Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I [heart] Twitter

I’ve had a Twitter account in various guises for nearly 4 years now. To begin with I signed up to explore and understand better the new shiny digital toy. The people to follow were few +/or mostly known to me personally at the outset.  

Several years later, Twitter has become an indispensable tool in my professional armoury, but I’m a geek and I live and breathe in the digital world. I’m not sure  it’s necessarily for everyone although I do believe that apps like Flipboard (for iPad) might make it more user-friendly in broader contexts.  

 So taking a step back, why am I still loving Twitter?

  • There are handy interfaces like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite that turn the user experience into something useful and manageable. Without these I would probably have given up pretty quickly.
  • I am in control of who I follow – chosen by me, for me, to help me achieve what I want to (primarily in my case keeping up to date with what’s happening in the digital world). This is key – choosing my trusted sources of information carefully saves me time and means I have a manageable and largely relevant newstream to digest.

  • It’s a useful tool to share interesting things I find with those kind enough to follow me – presumably because they think I provide a useful filtering service. Twitter relationships tend to be assymmetrical  - I might follow someone interesting to me, but unlike Facebook or LinkedIn there’s no expectation or requirement for the symmetrical loop to be closed, so following and followers numbers don’t match. I’m not in it for the ego-boost, or celebrity like some, I’m not motivated by pure follower numbers nor any specific need to drive traffic to my blog, but that’s me. If you were running a corporate blog or other marketing activity it can be a valuable tool in the mix.

  •   I listen much more than I Tweet, and when I do it’s because I’ve found something worth sharing or I want to promote a blog article I’ve written, or very occasionally to vent frustrations at bad consumer experiences – inverse advocacy if you like, but it’s a powerful public voice if used sparingly. Resorting to Twitter has on more than one occasion meant I got problems resolved more quickly than being an invisible item in an emails awaiting response queue.  Businesses are slowly realising that the people’s public voice has large reach and clout and sticking heads in the sand isn’t going to help.

  •   I’m reasonably attentive to who is following me, because it helps me discern what to tweet, and keeps those who are clearly spam tweeters or on some bizarre quest for a large number of followers in their place.

  •    Twitter has become another comms  / messaging space for me too – I know which of my digerati mates are as Twitter addicted as I am, just like you know which of your friends use which IM account and so Twitter DMs (direct messages) are in my repertoire when I think about who I am wanting to say what to.

  • I’m more selective of which industry events I attend in person because in a time constrained world following the headlines via the tweeted soundbites from those in attendance is often a “good enough” experience.   Last week I made the most of the IAB UK’s video conference following the #iabvideo tag, this morning I am keeping an eye on Comscore EMEA’s video ad session - #VAS11. I enjoy participating in conferences I actually attend even more now that I have Twitter to hand – the banter amongst participants of different people’s takes on a presentation, the chance to find new people to follow, the “companion screen” if you like, to the presenters in front of you. You could argue it’s a distraction but I personally believe it adds value to the experience. That said it’s much more helpful if a conference organiser pre-defines the hashtag from the outset / in advance otherwise a large chunk of the audience are busy trying to suggest and find consensus on what to use not listening to the opening comments!! 
 Personal request though... would conference organisers please note that it’s  bordering on rudeness now to host something in a basement room with lousy 3g and not provide free wifi / the access code.

I get asked about Twitter and brands or Twitter and corporations a lot. I don’t believe there’s a one size fits all answer.   How a brand or an individual finds Twitter useful is very much a contextual / personal thing. 

“Thou shalt join Twitter” is a pretty useless corporate mandate unless you are prepared to spend some time training people on how it can add value to their professional +/or personal lives and give them some tips on where to start and what to do  / not to do.Make sure the decision makers understand it properly would be my advice. That way they will be prepared to deal with any issues that come up and need elevating. The last thing you’d want is Twitter being used naively by the un-informed and finding your business advantages shared with the world inadvertently or in contrast find productivity drops because everyone’s glued to Twitter all day.  It’s easy to get distracted. 

Know what your corporate policy is rule one!

Make sure everyone is clear on what’s appropriate or not, especially if you are asking people to sign up wearing a corporate rather than personal hat. Most people have a personal email account these days, and unless you are expecting people to tweet on behalf of the organisation it’s probably better to advise them to approach Twitter from a personal perspective (in my humble opinion). Everyone’s notion of what’s valuable to them will differ and if you are asking people to embrace something new, then it’ll be made a whole lot easier if they are given freedom to customise to their own interests, professional and personal – that way it’s more likely to become embraced and habitual rather than just another thing to check / another password to remember. We all have enough of those as it is.

Used well it can be a powerful marketing, business and insight tool, it’s a means to drive $ value to the business (think Dell Outlet stores), drive loyalty, distribute content to an audience who’ve said they’re interested in your news,  deliver customer service  and enhance (real time) learning . 

Fundamentally whether you manage a brand, a team or your own time, you need to be  clear about the purpose you are using Twitter for so you can leverage it effectively and  attribute time and resources appropriately.   Dive in. Have a go.

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