“So what are you doing” is the basic definition of Twitter interaction. It allows people to communicate information that is in-between emails, blogs, and phone calls. Its that spree of the moment “I need to tell you something”. These information posts are shared to those who have chosen to take interest, known as followers, who are interested in the information in-between. So lets step back and look objectively at this: Twitter provides the ability for users to make miniature information posts about issues pertaining to location, likes and dislikes, experiences, wants / needs, movement, and any other possible detail concerning the posters life or thoughts on it. In most cases this can seem rather trivial and unimportant compared to mainstream news or fully qualified blog posts with comments. But what is really not understood is the complexity of Twitter and what value it holds for the business community in general. I am going to go through some basic of Twitter and then explorer its exploited value, or at least give some good ideas.
Twitter not only allows for people to communicate, but make smart communication. Twitter uses Hashtags to embedded additional context and metadata in tweets. The hashtags provide a way of grouping posts to a main subject that is searchable. An example of a subject would be #Microsoft. Go to http://search.twitter.com and do a search for #Microsoft and then Microsoft. Your results will differ in the actual content and the information from this is truly valuable. Understanding that those using Microsoft as a subject are more oriented to using it as an everyday term, compared to those using it as a word to describe a current situation or irritation. Try using #free to find people giving away furniture, tickets, or just about anything. For more information on hashtags and how to use them. Twitter also allows users to do direct remarks to other users through the user of @twittername instantiation. This is similar to the ability to comment on Blogs, witch allows for discussion or what we will talk about in later with business interactions with Twitter.
So we have seen some of the basic features of Twitter that allow for more derived information collection from the metadata of a post, but we also need to understand the value of a post. Think of a Twitter user as a mainstream news source on TV. TV news media value is based on Nielsen viewer ratings for how many house holds watch a certain program. This allows the news media to charge higher rates for advertisement time. The same can be said for Twitter followers. Followers are users who have specified that they find a person’s post intrinsically valuable. So for today the most followed is CNN and Britney Spears. With Britney having a total of 873,333 followers, that is not much less than her total Blackout album sales as of January 2009 (942,000 copies in the United States). These followers are people who want to be updated on the newest CNN stories by phone, computer, and other Twitter communication clients. The system of following is no different than consuming an RSS feed, receiving weekly group emails, or blog alerts / searches. Twitter truly allows a single person or entity create a fast and simple communication medium to interact with those interested – you though setting up a blog was easy, try signing up for a Twitter account – WOW!.
Now lets get into the heart of this post – business value. In business you learn that the customer is the most valued resource and is truly the one you must answer too. How better to communicate and interact with the customer than by really knowing and understanding the customer. Use Twitter as a way to find what the customer is interested in, what is going on in their life, and who they follow or who follows them. People are more open to posting personal information on Twitter than in any phone survey or interview / group discussion. Just the basics of finding out if the customer is married, has children, and location without asking are some of the most valuable sets of data will allow customer integration and acceptance. Use search.twitter to search your company name or product for feedback and usage information. Use an aggregator like Filtrbox.com to help you manage multiple searches and analyze the results of posts. You can aggregate who liked / disliked the product and perform a follow up in Twitter by sending them a direct message on how you can better serve them or even give a quick thanks if they provided positive feedback about the business or product, this always helps. Use hybrid application like Brightkite.com to not only discover posts, but the location the post took place in. Posts like: “I was at Target the other day and they where out of Crest Whitening toothpaste, damn”. You can know discern from the location which store this post was written about and actually check to see if the JIT inventory system is working or if there are other issues with the store – is this the only person complaining about the store or the stocking of the store?
Twitter gives a business the ability to micromanage a customers needs and wants by managing how they interact passively or directly with a customer. Reiterate, i am using customer compared to consumer for the specific reason of the ability to hone in on a person, not a group people. Want people to take a survey, just post a #free ipod when you take this survey in Twitter. Want to target a certain group of people, just look at who is commenting on a specific subject like #baseball - you now have a list of people who are interacting in discussion about your topic of choice. You now have a viral feature that you company can leverage – stack this up with Facebook integration and you have a new market and marketing / sales integration points that are instantly global. With over 1 million users, it would be wrong for you business to not out reach. I know that there are a lot more business cases and examples than this, but these should be rather simple integration idea that your business can active and expect results from.
Future of the Tweet. Be ware, this is a total opinion - Twitter and Brightkite are just simple stepping stones to the future of a new medium for communication and interaction. Twitter is no different from a txt message that is received by a group of people, but what i do see is the advanced ability to leverage metadata and interact at a public level that you could not do before unless you had a blog or were a journalist. I hope to see a hybrid in educational institutions that use it for discussions and information gathering - why read an article when you can ask the CEO and write your own (overly stated example).
Now what not to do if you are a Business. The problem with integrating business and Twitter is the actual loss of value to a business and to Twitter users as they become more integrated. In most cases, when people post objections to a business or create their own product reviews, they are creating posts from personal opinions. Some unnamed business have decided to use people with lots of followers to write pleasing product reviews for a price. This is truly advertising in social networks and really inhibits the environment of objectivity in my personal opinion. Another thing to stay away from if you really are a socially understanding company is using Tweets as a news source or a documented product reviews. Remember, Tweets are personal opinions that are shared global, but not with intent to be published as a valid review that a company should use to endorse products. When a user endorses your product, follow the user and interact with them learning more and then gain a endorsement that is concentrated and well received across multiple audiences. For example, an Angelina Jolie tweet of “I love season 7 of Friends” would not really be a great endorsement for Jennifer Aniston and Friends. So please remember that even thought social networks are rather new – they are really another implementation of any other content source and should be treated as such – please don’t bombard Twitter with advertisement, i actually like using it.