How Twitter is a Communications Game Changer

49 Comments

Twitter

It is no secret that I love Twitter. I have to admit that besides email, Twitter is my most important communications tool, particularly for my business but not exclusively so. The more I see where social media and online communications is going, the more I realize how Twitter has transformed the landscape in both big and subtle ways.

An obvious example of Twitter’s impact is how it is quickly becoming part of our lexicon. Even mainstream media is referring to the Twitterstream, using Twitter to gauge public sentiment, and referring to people’s Twitter pages. Twitter has moved beyond being the news and is now helping to source news for many reporters.

Here are some other ways Twitter has had game-changing impact:

1. Reinvented the threaded messaging board

If you think back to the old online forums before and after threaded messaging and then look at your Twitter page, look familiar? Twitter is loosely threaded messages that are a dynamic blend of conversation with direct references to others in the discussion and broadcasting where the message or the link is the focus.

From watching some of my clients trying to grasp the concept and flow of Twitter, it is clear that this communications display is atypical and can be challenging to follow. Learning to dive into a Twitterstream and come out with a cohesive dialogue or valuable information takes time. For the uninitiated, a threaded message board makes far more sense, however, once you get the hang of the fabric of tweets, you learn to follow the threads, jump to people’s Twitter pages to catch up with the conversation, and you hone your skills of zeroing in on certain Twitterers to pick out nuggets of useful information. Twitter has changed the flow of conversation and information.

Jaiku

2. Spawning imitators

First there was Jaiku and Pownce, then Plurk and Kwippy, all jumping on the microblogging bandwagon, each trying to differentiate themselves from Twitter yet mostly feeling like Twitter knockoffs. Even in their attempt to stand out, they stacked on features or capabilities meant to make them “more robust” than Twitter but ended up diluting the purity of Twitter’s simplicity. Some users, however, preferred the extra bells and whistles of the imitators as well as the stability of some of those other services.

Next came the Twitteresque sites that used the Twitter conversation starter model but focused on specific topics such as blippr where you microblog reviews of arts and entertainment or Reporting On where journalists simply announce what they are reporting on at any given time. Twitter’s micro messaging has become a main feature of many new sites and applications.

3. Becoming an add-on for other tools

As I began reviewing project management tools for WWD, I was taken by Joint Contact’s integration of Twitter into their featureset. Suddenly, Twitter was a feature add-on for applications where communications was key i.e. project management. Email, message boards and the usual communications tools were no longer enough. Other project management tools have promised Twitter integration in future iterations. Scott Blitstein also wrote about Twitter integration with your favorite productivity apps.

Present.ly

4. Transforming internal company communications

Since I’m not in need of enterprise level communications tools, I haven’t actually tried these out, however, there are now Twittereque apps for the enterprise such as Yammer and present.ly. Mike Gunderloy blogged about this new trend and referenced a presentation by my Twitterfriend @Pistachio at Pistachio Consulting.

5. Forcing us to do more with less

When I make presentations about Twitter, a common question is “why are the posts so short?” Why 140 characters or less? M-marketing and M-comm, I tell them. Twitter laid the groundwork for mainstreaming very short and concise messaging in preparation of communicating efficiently on mobile devices.

Maybe the vision of Twitter wasn’t necessarily to prep us so we could properly conduct M-marketing tactics over time, however, we are all gaining the skill of reducing our thoughts into tight, taut messages that read easily over our handheld devices.

6. Affecting the way we blog

Almost weekly, a popular blogger announces that he or she is no longer going to blog or no longer going to blog as frequently because of Twitter. Or that Twitter has changed the way they blog or the way they feel about blogging. For better or for worse, Twittering makes blogging feel like a bog both for the blogger and the reader once they are used to swimming in the free flowing Twitterstream.

blippr

7. Influencing our communications style

The Twitter Effect on how we communicate is going to be even more obvious than how email communications has forever changed the way we write. I’ve heard people say that they find themselves speaking in Tweets – short, clipped phrases where they say as much as they can in fewer words. They don’t do it on purpose, it is just how their mind works now that they’ve been Twittering for a long period of time. Twitter has created new verbs for us. We now have “Twitterfriends.” We “tweet” instead of post. When we talk about referencing others in our tweets we are “atting them” or “@ing” them. When you want someone to contact you, you can just tweet a message asking them to “@” you or “DM” you (for direct message). To gain Twitter skills means that you have to deliberately let go of old communication styles and rewire your brain to accommodate the new ones required to immerse yourself productively in the Twitterstream.

8. Ever-expanding uses

Twitter isn’t just a place where you tell the world what you are doing. Its uses have expanded beyond a broadcast tool to a listening device and filter of information. It is also a marketing tool; a market research tool; a customer outreach and customer service tool; and instant focus group; a tech troubleshooting resource; and the list goes on and on.

In Twitter’s undiluted simplicity, it has the uncanny feature of being several things to each person and several new things as people’s imaginations take hold after a few weeks of Twittering. We have yet to see all of the possibilities of Twittering for our personal lives and for our careers and businesses. We are just scratching the surface.

How have you used or seen Twitter used in new and different ways, particularly for business?

49 Comments

markstory123

Aliza,

What I great post. Saw it along thought @shannonpaul’s RT (how’s that for fitting Twitter lexicon into a comment)?

I wrote a post today about how Twitter has recently proven to be a game-changer, but more focused on the tragedy in Mumbai.

Have a read if you are interested. http://tinyurl.com/5kgyp4

Love the blog.

Mark Story

Dan

Max wrote: “It’s left up to the user to define the purpose by how they utilize it.”

I took this as one of Aliza’s points–that it’s very adaptable. For me, that’s a mixed blessing. I’ve got a twitter account, but I’m not totally sure what to do with it, mostly because I haven’t figured out who I should be following. I read about Mark’s example of getting feedback on a WP plugin, and I see the value of that, but I don’t know enough about Twitter to know how I would go about getting the sort of help he’s received.

I guess I need a “Twitter for Dummies” type guide–or maybe while I’m off over the holidays, I need to jump in, start following people, and get a feel for how it works.

J. D. Ebberly

@Jillian: Twitter is only in its early acceptance stages. We are not obsessed with Twitter at all. Twitter will become ubiquitous. Instantaneous interchange of ideas will speed up as tweeters increasingly use mobile devices.

The next five years will witness far more acceptance of apps like Twitter, than we have seen during the past fifteen years. Distributed computing and information exchange is going to really explode in the early 2010s and beyond.

What we are experiencing now is only the beginnings of tremendous technological development and innovation that will not only transform us beyond our present imagination, but also well beyond comprehension just during the 2010s. What it’s going to do in the 2020s……..

Aliza Sherman

Someone reminded me that I forgot to post my own Twitter name! It is @alizasherman

Ace

[…]”let go of old communication styles and rewire your brain to accommodate the new ones required to immerse yourself productively in the Twitterstream”[…] ?

Max

No no, I absolutely recognize Twitter for the way people use it – I just think it’s over glorified. From your hospital bed? There’s only a couple ways that could happen, and none of them are exclusive to Twitter – unless of course you take pride in being able to notify a bunch of strangers (or internet friends.. or ‘followers’.. or…) of what’s going on in you’re life. And how is that any different than.. oh I don’t know.. calling them? Texting them? Did you do this on your laptop? Because if that’s the case then you Twittering from your hospital bed was nothing significant, just you’re preferred method of sharing information among the hundreds of mentioned methods that already exist (e-mail in particular is pretty fantastic.)

Don’t take any of that personal, it’s just the way it is. Twitter didn’t change the game, it is what it is; a simplified and unorganized social networking site without any actual purpose. It’s left up to the user to define the purpose by how they utilize it.

Metaphores: Twitter reminds me of this painting I came across last month – it was a 8’x8′ white canvas of nothing. Placed on display with it’s elegant footnote plaque hanging on the wall a respectful 2 feet away from this genius work of art.

Does that mean I think it’s evil? No, not at all. Do I think it’s another social site that’s been glorified into convincing us that we can’t live without it? Hell yes.

TxVoodoo

@Max – tell us how you really feel! :D

I’m a web veteran, from its first uses. I find Twitter to be helpful, expanding, and useful. It allows me to communicate when other methods wouldn’t. (I was able to recently Tweet from my hospital bed).

I’ve met new people through it, (waves to Aliza) and their thoughts and links have expanded my information.

When all is said and done, though, it’s just another tool, and only as good or bad as its users. I find your excoriation of it over the top, like you’ve decided that the hammer is now an implement of evil because it can be used to bash someone over the skull, while forgetting that it’s also used to build.

Max

Seriously, if you want me to write a blog about it I can. Or maybe I can express the deep founded ideas about Twitter in a mere 140 characters… probably not. Or you can email me, and I can talk to you like a normal human being who formulates thoughts and sentences (or at least tries.)

Larry McKeogh

I agree that Twitter has its many advantages both in the personal and professional realm. I have tried to point out the professional benefits to many people but they don’t get it. On an enterprise level, it can create the serendipitous situations you would have with a central office at remote sites. Often referred to as the water cooler conversations.
Personally, the amount of information flowing enables me to stay on the front edge of the technology wave. Picking and choosing what may be relevant at any point in time.
I have come to just chalk it up to you either get it or you don’t, kind of like sushi.

Max

@aliza

I do and that’s kind of my point. Everything you mentioned has already been done. Twitter just enables people to think less and regurgitate more, which leaves a whole lot of vomit all over the floor. What the allure is with Twitter I will never know, but the flock will gather and shed praise whether or not I’m there.

Here’s a perfect example: “Twitter has what many online communities that I have tried in the past didn’t have. It has active members. I’ve posted various requests on other forums and online networking sites and got no response. I post the same thing on twitter and within minutes, I’ll have people retweeting what I posted. I’ve even gotten new clients as a result of being active on twitter.”

That’s right DeAnna; don’t think, just consume. But I digress – consumers are best at consuming themselves.

Twitter is like digg, but worse. It’s also like instant messaging, but worse. It’s kinda like blogging, but worse. And it’s kinda like a chat room, but worse. It’s also like a bulletin board, but worse. And it’s kinda like.. well it’s like a lot of good things, but worse.

Twitter has helped a lot of people, but it hasn’t “redefined” anything about how people communicate – at least not in a positive way. I’ll eventually use it as a marketing tool, because not doing so would be foolish – and I’ll spite every minute of it.

C Marx

If it really changed the game, I would see a link at the top of this blog for your Twitter account. I dont “tweet” and dont see the appeal. That may change in the future, but right now, the barrier to entry seems high.

Al Kronos

Good article. I’d have responded on twitter, but for once I’d go well over my 140 chars.

Twitter serves a number of roles for me: it keeps me connected with interesting people; it keeps me informed of news and events (including conferences I am unable to attend); it makes me laugh; it brings me links, new avenues of research and investigation and finally, thru twitter, I can bore the planet (or the gallant few) with my views and micro-observations.

Oh… and I can now use it to shortcircuit more traditional means of communication to contact people who I’d otherwise perhaps never be able to reach.

That said, I used to find it very hard to get people started on twitter as there is no natural starting point. You have to fumble about to find twitterers whom you want to follow. That said, for work colleagues I can now point them at a handful of folks (and corps) for them to start with… then leave them to it.

I am certainly tailing off my blogging, but that is not connected with twitter as far as I know. It’s just become a chore, both to research and write.

DeAnna Troupe

Great post! I absolutely LOVE twitter. Twitter has what many online communities that I have tried in the past didn’t have. It has active members. I’ve posted various requests on other forums and online networking sites and got no response. I post the same thing on twitter and within minutes, I’ll have people retweeting what I posted. I’ve even gotten new clients as a result of being active on twitter.

Don’t worry about the twitter naysayers that appear on your blog. When something is new there’s always people saying that it’s a bunch of crap. You just keep twittering.

aliza sherman

@jillian I think it depends on who you know and where you are located. Some demos and regions are much more Twitterized than others – and not just industry-based.

@scott ganyo I think writing off Twitter because you haven’t yet experienced it to be more than a public IM session is your prerogative, but that doesn’t mean that your assessment is correct.

@ian hendry I definitely appreciate where you are coming from in terms of prioritizing face to face or phone over email or twittering, however, not everyone has access to peers in person or can afford the long distance phone calls. My feeling is that it is much better to make connections with all available tools at your disposal, especially when the “most acceptable” ones are not. BTW, I live in Alaska & moving soon to very, very remote Alaska. Twitter will be my professional lifeline.

@David Felfoldi Hey, I wasn’t saying that I won’t blog because of Twitter. I’m just saying that in the course of becoming a Twitter power user, many bloggers have expressed a shift in how or why they blog. But give up blogging? No way! I love many, many words far too much.

@max Always appreciate the other side’s opinion. But please don’t forget a number of people’s whose lives have literally been saved because of Twitter. Or the people who have been imprisoned overseas and were able to get help with a Tweet. Or the numerous updates about natural disasters worldwide from the ground that were able to get thru when landline and cell calls could not. I could go on and on and on. There are many sides to a single story. I hope you can appreciate value when you see it.

Max

The sooner Twitter consumers finish chewing on the raw meat and spit it out, the better. I can’t stand Twitter. That site has managed to paint the allusion of substance into thin air. It doesn’t break any barriers or redefine communication in anyway. In fact, it stifles it, which makes irrelevant people seem relevant.

If you wouldn’t eat a rock, then why would you pop a pebble in your mouth? They’re comprised of the same thing; one’s just smaller. Get it? Here’s another way of looking at it –

You know all those people you mention that ‘stopped blogging’ because of twitter? If they can put the same amount of substance in a 140 character dialog then chances are they weren’t saying anything worthwhile in the first place.

It’s really ridiculous.

David Felfoldi

Did it feel like a bog to write this blog article? Could you have written it in 140 characters or less?

Twitter, like a blog, is a tool. And we need various tools or various challenges. So let’s celebrate the invention of a new hand-held hammer, but sometimes you still need to wield a two-handed sledgehammer.

Ian Hendry

I am a fan of Twitter (@wecandobiz) but when you read someone using Twitter more than they use the ‘phone or even face to face networking as a tool of business then I think you start to lose people…

Ian Hendry
CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

Young Che

Hey, Twitter still is only a game changer for the true players. Still a fun platform and I hope they don’t ruin it trying to monetize it.

Scott Ganyo

Not convincing. I’ve have an account, but in the end it seems like no more than a public IM session to me.

Apparently you need to be a Twitter disciple to believe that twitter is useful. Circular.

Mark Evans

Aliza,

I agree that Twitter has had a huge impact on a lot of things. In some respects, I think it has made blogging better by moving many posts to Twitter, while letting people focus on putting longer and more informative posts on their blogs.

What I find amazing about Twitter is how it can be used in some many ways. Today, for example, I vented about troubles with Web host, and got some great feedback and suggests for a new hosts. Then, I asked a question about a WordPress plug-in that was quickly answered.

That’s why I’ve become a Twitter disciple!

Mark

Jess

I do agree that Twitter is a great marketing tool. I don’t think it will replace a blog for longer entries and more personal dives into someone’s thoughts cannot fit in Twitter’s tiny space. But for marketers, alternate communication platforms and non-traditional communication is becoming more prevalent. It is a more freeing form of communication and less costly. Traditional platforms have too many barriers: phones have do-not-call lists, tv has DVR, and email is possibly obsolete for the younger generations.

Jillian

I think you may be obsessed. The vast majority of people I know have never even heard of Twitter, let alone have an account.

Maybe it’s important in your line of work, but the rest of the world out here is getting on just fine without it.

rick

One of the things I really, really dislike is that people stop blogging. 140 character tweets are not a substitute for well thought out posts though they can be a complement to them. But in general, thr tweets are nothing like what I lost from the blogger disappearing. My favorite example is Tara Hunt. I liked reading her thoughts on community and marketing at horsepigcow.com but she no longer blogs much at all and her twitterstream was mostly about her personal life. I don’t mean to single Tara out – she’s just the one who came to mind because her blog was high-quality and she’s very popular on Twitter.

Chris Ritke

Great post – and I agree with most of your points. Also with 6, although I’ve come full cycle and started blogging again after being only on Twitter for a few months. I probably haven’t embraced Twitter as much as I could, but at some point it just didn’t seem to be enough for me. I still post to and read tweets often – and enjoy the 140 character format, but it feels really good to be able to write a few paragraphs that really go into the meat and potatoes of what I’m thinking about.

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