Tag Archives: Twitter

Can Twitter Drive Business?

Last week I had drinks with some ex-Intel friends, mostly folks like me who left Intel during the recent layoff of the last year or so. Some I have not seen since the layoffs, so we got to talking about the work we do now.  I mentioned some of the work I am doing bring social media to small business, like using Twitter, which started a short debate.

With any tool there are personal uses and business uses and Twitter also has two sides. My friends were a bit wary and there were a couple of incredulous looks and references to MySpace trash. One of our group has started a series of small businesses in Vernonia: a bed and breakfast; a newspaper; and a couple of other ventures. So I set about explaining how Twitter could help her.

The newspaper was an easy target for using Twitter. This is a monthly newspaper, Vernonia is a small town without the typical big city news stream, but the advertisers are trying to get the paper to move to bi-weekly. I explained that Twitter could help build a news stream for the paper as well as build community conversation during the weeks in-between the publishing cycle. There are journalistic advantages beyond building a news stream, Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb has a great blog entry covering journalism uses of Twitter, check out his story.

Additionally, the paper’s advertisers could monitor Twitter for comments on their products and services, and give instant feedback on problems and questions. Instant feedback can be a real help in a rural setting, you never know when someone has time to drive to town and a business gets an immediate read on the feelings of it’s customers. This type of use has been reported constantly over the last few weeks. I’ve heard reports on Cnet’s Buzz Out Loud podcast, Leo Laporte’s TWIT netcast, even a tweet this morning from Jeremiah Owyang about his Dell computer needing a repair brought a return tweet from Circuit City–OK, maybe that’s getting to the edge of creepy, but it is forward-thinking and maybe it will grow into a useful and acceptable format.

Using just this single tool, the newspaper can extend it’s reach into the Vernonia community, mesh more tightly with the community, gain more community support, build business for it’s advertisers, and serve the community even better than before, all without adding major expense to its current operations. The community growth and business involvement should also support a jump from monthly to bi-weekly, by making more news available and adding to the community engagement.

Of course, I wanted to add blogging, real-time Flickr news photography, and a few other tricks to the equation, but the my beer glass went empty and it was time to head home. I plan to follow up with my newspaper mogul during our next get together, whether it is at Mint or some other local establishment, maybe she will have started something with Twitter or one of the other ideas I passed along….or maybe she’ll ask me to get it all started for her, we’ll see.

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Over-The-Wall Contact When No One’s There

Many more people today work alone or in “branch offices”. These can be small rental offices, one of the new shared office spaces (see CubeSpace or Souk in Portland, Oregon, or check the co-working wiki for similar arrangements around the U.S. and the world), or even from home.

Do you feel disconnected from the rest of the world while you work solo? Do you squint at the clock, anticipating the moment when the mail arrives so you can glimpse another human? A complaint I hear on a regular basis is that people miss the camaraderie of the office family, this even gets reported somewhat regularly in the news media on slow news days.

I tend to work somewhat silently, I rarely even play music because it interrupts my writing focus, but I do remain connected with people around the world using a number of different methods. I spent ten solid years living in a cubicle farm–it actually was named “Jones Farm”–where we regularly “prairie-dogged”* over the cubicle walls to call out for help, someone with whom to grab fresh coffee, or make a snide comment about the intelligence of the person on the other end of the just completed phone call. This is generally a great source of organic office knowledge, but it disappears when no one occupies a nearby cubicle or when one is working in a solo situation.

Assuming everyone reading this has access to and uses email on a regular basis, this is pretty much the low end of staying connected, much like writing a letter. But the drawback is that email takes a formal commitment to sitting and writing a coherent message, very unlike the quick conversation at the watercooler.

By now, almost everyone over the age of 30 has discovered IM, people under the age of 30 don’t remember a time when IM did not exist. IM, or “instant messaging”, in case you are as far over 30 as I am at this time, is a great way to maintain a connection with one person, but it does have a drawback of operating mainly point-to-point and lacking the social aspect of a shared conversation similar to the prairie-dog activity. (My favorite IM app is Pidgin, you can reach me at mmathews on AIM, both open source and multi-protocol.)

Twitter has taken over IM for me (follow me on Twitter). It’s quick and easy. I stay updated through my browser online or through SMS by cell phone, regular cell phone, not one of those fancy “smart phones” or iPhones with their million-dollar service plans. I can decide whose tweets to read and whose to avoid.

Today I may have found another–and possibly better, though denser–method for keeping up with people and having a quick over-the-wall encounter: FriendFeed. Feel free to add me, I am mmathews and I promise I won’t clutter up the feed too much, but you will be able to see new blog postings and tweets and a few of the other things I work on regularly.

Let me know what you use to gain that sense of office family and how well you think it works.

* To “Prairie-dog” is to raise one’s head above the level of shared workspace cubicle walls to see what is happening around the area of the cubicle, including to make a comment to someone in a neighbor cubicle.

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