posted 4 Mar 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 5
The Gurteen perspective: Twittering
Do you have a problem understanding what all the fuss is about Twitter? Do you think it is about telling strangers what you had for breakfast or that the cat has been sick? Do you still wonder why anyone would want to know these sorts of things and why you would waste your time telling them?
Well, Twitter is actually a powerful business tool. Let me explain.
You may work or have worked in an open-plan office; if not, imagine working in one. Living in such an environment has its disadvantages in terms of disruption and noise but it has many benefits.
First, you get to overhear other people’s conversations. Often, they are of no interest, and you tune them out but then a ‘trigger’ word penetrates your barrier and your ears pick up. This could be something interesting, something important: an insight; an item of news or a piece of gossip, something directly relevant to your work. Or it may tell you something about the people having the conversation, an insight into their personalities that helps deepen your relationship with them or conversely erodes it.
Second, there are the occasional questions that people ask you. Questions that don’t take time – questions that need a one word ‘yes or no’ answer. Or ‘Go see Mike, I think he can answer that’.
Then, there are people making telephone calls. These conversations are often intriguing as you do not know to whom they are talking and you can only hear one side of the conversation but you learn from them nevertheless.
In an open-plan office, you live in this ocean of ‘twitter’, an ambiance of chit-chat, questions and answers that you tune in and you tune out as your mood or the pressure of work takes you.
This process is a highly social and fragmented form of knowledge sharing and informal learning. It’s essential learning even when you have been with your company for many years as it enables you to keep your finger on the pulse of the organisation and indeed your profession or industry. For a newcomer it is invaluable. It is how you get to know people ( or ‘of people’), new products, plans, directions, competitors, markets – and much more. It’s how you get up to speed.
Now imagine working in your own personal office or working from home or ‘on the road’. You are cut off from all of this chatter and potential learning. And imagine working, like myself, as an independent consultant – no organisation to learn from.
What you need is a micro-blogging tool like Twitter. Twitter provides that background noise of chatter that you can learn from. It’s not quite the same as working in an open-plan office but it has one huge advantage – you can switch it off at any time and you can participate in the chatter as little or as much as your personality or work load dictates.
I use a complementary product called TwitterDeck. It runs in background and lets me know when someone I am ‘following’ (someone in my virtual office) has tweeted (said something). I can choose to ignore it or read it. If the tweet is a general comment, then that’s it. If it’s a question for me or a comment directed at me I can choose to reply or not. One of the great things about Twitter etiquette is that is it okay just to ‘listen in’ and not tweet or respond to people. You can use it as much or as little as you wish.
Do you get the idea now? Like most social tools, the only way you ever stand a chance of understanding Twitter or similar micro-blogging products like Yammer is to start to use them. Go play with Twitter. It may take a while as it did with me but it will slowly start to make sense and it’s far more useful even than I have described.