweets - and share interesting links they run across during their day. My favorite way to share links is via BigTweet - [A href=""][/A]. Tom Humbarger [A href=""][/A]
Thanks for the comments! Still finding my way around Twitter, but the helpful links (thanks Alex) and the discussions have been great. I may even graduate to TweetDeck...
Kristen, you make some great points, particularly with respect to what you've called 'the spiderweb effect." The network you build can be enormously helpful in answering questions, getting help, providing feedback or sharing other information. Jacqui, I strongly disagree -- you are that interesting, precisely because you've been a netizen for so long. More to the point, however, you think about and read interesting things. And you work on them, too. I see Twitter as complementary to the other social services you referenced but as an extension in other important ways. Twitter is mobile, as you can update from BlackBerry, iPhone or SMS, or easily from the Web or a desktop app. It's lightweight; it usually takes 5-10 seconds. And it's an easy way to update a large number of people with one action. With respect to Kristen's larger question about the business value of Twitter, there are a couple of thinkers that immediately come to mind. Professor Andrew McAfee writes that an 'enterprise version of Twitter would let communities of practice, interest groups, and other collaborations quickly and easily self-organize, swap thoughts, and keep each other up to date.' That's precisely how Yammer works, which you noted in your post above, along with, Laconica, Oracle's 'Oratweet' or the other apps on Jeremiah Owyang [A href=""]list of enterprise microblogging tools[/A] work. Twitter is on the public Internet, however, which changes things a bit. Tweets are as public as it's possible to be, as a Ketchum exec discovered recently. ([A href=""]Beware what you tweet.[/A]) That nature, however, has enormous potential for interaction between businesses and their customers. That's where the evolution of Twitter -- and its applicability to utility in enterprise microsharing applications like Yammer or Presently comes in. Once you start sharing what you're working on, there's the potential for substantial knowledge sharing and discovery. Don't take my word for it, however: Go read Professor Andrew McAfee's work on [A href=""]The Twit's Progress[/A]. Check out the responses to his post when he tweeted "What should I be sure to include in a blog post explaining Twitter & its biz applications to newbies?" [ULIST] [ELEMENT]Public congratulations or dressing down[/ELEMENT] [ELEMENT]Informal conversations between executives that everyone can hear and respond to announcing breaking news[/ELEMENT] [ELEMENT]Physical location, project status, means of contact & time availability[/ELEMENT] [ELEMENT]Visibility into an organization’s stream of consciousness[/ELEMENT] [ELEMENT]Ability to a questions to the organization to find info/experts[/ELEMENT] [/ULIST] (Make sure to visit [A href=""]The Twit's Progress[/A] to see the context and contributors of those insights.) Much of that value emerges inside the firewall, however, so the business value of Twitter on the open Internet is worth its own consideration. Here's the one I'd highlight: Twitter connects you to people you wouldn’t typically contact directly. A recent post on, "[A href=""]40 of the Best Twitter Brands and the People Behind Them[/A]," demonstrates how some of the world's biggest businesses are finding value in Twitter accounts. The other handy thing about Twitter (and as you both know, [A href=""]I tweet[/A]) is just how lightweight and easy it is. I can update through the Web, Tweetdeck, an app on my iPhone or SMS. Very little investment there, huge return, not much bandwidth consumed on contribution. Reading is a bit different -- but then that's always been true of Web surfing. One last point, with respect to Jacqui's point: It's not just about one account. It's the combination of all of them, as filtered through [A href=""][/A]. Plug in [A href=""]#inauguration[/A] or [A href=""]#mumbai[/A] or [A href=""]#election[/A] to see that emergent effect -- or [A href=""]#motrinmoms[/A] to see the power of potential backlash. Or take a look at what [A href=""]@Zappos[/A] has done with [A href=""][/A]. [A href=""]@pistachio[/A] has been publishing [A href=""]microsharing business case studies on the Touchbase blog[/A] too, if you're looking for more examples. also features a post explaining [A href=""]how nonprofits and business are finding value on Twitter[/A]. [A href=""]@chrisbrogan[/A], who you met this week, has also shared his thoughts on the topic in [A href=""]50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Business[/A]. This post is a great guide for anyone new to microblogging, business or not. I hope others will hop in and add their own thoughts. I'll go over to my own account and ask on Twitter.
I feel like if I have enough time to use a tool such as this to tell people what I'm currently doing, then I'm: a) not working all out or b) not in the right job. I just can't wrap my head around the desire to constantly let other people know what I'm doing. Brian Tracy once said you have to ask yourself "What is the most valuable use of my time, right now?" It's a profound time management principle and one that makes me question why I'm even leaving this comment. :-) Using tools like this to pose a quick question or let people know of an I can see the business value in that. Call me old-fashioned but what's wrong with using email and IM - or the telephone?
@Kevin -- Good points. I think you answer your own question in making the comment. Twitter or other 'social media' platforms that enable easy knowledge exchange and sharing allow one user to broadcast to many. Inside a business, microsharing makes the information shared persistent and accessible asynchronously. Over time, that creates a shared information database -- about projects, clients, products, vendors, best practices, etc -- including highlighting who in a given organization is an expert in a given area. I see some value in that. Different people and organizations will use it differently, of course. Marketers, IT professionals and writers, for instance, might all leverage the system differently. The main difference I see between email, IM and the phone is that the information being discussed and (this is key) hyperlinked to sticks around for everyone to see. If a project manager, for instance, needs to let everyone know about a bug in an upcoming release and how it was fixed, that update will be available in the future in a public arena, not buried in inboxes. I see the tool as complementary to others in a digital professional's toolkit. It's a way of telling everyone else what you're doing, what you're working on and what you're learning. We collectively help each other become smarter that way. I see some value in that.