In the tradition of new media tools like Facebook, YouTube and Google, the microblogging application Twitter has gone from being an esoteric geeks' toy to the 'next big thing' pretty much overnight.
In a nutshell, Twitter consists of individual social media users (as well as a number of brands and organisations) all answering the question 'what are you doing now?' by publishing online status updates of less than 140 words.
These mini-messages are then read and often commented on by other social media users who have decided to 'follow' a Twitterer via the Twitter website or by SMS updates. (A video of how Twitter works can be found here.)
This might all sound like a bit of a yawn to the uninitiated but Twitter's explosive growth speaks for itself. According to The Times, Twitter has attracted 1.2 million active users since its 2007 launch and currently publishes over 2.25 million tweets (Twitter messages) every day.
But don't feel bad is you haven't had much to do with microblogging. Despite being massive in the US and UK, Twitter has failed to reach a critical mass in Australia, although this is likely to change in the near future.
Facebook was huge in the northern hemisphere before it caught on locally and it is more than likely Twitter will follow suit – a lag that offers significant opportunities for Australian companies that become Twitter trailblazers.
Entering the Twittersteam
Social media pundits claim Twitter can help businesses in the areas of marketing communications, customer feedback and support, and internal communications. But be warned: the Twittersteam has its own distinctive rules of engagement.
Twitter conversations – which often contain references to other people's tweets or web links – can be hard to follow, a discourse that aficionados say forces people to let go of other communications skills in order to use Twitter effectively.
Like reading internet forums or online message boards, it's a process that takes some time to get used to but it certainly isn't rocket science.
Twittering a point of difference
According to social media guru Chris Brogan, once this new communications paradigm is mastered Twitter can be used by both large and small businesses for an array of marketing activities.
US budget airline JetBlue uses Twitter to communicate fare discounts, Comcast monitors and responds to tweets to solve customers problems and The New York Times delivers headlines that link through to the media outlet's website.
According to Brogan, the key to getting it right is to share interesting things with your community. US grocery chain Wholefoods offers a good example of this by regularly tweeting on food and lifestyle topics with its Twitter community.
Another way to attract followers is to personalise a brand's Twitter profile. The CEO of online retailer Zappos Tony Hsieh has taken this approach – and built an impressive following in the process – by tweeting about his brand, his life and anything else that takes his fancy.
Fast talking feedback
In the blog post '50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Business', Brogan says Twitter can also be used as a virtual focus group thanks to applications like PollDaddy, a third party application that allows companies to collect opinions about its products and services.
But don't fall into the trap of thinking people only talk about you when asked to do so. As with other forms of blogging, Twitter is often used to discuss the pros and cons of brands, an activity that calls for on-going Twitterstream monitoring using tools like Twitter Search.
And once an unsolicited conversation about your brand is identified Brogan advises a direct involvement in the discussion, which may well be followed by thousands of existing and potential customers.
Twitter for team players
Internal communication processes are proving to be another popular use of Twitter with microblogging becoming a mainstay of events like trade shows and conferences where colleagues need to quickly share information amongst themselves.
It's also suggested a managerial Twitter profile can help inform staff of a company's direction in an easy to absorb format. Because of its 140 words or less requirements, Twitterers are naturally forced to get to the point and write as clearly as possible.
And if more information is required, a web link can always be added to a tweet.
Is the future all about Twitter?
Many commentators are calling Twitter a game changer, a tool capable of transforming the communications landscape. Whether this happens only time will tell. But with a growing number of social media users choosing to tweet their thoughts and movements, it could be a big mistake for businesses to merely sit back and ignore the hype.
Do's and don'ts for Twittering companies
- Do be human, give your Twitter profile a 'face'
- Do talk about other brands that are doing good things
- Do ask followers to submit questions
- Do follow interesting people
- Don't forget that content needs to be engaging and useful
- Don't just have one Twitterer for your brand
- Don't make it all about business
- Don't Twitter constantly, it looks like no work happens
List sourced from chrisbrogan.com