Designing for the Twitterverse

Well, a new development this week (and shortly to be reflected on my website with the ubiquitous logo). I am, with some trepidation, entering the Twitterverse. This means first learning a whole new language – but fortunately there is a dictionary. Second it means finding time to tweet, tweetback, retweet, monitor twaffick, twadd people to my account and follow. Third it means controlling the amount of time I spend on the above activity. I definitely do not want to become tweetaholic or find myself twiking or twitterlooing.

So already you can see I am practicing. I may be a neweeter, but I'm willing to learn. On a side point I'm thinking of suggesting to Rosetta Stone that they add Tweeting (or is it Twittering – where is my teacher?) as a language to the list of languages they offer for self-learning. I pass their retail outlet everytime I go to Dulles airport (a lot of times this year), and am often tempted to re-learn my rusty French and Spanish. But no longer, I must master tweeting or else I might feel tweepish at my ineffectiveness, or might inadvertently tweetsult someone.

Enough levity and on to the serious part. Why am I almost a tweeter? Well from a business standpoint it might make sense. However, in a 2009 report Do Fortune 100 Companies Need a Twittervention? the findings were that

"For the majority of Fortune 100 companies, Twitter remains a missed opportunity. Many of their Twitter accounts, did not appear to listen to or engage with their readers, instead offering a one-way broadcast of press releases, company blog posts and event information."

Three years is an eternity in the Twitterverse so things have moved on a bit but not as much as one would think. A Pew Research Report Twitter Use 2012 says that

"As of February 2012, some 15% of online adults use Twitter, and 8% do so on a typical day. Overall Twitter adoption remains steady, as the 15% of online adults who use Twitter is similar to the 13% of such adults who did so in May 2011. At the same time, the proportion of online adults who use Twitter on a typical day has doubled since May 2011 and has quadrupled since late 2010-—at that point just 2% of online adults used Twitter on a typical day. The rise of smartphones might account for some of the uptick in usage because smartphone users are particularly likely to be using Twitter."

So what does this 'uptick' (Lucy Kellaway add the use of this word to your management guff list) mean for businesses who are interested in using Twitter? My company is interested as it is of the view that a lively Twitter presence will in the words of the Weber Shandwick report mentioned earlier

  • Build a dialogue that paves the way to new relationships with clients and advocates
  • Generate loyalty among new and existing clients [via useful information]
  • Create a wider awareness of the company name and what it offers

In this respect it may be a relatively early adopter. Fast Company, in an article of August 30 2012 The $1.3 Trillion Price Of Not Tweeting At Work told us that

"On June 6, Larry Ellison–CEO of Oracle, one of the largest and most advanced computer technology corporations in the world–tweeted for the very first time. In doing so, he joined a club that remains surprisingly elite. Among CEOs of the world's Fortune 500 companies, a mere 20 have Twitter accounts. Ellison, by the way, hasn't tweeted since."

Interestingly though, the article points to several ways in which social media use can improve employee productivity, break down organizational silos, and unlock company knowledge. So rather than adding value to external relationship development it seems that at this point Twitter and other social media may have more value in enhancing internal productivity. This point is developed in the McKinsey report The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies

"which finds that twice as much potential value lies in using social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises. MGI's estimates suggest that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers-—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals-—by 20 to 25 percent."

But getting back to my role the company has enrolled me as one of their social media (i.e. Twitter) voices. My role (again in the words of the Weber Shandwick report) is to

"offer opinions and encourage discussions, reach out to their communities of customers and advocates, build relationships with new customers and look for untapped supporters."

A tall order in 140 characters per shot with rather tight conventions around them. I've found the Mashable Guide to Twitter a good source to help with these but almost as useful is just jumping in and giving it a go.

So having taken on the role a couple of challenges appear (some personal as mentioned) and others to do with organization design. What are the organization design implications of social media use? If we suddenly get a torrent of traffic to respond to will we be able to cope? Who will be detailed to deal with questions? What are the legal, ethical, privacy, confidentiality ramifications. Will my performance and those of other twitterers in the organization be measured on number of tweets or outcomes of our tweeting? To some extent we don't know yet – we're learning as we go. So far one person has been designated to support my tweets, guide me through the learning process, and monitor the traffic (I mean twaffic). But my guess is there will be all kinds of consequences that we will have to start designing in or out of the current organizational system.

So watch this space. In the meanwhile you can follow me on @naominbbj – comments on how I'm doing – please tweet me!