The other day I was reading an article on web applications that someone I follow on Twitter had posted. I forwarded the article to a colleague of mine who manages a product line that the article discussed, and mentioned to her that she should get on Twitter and start monitoring her products' relevant keywords if she hasn't already. She wrote me back and said, "I signed up for a Twitter account and I don't get it. What am I missing? What is it for?". While a number of social media experts have already written highly detailed posts on how newbies can use Twitter and tools of the trade, I thought I should add my own thoughts on why those outside of the social media bubble, especially CEOs, marketing managers, and account managers, should care about Twitter.
You can read the aforementioned posts or Twitter's own "how-to" section for a more formal description of Twitter, but I'll tell you how I think of Twitter because initially Twitter's value proposition for the business world was confusing to me too. To give you a metaphor, Twitter is sort of like if you had the ability to read anyone's IM/LinkedIn/Facebook status updates all in one place. Except, of course, that Twitter is its own web application, with its own users, updating their own Twitter statuses. Why should you care about this? Because unlike the other applications I mentioned, Twitter status updates are public. This means that you can follow anyone's status updates that you opt-in to, and anyone can follow and learn from you. Most significantly, Twitter has become popular in the technology community with reporters, PR professionals, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists sharing their thoughts in 140 character status messages or "Tweets". This means that by adding yourself and your company to the Twitter community, you can follow other companies and individuals that are related to your product to keep track of trends and conduct market research.
To give you some examples, here are a few ways that I use Twitter:
1) Share Similar Interests - When I come across bloggers, reporters, or companies that I find interesting, I follow them on Twitter for even more helpful snippets of information. One of my favorite Twitterers to follow is @venturehacks, the Twitter profile for the Venture Hacks blog. I love the quick advice and articles they share via Twitter for startups and entrepreneurs. Thanks to those I follow on Twitter I find more fantastic articles on marketing, technology, product management, venture capital, etc., that I might not otherwise come across.
2) Market Research - All of these pundits, gurus, and real people sharing short updates on topics they are interested in create an amazing environment to take a peek at what is going on in the world in real time. Beyond Google Alerts on specific topics, Twitter has a search capability that finds any Twitter update containing the keywords you define. Not only does Twitter Search keep track of previous conversations regarding a specific keyword, you can watch these results in real time as new conversations are added, or subscribe to your search's RSS feed to monitor the results over time. As you can imagine, this is extremely useful if you want to keep track of your company, product, clients, or competitors and monitor how they are being perceived. As an example, take a look at the Twitter Search results for the keyword "iPhone". I have used Twitter Search to do reconnaissance on potential employers, vendors, and service providers to see what others are saying about those I do business with. Because it can take some time for the press to report on early stage startups, Twitter Search is a great resource for researching young companies.
3) Add Relevant Content - I integrated a Twitter widget on my Sparkt Marketing website so that I can quickly add new, relevant content to my site when I don't have the time to write a longer blog post. When I find articles, events, or other pieces of advice that I think my clients might find useful, I simply post a short, 140 character tweet on the Twitter homepage and it shows up right on my website. I try to make time to write a new blog post at least once a week, but Twitter makes it easy for me to micro-blog on a daily basis to keep my website current.
Here are a few ways that your company should start leveraging Twitter:
1) Identify Issues - A few months ago Michael Arrington of TechCrunch wrote a post on how Comcast picked up on his customer service issue through Twitter. Arrington instigated a series of negative discussions about Comcast on Twitter after he repeatedly tweeted about issues he was having with connectivity and his growing frustration with Comcast customer service. Comcast now has a Twitter presence, @comcastcares, monitored by Comcast's Director of Digital Care.
2) Follow Trends - At a minimum you should start using Twitter Search to track conversations around your company and products. Even better, follow your competitors and B2B clients on Twitter, as well as any reporters or bloggers that cover your space. Think of keywords that relate to your product or market and set up RSS feeds for the relevant Twitter Search results. For example, if I worked on the iPhone team at Apple, I would follow the public Twitter profiles for RIM, Palm, Android, and Windows Mobile. I would also create Twitter Search results for the keywords "iPhone", "smartphone", "PDA", "App Store", etc.
3) Trade Shows - An interesting phenomenon that has grown in the Twitter community is the use of hashtags. Hashtags are sometimes added to the end of a status message, and are used to categorize your status message so that others who are interested in that topic can find your update. Hashtags are widely used by trade show organizers to create a community around trade show attendees. As an example, attendees of Ad:Tech NY are currently using the hashtag #adtech when they Tweet about the conference.
4) Updates - While it is possible to develop a negative reputation on Twitter if you self-promote too often, your users and clients do want to keep track of what you are up to. Consider creating a Twitter profile for your company, and using it to announce relevant information to your community. Information on new products, versions, patches, and tips on new ways to use your service help to both build loyalty for your company and provide an immediate source of product and market feedback when your followers instantly reply to you about your updates.
So there you have it, a few reasons why we business folks should care about the social media website Twitter. Feel free to follow me on Twitter here: @eileenzimmerman.