Automation Alley

Social Media Toolkit >> Microblogs

What are Microblogs?
Twitter and other microblogs allow users to send and receive short messages or updates. Microblogs provide users with a way to stay connected by posting activities, thoughts, newspaper articles and more in a sentence or two. Many organizations are using microblogs to communicate with customers and market their products and services.

Twitter is the most popular microblog with approximately six million unique monthly visitors as of February 2009 (http://blog.compete.com/2009/02/09/facebook-myspace-twitter-social-network).

After joining Twitter, users can automatically receive someone else's posts or “Tweets” by “following” them. Anyone can view Tweets without setting up a Twitter account; to follow someone, a person must set up an account and log in.

Unlike regular blogs, Twitter does not have a comment feature. To comment on another user's message, users construct an "@reply" or to communicate privately, users can send a direct message (DM). An "@reply" is constructed by using the "@" symbol in front of the username of the person who is being referenced.

Another element of Twitter is the "hashtag." A hashtag is used to index a message and is formatted with the "#" symbol in front of a representative keyword. Hashtags are placed within a user's post as a reference for searches and to allow for conversations among the microblogging community. This feature helps other users find messages with a specific subject matter and/or other users interested in the same topic by searching the hashtag reference.

Twitter is also excellent for viral marketing. Users who find a post particularly useful will "retweet" the message, giving credit to the original poster. Such a post is usually constructed by using the letters "RT" at the beginning of the post, followed by an "@reply" of the user who originally posted the message, and then the message itself. Useful posts are often shared this way.

With new technology, Twitter is not limited to twitter.com. Twitter users can receive updates via the Web, instant messaging, SMS on a mobile phone, RSS reader, email or through a desktop application such as TweetDeck, Twhirl, Twitterrific or Facebook. Tweetie is used for Mac and iPhone/iPod users.

Best Practices for Marketing
Many companies use Twitter or other microblogs to enhance their market research and to learn about public perceptions of their organization, products, and services. Although the data collected may not be statistically relevant, many companies find that the information gleaned from microblogs like Twitter is useful.

To find comments/tweets, about a company, use Twitter's search capabilities at search.twitter.com. Type in the name of the company, product, or service to see what people have posted. To respond to the comments, create a Twitter account under the company's name. It is best to assign someone at the company to monitor Twitter, post updates, and reply to the updates of others.

There are two main advantages to having a presence on Twitter. One is to address negative comments that are posted about a company. The other is to reinforce positive comments. A notable early adopter of Twitter for this purpose is Comcast. Comcast is using Twitter as a customer service tool (username: @comcastcares). After realizing customers were using Twitter to discuss Comcast service issues or opinions, Comcast representatives took a proactive approach and began personally addressing each Comcast related tweet.

Some companies use microblogs like Twitter to disseminate press releases that are carefully crafted to meet the 140 character requirement. One example is Japanese company Softbank Mobile Corp. The company signed a deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to Japan and crafted its message so that it could be sent and resent via microblogging. When Softbank made the announcement via Twitter, it was easy for people to "retweet" or forward the message. This expanded the reach of the message beyond just the followers of Softbank.

Aside from communicating directly with the company's target or end user, businesses can follow peers, vendors/suppliers, or other colleagues from their own field or related fields as a method to glean news, best practices, and strengthen connections.

For internal communications, Yammer is a microblogging application designed for private networks of people within a company or other organization.

Etiquette
Microbloggers are highly sensitive to appropriate standards of use within their networks and are relatively intolerant to any communications considered spam. Users stand the chance of losing followers or being blocked by users if their messages continue to have little relevance to the network. Anyone considering using microblogs should do so with specific goals in mind regarding what community they would like to build, learn the etiquette for that community and have a plan for reciprocal participation.

Businesses Using Twitter

  • Businesses such as Cisco Systems, Whole Foods Market, Dell, Zappos.com, and Comcast use Twitter to provide updates to customers.
  • The Los Angeles Fire Department put the technology to use during the October 2007 California wildfires.
  • NASA used Twitter to break the news of discovery of what appeared to be water ice on Mars by the Phoenix Mars Lander. Other NASA projects, such as Space Shuttle missions and the International Space Station, also provide updates via Twitter.
  • News outlets such as the BBC (has many different twitter user names depending on the type of news you are seeking: sports, breaking, tech) have also started using Twitter to disseminate breaking news or provide information feeds for sporting events.
  • Congresswoman Candice Miller uses twitter to keep in touch with her constituents.
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio College of Engineering is using Twitter to relay information to students.
  • Westwinds Church in Jackson, MI uses Twitter as a part of its weekend worship services and introduced the concept of Twitter Church. Westwinds runs training classes for Twitter and encourages members to bring laptops and mobile devices to church. On occasion, the Twitter feed will be live on the screens in the auditorium and everyone is encouraged to give their input, make observations, and ask questions in an interactive worship format.
  • LenderFlex in Atlanta, GA is using Twitter to deliver risk based mortgage pricing to mortgage loan professionals and real estate agents. Using TwitterFlex, these professionals are able to get information when and where they need it by simply twittering a few codes to @lenderflex. (examples courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

For information about other microblogging services, there is an article on Wikipedia with a list of microblogging services.

Legal Considerations
Anytime you are publishing content online, compliance with laws is an important consideration, given that existing laws apply equally to online and offline content. The content of your microblog should be reviewed/scrutinized prior to its release in the same manner as other content published by your organization.
If statements made through a microblog are potentially damaging to an individual or organization, the author may be charged with defamation. Potential liability for defamation might also be attributed to the author's employer or associated group in the event that the author is representing him or herself as speaking on behalf of the employer or group.

Content-related risks are another consideration. Clearly, the microblog should not contain (or link to) your organization's confidential or proprietary information. Care should also be taken with respect to the use of any third party content that may be protected by copyright. Using such content without permission can result in both criminal and civil liability, including treble damages and attorney fees under the U.S. Copyright Act.

Another legal risk in microblogging or twittering is attributed to the limited space available for content and the difficulty in giving a complete, professional response or advice using a microblog or tweet that is limited to only a couple of hundred characters.

These risks can be mitigated through various steps, including organizational policies regarding the publication of online content, including Podcasts, attribution disclaimers, reviewing content before its release, screening of all content, including third party content for copyright permission issues and, frankly, the exercise of sound judgment before sending that tweet.