CIO Symmetry

Feb 13 2009   3:56PM GMT

What the tweet? Using Twitter as a business tool

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

It took a lot of coaxing to get me to start using Twitter. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to join. It wasn’t because I didn’t understand it. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t see what the big deal was. To be frank, I didn’t think I could keep up with the twit-chat. I barely update my Facebook page. I still take notes in (gasp!) a notebook. My inboxes are overflowing with work and personal messages.

And I’m not alone. As more and more companies are showing an interest in using Twitter, from the CIO to the marketing department, the benefits of the social networking tool are being questioned and investigated. Is the time investment worth it, or is this another trend?

Recently on (ahem) Twitter, I came across a Tweet from someone in my following about companies using Twitter as a business tool. Thus, a business connection was born – Norman Birnbach (@NormanBirnbach), president of Birnbach Communications, a small agency that works with clients in both traditional and online media. Birnbach gave me some Twitter business insight into why everyone should be investigating it.

1. Twitter, shmitter – why bother?

According to Birnbach, you need to protect your brand. If you aren’t there, someone else will be. “It’s important to build up a following and credibility. In the tough economy, companies need to have an established spot to provide honest information and respond to Twitter reactions,” Birnbach said. Situations like employee layoffs will spur people to react via Twitter — without a spot on there, you lose your voice to respond. Keep a pulse on what your employees are thinking and join the dialogue when appropriate.

2. It’s not (always) about marketing.

Aside from creating a brand and name for yourself, Twitter can be used as a customer service tool. “@ComcastCares does a really good job listening to their customers and providing assistance and feedback,” Birnbach said.

Reaching out to your customers (whether it be external or internal IT customers) and providing another outlet for your services builds loyalty (refer to No. 1). “No one really cares about your product or service,” Birnbach adds. “All people care about is how you help them, and you can’t oversell being helpful.”

3. Keep an eye on what everyone is doing.

The constant posts on Twitter provide company transparency – you can share what you’re doing, and you get to see what your colleagues and competitors are up to. The ability to see in real time what peers are learning and doing, projects they are diving into and new trends as they develop turns Twitter into an online networking and learning tool. This type of knowledge share has been very beneficial, according to Birnbach. It provides a new way for companies to communicate internally and externally and learn from peers and colleagues.

4. Ready to join?

If you’re ready to start using Twitter, there are a few things you need to know:

Build a following. Look for people who are Tweeting on the topics that interest you and follow them. Search topic keywords or companies you want to know more about and start following. “Twitter is different from Facebook in this respect – you can just start following whoever you want without knowing them,” Birnbach said.

Banish Twitter-block. Birnbach said some people don’t join Twitter because they don’t want their tweets to sound foolish, boring or inappropriate – people are concerned about oversharing and privacy issues. “Don’t tell people that you’re having a sandwich for lunch. If you’re always going back and forth with obscure references, you’re not going to engage people. Figure out who you are trying to reach and what you are trying to achieve and post a mix of insight and conversation,” Birnbach suggested. Provide useful comments and remember – ABL (always be linking). Sharing news, timely information and important updates make you a credible source and an asset to your following.

Don’t overdo it. To ensure you and your employees are focusing on other priorities (like work), set a time limit for using Twitter and stick to it. “It’s important to at least look at Twitter. If you decide to go ahead with it, use it to extend what you’re already doing – as a complementary component,” Birnbach said.

I’ve been on Twitter for more than two weeks and … I love it. Used right – as a business tool to communicate with your CIO universe, your staff and/or your users – you will, too.

4  Comments on this Post

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  • LotusNotesGuru
    Kristen, very good guidance for newbies on how to get started with Twitter. It's worth noting for those concerned about Privacy that you can "protect" your updates so anyone who wants to follow you requires your approval. I do this personally since it allows me to be more shall we say "candid" in my tweets than I might be in my blog. And speaking of my "Lotus Guru" blog, I also recently wrote about Twitter as a business tool, pointing out that there is already a freeware Lotus Notes "Twitter Client" application available, and elaborating on why the Notes platform is particularly well-suited to manage the typical flood of Tweets in a business context. The blog entry is here: -Kevin
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  • LotusNotesGuru
    Here's a better looking link to that blog entry: [A href=""]
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  • LotusNotesGuru
    Did I mention that Lotus Notes is also a very good blogging platform, with tools like Blogsphere (on that will automatically convert pasted urls into clickable links and has excellent, automated comment spam controls? :-)
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  • Mark Fontecchio
    Thanks for the great links, Kevin. And you make a good point -- for people concerned about privacy, "follow approval" is a good way to keep tabs on who can see your tweets. -Kristen
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