Why Use Twitter for Business?
When BusinessWeek ran a slide show listing CEOs who use Twitter, even the most inattentive business folk had to finally peep their heads out of their offices to see what the commotion was all about. But what do you really need to know?
What is Twitter?
First the basics. Twitter is a free online application you can use to report on things you encounter throughout the day.
Your reports, called “tweets,” are limited to 140 characters, so that you can send them as text messages from your cell phone. Your tweets appear on your personal Twitter page. People can read them there or “follow” you if they are interested in what you have to say, in which they receive all of your tweets on a Twitter feed. When people like what you’ve said, they “ReTweet” (RT) your post for their followers to read, crediting you for the original tweet.
Most people make their tweets available for everyone to see, but you can limit your readership to a chosen few if you like.
How Big Is The Buzz?
Twitter has been around since 2006, but its buzz just reached critical mass. The service reportedly grew by 1,392% between February 2008 and February 2009, and then doubled its membership in the month of March alone–to an estimated 93 million unique users. And that was before Oprah began tweeting and Ashton Kutcher won his race to reach 1,000,000 followers before CNN did. (He now has around 1.8 million; Oprah, almost 1.1.) Even a cat has 500,000+ followers.
We are at the point where you don’t have to be a celebrity to get something out of Twitter. But what?
We can divide Twitter’s uses into two basic categories: research and promotion.
Research: Business Intelligence
Perhaps the most important thing you can do on Twitter is follow tweets about your own company and its competitors–a surge in tweets about a company can be an early warning sign of problems or advantages a company is facing. Just as you monitor online message boards for signs of trouble (You do, don’t you?), so must you now monitor the discussion on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace. (See Disgusting Domino’s People or all the tweets about Amazon last month for why.)
Many analysts and investment houses are on Twitter now too. Following them can give you insight into their thinking and give you advanced notice of changes in their outlook.
Research: Thought Leaders
Although most of the CEOs listed by Business Week are in the tech community, more and more analog professionals are coming onto Twitter. Jack Welch tweets a lot about sports, but many others tweet quick thoughts about the events or people or articles they encounter. Their off-the-cuff observations might not move markets, but getting insight into what they