A Trip to Twitterville

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This is my third book report and again, the spoiler alert is in effect. I recently finished the book Twitterville by Shel Israel who also co-authored a great book on blogging entitled Naked Conversations. Twitterville is well written and describes in detail much of the world that we are only now beginning to see. It reviews how businesses/people use the application and the diverse methods people use it. Reading the book made me think about how I use Twitter. Israel would call me a lurker. Someone who doesn’t participate in conversations, but watches them. To some extent this is true and I do need to contribute more often. I generally don’t say something just to say something. From following others, I can see that many use Twitter to talk to a group of friends like emailing a group that happens to be visible to all (if you choose). I currently use Twitter as more of a resource. I have discovered an enormous amount of information via Tweets from those that I follow.

The book features numerous stories of how businesses are utilizing Twitter to grow their business. It is important to remember that Twitter is micro-blogging. That is to say that Twitter is another form of blogging; the cornerstone of Web 2.0. The lessons learned and rules from blogging are almost identical to those from Twitter. The difference is Twitter is immediate – not matter how often you blog, it is still past tense, unless it’s live blogging. Because Twitter is real-time, it’s more conversational and this is why Google will buy Twitter. They can place ads based on peoples’ intent; things they are going to do. It may be called micro-blogging, but it has taken the purpose of the blog and made it more real-time.

Israel also talks about the different methods business employ Twitter. Bigger brands seem to use Twitter as a distribution channel. “You’re listening to the logo”. Smaller businesses use Twitter as a conversational tool; which is what it was intended as. Both methods have benefits and I share Israel’s opinion of transparency by allowing team members in small companies or big companies to become known as a voice representing their business. It is a personal communication tool.

Currently there are an amazing amount of tools that sit on top of Twitter’s API that allow you to manage your business within their ecosystem. This link (bottom of the post) will take you to some of the tools that have been created. This list and the amazing number of the applications such as StockTwits, makes you realize that Twitter has become a platform. A real time platform for intent based marketing and many other possiblities. (I’d like to see a Twitter app that streams the music my friends are listening to. TwitterTunes!)

There are several ways that firms (based on business model) can think of Twitter in regards to business impact.

  1. Twitter is for networking in the business development process. People have the ability review your Tweets and find out what kind of company you are and whether they want to do business with you. It allows users that follow you to become conduits and forward Tweets to friends that may need your services. (I would think of Twitter as the networking function and the blog as the follow-up meeting. Great for driving pre-qualified sales.)
  2. Twitter is a distribution channel. Dell has made millions of dollars selling refurbished machines and people looking for hardware simply follow them and look for good deals.
  3. Twitter is a branding tool. Participating in Twitterville as a business can build awareness especially if you’re a small business. Remember, this is the reputation economy and you will need to build rapport and earn trust.
  4. Twitter is customer service. Comcast had mastered this and of course it was a grassroots movement. I’ve heard from a friend recently that they are dropping the ball but the goal is to help those in need and by doing so organically creating user generated FAQs.
  5. Focus groups – There has been a lot written about getting user feedback on social networks and Twitter is no different.

These are examples of how a business can utilize Twitter and I’m sure there are more.

The book touches on the business realities of “how do I track my business’s success on Twitter?”   Given the examples above and how businesses can leverage Twitter it’s easy to see that you can’t easily measure ROI from some of these endeavors. I like Israel’s advice on how to think about this. I’m paraphrasing here: You shouldn’t be trying to measure the ROI of customer service. You should be measuring the impact of customer service. (Hope I got that right.)

Recently I have heard questions that I heard in the mid 90s. “Why should I put up a website?”, “How am I going to measure success?” Blah, Blah, Blah. Businesses figured it out and they will figure out how to use Twitter. Some better than others. To me, it’s not a question of participation, it’s a question of how to use Twitter.

Lastly, I agree with Israel about connecting across cultures. I think social media in general, provides a tremendous opportunity for cultural empathy. We just need a really really good auto-magic translator.

Twitterville is an excellent book and I recommend it for newbies or die-hard fans.

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I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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