posted 15 Sep 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 10
By Jeffrey Mann
The popularity of the Twitter microblogging platform has soared over the past year.
Many individuals are using Twitter within a business context, leading organisations to ask if it should play a role in their corporate strategy and if so, how.
Although Twitter is primarily aimed at individual users in the consumer market, many of those individuals work for companies and ‘tweet’ about business issues.
In general, Twitter usage by employees should be covered by existing web participation guidelines. As Twitter is a public forum, employees should understand the limits of what is acceptable and desirable. It is good practice to remind staff that the policies already in place apply to this new communication forum. If organisations have not defined a public web participation policy, they should do so as quickly as possible.
Gartner predicts that by 2011, enterprise microblogging will be a standard feature of 80 per cent of social software platforms on the market. While other consumer microblogging platforms exist (such as Plurk, Jaiku and Identi.ca), Twitter is the most popular.
It is not imperative for every corporation to be actively participating in Twitter at an official level. However, the popular impact of microblogging is leading many companies to explore how they could use it.
In addition to the individual use of Twitter, Gartner has identified four different ways in which organisations are making use of the Twitter service. These are: direct, indirect, internal, and signaling.
Direct – using Twitter as a marketing or public relations channel
Many companies have established Twitter identities as part of their corporate communications strategies, much like corporate blogs. They tweet about corporate accomplishments, distributing links to press releases or promotional websites, and respond to other Twitter users’ comments about the brand. We maintain that this approach should be used with caution because uninteresting or self-serving Tweets could hinder the brand image as much as help. Responding to critical comments can be particularly risky, as the anonymous nature of Twitter can easily descend into a negative spiral. We recommend that at a minimum, companies should register Twitter IDs for their major brand names to prevent others claiming them and using them inappropriately.
Indirect – employees use Twitter to enhance personal reputations
Good Tweeters enhance their personal reputation by saying clever, interesting things, thereby attracting many followers. As people enhance their personal brands, some of this inevitably rubs off on their employers. Twitter provides a way of raising the profile of both individuals and the organisations they work for, which elevates those companies that want to be seen to employ influential leaders.
Internal – staff communicate about their ideas and projects
In most cases, we do not recommend using Twitter or any other consumer microblogging service in this way, because there is no guarantee of security. It is crucial that employees understand the limitations of the platform and never discuss confidential matters. A seemingly innocuous Tweet about going to see a particular client can tip off a competitor or offend that client. Other providers, such as Socialtext, Yammer and Present.ly, provide Twitter-style functions targeted at enterprise microblogging with more security and corporate control.
Twitter streams provide a rich source of information about what customers, competitors and others are saying about a company. Search tools like search.twitter.com or the Tweetdeck application can scan for references to particular company or product names. Savvy organisations use these signals to gain early warnings of problems and collect feedback about product issues and new product ideas.
Twitter has struck a chord among sufficient numbers that it needs corporate attention and policies. Employees need to understand its potential for misuse and corporations need to understand its potential value.
Jeffrey Mann is research vice president at industry analyst Gartner. For more information visit www.gartner.com