Web Strategy: What the Web Strategist should know about Twitter


You: A Web Strategist
If you’re responsible for the direction of your online strategies for your company or organization, you’ve probably been hearing buzz about Twitter, a next-generation instant messaging tool. Even if you’re new to Twitter, this will serve as a guide to educate you, help you make a decision, link to resources, and provide a starting point for your strategy.

[Twitter, a scalable instant messaging service, is being used by early adopters in the tech industry, what is it? and how can it improve my communications?]

Web Strategy Theory to know before you go forward
If you’ve not already figured it out, the corporate website is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of existing customers (who are ‘like them’) far more than marketers, and Facebook let’s these communities of practice assemble, your brand is decentralized –embrace! If you don’t understand these concepts, it’s hard to move forward, please re-read those posts above.

Opportunities: Why Twitter?
A tool embraced by the early adopter, Twitter can benefit from: thought leadership, connection to the influencers, additional message reach, access to mobile communicators, real-time communication, but more importantly, the opportunity to build relationships through conversations. Who it’s good for? Media companies, social media savvy brands, those who may already have a blogging strategy, those with frequent updates. High communication individuals may prefer this tool.

Limitations and Challenges: It’s not for everyone
Twitter is not for everyone, here’s a few considerations: due to a high degree of micro information the user will need to self-parse information. Although there is no formal data, I suspect that the audience use is early adopter social media folks, influencers, and an average age of 30-45. Although Obvious (parent company) has recently received funding the product infrastructure is still doing through growth pains, and error messages are common. Twitter, while still in it’s early stages, the full value has not been realized.

There are other competitors in the space, such as Pownce, released by the Kevin Rose of Digg.com, and Zooomr’s Zipline. Expect Twitter like features to emerge in many social networks as a feature.

What you should know:

Twitter began as an experiment inside of Odeo, Inc. by Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey, and debuted in March 2006, see Wikipedia’s historical entry.

Twitter gained traction at the 2007 SXSW interactive festival. At the conference flat panel displays were located several places at the convention, showing twitter activity of the attendees, this was a defining moment of Twitter.

What is Twitter
A form of text based MicroMedia (term coined by Jeremiah Owyang) Twitter is really much like blogging, just on a miniature scale. The character limits 140 characters (plus room for a URL) that requires users to simplify their message.

Twitter has social network features, so users can add or remove friends, where seeing thought leaders like Chris Messina and others seek ways to segment groups, more features will come.

Twitter is a next-generation instant messaging tool, where users can blast messages to their network, send private messages, or search. When users publish messages they are often called “tweets”.

As a communication platform, Twitter experts data (such as RSS) that can be reused in other interesting ways, such as twitter maps, and other mashups: 10 top Twitter apps, or see this comprehensive list, The Twitter team has since acquired a design team, and has launched “Twitter blocks” which show network activity of a particular user. There are many other mashups to experiment or build.

Remember that Twitter, like blogging, is public, what you say can be used against you as well as for you, see case study of Steve Rubel criticizing his own client and having to retract.

Without access to demographic information, Twitter is for the highly engaged, early-adopter, pro-technology user. This is the ‘influence’ community, meaning they will shape the direction of others in each of their respective lives. It’s highly likely that these users participate in other forms of online publishing and communication like blogging, Facebook, or use mobile activity. In short, it’s the ‘coolkids’ of the webspace, and yes, that includes John Edwards.

With a limit of 140 characters, users are publishing the following types of content

1) Presence information: Users will shout out information related to them, from “eating with Joe” or “heading to the office”, or even questions “has anyone seen the Transformers movie?

2) Responses to others: Members within a connected network (they must be friends) can respond to each other using the reply symbol “@”. Responses could be “@Transformers was a great movie” or other variations.

3) URLs: In either of these content types, they may include URLs which are automatically shortened by the Twitter application. (Tip: Consider 130 characters if publishing a link. The system will have enough space to convert your URL to a TinyURL, and will use some of your characters)

Notable Brands
There are several brands that are deployed in Twitter, from Carnival Cruise lines, Intel Software, Adaptive Path, PodTech Network, and even John Edwards. Some publishers use it as a announcement feed, as Robert Scoble publishers his shared link feed called Scoble’s Link Blog from his Google reader –all automated. Most recently, the famed Marketing Profs media company has launched their Twitter account.

Advanced Tactics

Event Integration
Savvy brands and individuals are using Twitter to keep event attendees up to date on virtual and real life events. Use for events that use live streaming, live blogging, or attention to speeches are helpful. For example, during the Web 2.0 expo, I was live event streaming using Ustream the event, I would use Twitter to tell my network who and where I was, keeping them up to date. There are many other use cases that have not been documented such as using Twitter for project management, global travel, and even financial alerts.

Pebble Strategy
Recently, I announced my job change on Twitter, I dropped a series of ‘pebbles’ (tweets) explaining my move, why I’m leaving. Dozens of users responded back to me, “congrats @jowyang” which promoted their network to see what I was talking about (they could visit my profile page to see what I said), building more interest. Finally, I linked to the blog post URL of my announcement in Twitter, and I received 91 comments on the first day. For more information, read want waves? drop a pebble.

Best Practices
The savvy Twitter user realizes that the effective communications aren’t just ‘pushing’ content to readers, but they will also dialogue and converse with others by replying to them. I use this tool as a global chat room, responding to others, building relationships, and listening in. Like blogging, the rule of anti-marketing marketing is required for success, engage your community. Unlike traditional forms of advertising and marketing, Twitter is “opt-in” meaning that users will ‘follow’ a twitter account, abuse will result in a user unsubscribing. For rules of engagement read Brian Oberkirch’s Advanced Twitter: Don’t Tweet Like A n00b.

[While not for everyone, Twitter is a next-generation communication tool that provides the web strategist several opportunities to connect with online communities]

Getting Started

1: Understand Twitter. There’s plenty of educational material, consider watching video interview of co-founder with Jennifer Jones, Rafe Needleman’s (CNET) Newbie Guide to Twitter, Twitter Getting Started. Agence France-Presse, a global news agency: “Online tweets tell you what everyone is up to” (I was a contributor to this article)

2: Evaluate if right for your audience: use the anecdotal demographic information I provided above, or use the search tool for notable individuals within your community and marketplace.

3: Explore the tool: The best way to learn? Experiment, try creating a persona account before deploying a brand account.

4: Publish: Well, what are you waiting for? Try some tweets!

5: Integrate: Use in conjunction with other tools, providing an ‘integrated mesh’ of cross linking. Use to post announcements, changes.

6: Advanced: Communicate back to others. This is not just a broadcast tool, it’s also a conversation tool, reply back to followers using the “@” symbol, and engage in dialogue.

7: Advanced: Mashups. There are many uses (known and yet to be discovered) of the tool, as third party developers are creating mashups for Twitter. Build your own, or examine others to get creative.

8: Measure:
From the start, consider measuring the impacts of this tool, from amount of followers, amount of replies, incoming links, look for referrer logs to your website from Twitter, and use search tools to gain intelligence. Read Social Media Measurement strategy for more information.

About the Author
Jeremiah is active on Twitter and can be followed at jowyang, if you follow him, he’ll follow you back.

If this article was helpful, see all posts tagged Web Strategy.