What's All The Buzz About Twitter?

Report concludes that many users are 'tweeting' about work issues.

The popularity of Twitter and other "microblogging" platforms among individual users has piqued the interest of the business world, according to a report by the Stamford, Conn.-based IT research firm Gartner Inc.

"Despite the fact that Twitter is primarily aimed at individual users in the consumer market, many of those individuals work for companies and "tweet" about business issues, leading businesses to explore how they could best use it," says Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner.

Twitter allows users to post short, 140-character updates on what they are doing at that moment. Users distribute quick thoughts, news and ideas, leading this type of service to be called microblogging, as each individual message (called a "tweet") can be considered a small blog post. Users select other "Twitterers" to follow or receive their messages in close to real time.

While Twitter is one of several consumer microblogging platforms -- Plurk, Jaiku and Identi.ca are some of the others -- Twitter is the most popular, Gartner notes. Gartner's analysts predict that by 2011, enterprise microblogging will be a standard feature on 80% of social software platforms on the market.

Although the Gartner report asserts that it is not imperative for companies to be participating in microblogging platforms at an official level -- because such platforms are aimed at individuals -- the report identifies four ways in which companies are using Twitter:

Direct

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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 Web sites, and respond to other Twitterers' comments about the brand. Gartner points out that this approach should be used with caution, because uninteresting or self-serving tweets could hinder the company's brand image as much as they could help. Responding to comments can be particularly risky, as the anonymous nature of Twitter easily can descend into a negative spiral. At a minimum, companies should register Twitter IDs for their major brand names to prevent others from claiming them and using them inappropriately, Gartner recommends.

Indirect

The company's employees use Twitter to enhance and extend their personal reputations, thereby enhancing the company's reputation. Good Twitterers enhance their personal reputation by saying clever, interesting things, attracting many followers who go on to read their blogs. As people enhance their personal brands, some of this inevitably rubs off on their employers. Twitter provides a way of raising the profiles of both individuals and their employers, which elevates companies that want to be seen as employing influential leaders.

Internal

Employees use the platform to communicate about what they are doing, projects they are working on and ideas that occur to them. In most cases, Gartner does not recommend using Twitter or any other consumer microblogging service in this way, because there is no guarantee of security.

Employees need to understand the limitations of the platform and should never discuss confidential matters because a seemingly innocuous Tweet about going to see a particular client can tip off a competitor. Other providers, such as Yammer and Present.ly, provide Twitter-like functions targeted at enterprise microblogging with more security and corporate control, the report notes.

Inbound Signaling

Twitter streams provide a rich source of information about what customers, competitors and others are saying about a company. Search tools such as search.twitter.com or the twhirl application can scan for references to particular company or product names. Savvy companies use these signals to get early warnings of problems and data about product issues.

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