Twitter is an essential business tool – something that adds value to our work, extends our ability to collaborate and connect with other like-minded people, and tap into ongoing conversations that enrich our work.
Launched in July of 2006, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows participants to send short, concise updates (limited to 140 characters) called tweets. Twitter uses a shared, centralized platform that provides a constant stream of updates from all registered users; and allows each user to subscribe and unsubscribe (filter) tweets to customize an individual stream of updates from select participants.
Used by many people to share news, updates, insights, commentaries, opinions, and advice, twitter is a great way for people to network. The value of twitter for professional uses is in selective participation – following people who share and discuss things of direct business relevance; and tapping into a community of like-minded participants. The tool makes it easy to add or remove people from an individual stream, which allows participants to refine the stream of tweets followed to select only those people providing useful updates.
A February 2009 Compete.com blog entry ranks Twitter as the third largest social network (behind Facebook and MySpace), and puts the number of users at roughly 6 million and the number of monthly visitors at 55 million. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter)
Example government users
- Prime Minister Stephan Harper http://twitter.com/pmharper
- President Barack Obama http://twitter.com/BarackObama
- NDP Leader Jack Layton http://twitter.com/jacklayton
- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger http://twitter.com/schwarzenegger
- Utah state government http://twitter.com/UtahGov
- U.S. Secret Service http://twitter.com/usss
- U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) http://twitter.com/femainfocus
- City of Ottawa http://twitter.com/ottawacity
- City of Toronto http://twitter.com/cityoftoronto
- City of Guelph http://twitter.com/cityofguelph
List of hundreds of government agencies using Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/5jont7
Other business twitter users: http://www.bigwinner.org/twitter-leaders/
Twitter provides direct connections to live updates from industry experts, leaders, and other industry peers. For example, members of the e-Media team follow updates from IT and communications people at the City of Toronto who are working on similar projects, and whom face similar daily issues; and from other peers and industry leaders around the world.
Stumbling across new people is easy. Twitter provides a list of people, with a short profile, that each user is following – mapping relationships – and direct links to the profiles of individually quoted tweets (ReTweets – see below).
The non-hierarchical nature of Twitter allows connections between anyone, whether they’re a student, company director or president, knowledge worker, or anyone else. The value of the connections are judged by the quality of the posts, and less by the stature of the account holder.
I have established some very valuable connections through Twitter with people from other municipalities, private sector organizations, and other areas of government. My relationships with these people have been strengthened by ongoing discussions and exchanges through Twitter.
Tapping into a global knowledge base
The value of collaborative knowledge sharing with a network of people interested and motivated by similar issues can have a massive impact on an organization. Twitter allows participants to easily share ideas and solutions to problems through the twitter community – by simply sending a request for help through twitter (when you have enough like-minded followers), a range of creative options can emerge.
Ex: “The Awesomeness of Twitter” blog post provides an example of a request made through twitter for a creative solution to a problem, which quickly generated multiple responses and useful suggestionshttp://tinyurl.com/yum8ga
Access to quick updates
Participants can send and receive up to the minute news updates and live on the scene coverage of events and activities from around the world. Live coverage from conferences, meetings and events could help business users to participate and follow events on their own schedule.
Access to timely and relevant breaking news can be very beneficial to people – for example street closures due to an accident, or alerting the public of a gas leak in a downtown area. The recent crash of U.S. Airways flight 1549 was first reported through Twitter, and live coverage from the event was first broadcast through twitter. The potential to instantly connect with a large group of people and spread news through Twitter is very powerful.
Being a part of the conversation
The Twitter conversations are happening, with or without your participation. People are talking about your organization, and sharing things that are relevant and could be useful to your job. The option is there to tap into this, and to help lead and steer the conversation. Twitter is not a broadcast only channel of communication. Anyone can contribute to the conversation, providing alternative perspectives, added-value insights, or challenging conventional thinking through debate.
Retweets and the rapid spread of messages
Messages are quickly and easily shared across Twitter by simply “retweating” (or copying and pasting messages into a new message, preceeded with RT @username to indicate the originator). This practice helps to spread (virtual) word-of-mouth spreading of messages, except that it’s across interconnected networks of participants that otherwise would not be connected to each other. Each individual has his/her own unique network, and thus messages can very quickly spread between a large number of people “virually” through network inter-connections.
Virtual Participation at Conferences & Meetings
A common, and very powerful example of the value of Twitter is it’s use at conferences and meetings. Participants often use Twitter to post live updates and capture key points from events, sparking a discussion that extends beyond the physical boundaries of the event venue. Using a hashtag (ex: #eventname), participants flag messages related to a particular subject or event, allowing anyone to follow that flag using http://search.twitter.com.
I learned about ChangeCamp Toronto through Twitter, and as a result of discussions about ChangeCamp on Twitter, decided to participate (in person) at the event. The recent Web 2.0 Summit organized by the City of Toronto used Twitter to solicit questions and discussion from the live web-cast of events. I was very active in those discussions, and was able to actively participate in the event from Ottawa using Twitter.
Twitter desktop clients
While Twitter can be accessed and used through a web-browser, a desktop client (such as TweetDeck or Twhirl) extends the functionality and capability of Twitter. The web-based version requires manual refreshing, and does not flag any new updates. The search tool runs from a separate website. The desktop clients integrate search functionality, live updates, direct replies, and other features to delivery more timely information and integrated engagement into a single tool. The desktop clients also allow for grouping of participants to seggregate and aggregate unique streams of feeds (for example, tweets from Ottawa residents into a single group; and other tweets in a second group).
How else is Twitter valuable to (1) your work on a daily basis; (2) your organization? What other examples do you feel make a good argument for the value of Twitter?