Saturday, January 8, 2011


Having once worked at the cutting edge of technology – I was using email twenty years ago – I must admit to have become increasingly isolated from many recent technological developments on the internet.

I did eventually start blogging four years ago and, like another half a billion people, now have an active Facebook profile.

After only three months of activity, I have over 600 contacts on the linkedin business networking site. However, the one piece of social networking that I have avoided like the plague has been Twitter.

Until now.

For those of you who are still blissfully ignorant about Twitter, it is a service that enables its users to send and read messages called ‘tweets’, which are text-based posts of 140 characters or less displayed on the user's profile page. This enables users to update their current profile succinctly and quickly.

Whilst it can be used on a computer, it is the growth of the mobile phone, particularly the iphone, which has enabled Twitter to explode as a vehicle for social networking.

Since its official launch in July 2006, it has grown to over 175 million accounts, with the number of users increasing by 300,000 daily. There are currently 95 million Twitter messages (known as tweets) posted every day, which equates to roughly 640 tweets per second.

Perhaps the fascinating aspect of Twitter is that it enables the user to “follow” other users of their choosing. This causes their updates to appear on your home page or phone and they, in turn, can follow you, enabling a sort of personalised social news network to be created.

That all sounds well and good for those who simply want to let their friends know whether they are in the pub or sitting on top of a mountain. But why should businesses become involved with Twitter? What can 140 characters say about your business that is meaningful in any way?

In fact, detractors of Twitter say that it takes you away from other productive work, is just for nerds, can’t replace proper marketing and opens up your business to potential cyber attacks from competitors. On the other hand, those who use Twitter suggest that it can be used to undertake market research, improve brand awareness, increase networking and generate new opportunities.

Like any other tool, it is the way you use it that is important.

At the simplest level, Twitter can be used to share the latest news and events about your business, and can be set up to notify customers about the availability of new products or services. You can also offer incentives, such as discounts, samples and free coupons to those who follow you on Twitter, generating interest in your company.

For example, numerous businesses have begun to ask customers to turn over their Twitter account information as part of a loyalty programme. Frequent shoppers get a point for every pound they spend and an extra point if they post a message about their purchase on Twitter, thus utilising word of mouth marketing online to sell the company’s products and services.

Therefore, an estate agent will tweet about new homes on the market, a restaurant will tweet about their lunchtime specials and a local business group will tweet about events and promotions.

As well as keeping in touch with external stakeholders, Twitter is a great collaboration tool for communicating with your employees and work colleagues. Rather than sending endless emails, short tweets to your team members will enable people to learn about the type of work you do.

Of course, whilst there are advantages to Twitter as a great communications tool, there are also drawbacks that can seriously damage your reputation and that of your business, especially if you post whilst in the wrong frame of mind. Indeed, the one rule of thumb that everyone should live by in the world of social media is “Don't Twitter while you're bitter"!

However, for many, including myself, the beauty of Twitter is that it enables you to keep up with those people within the same ecosystem as yourself, be it in politics, business, sport or even stamp-collecting. In a society where information is truly power, Twitter can give you access to almost instantaneous news and opinion as well as enabling you to send your messages or thoughts to the world.

Two weeks ago, I was ignorant of Twitter and what it can do.

By the time you read this article, I will probably have tweeted at least twice this morning on business and the economy.

Whilst it will never replace my columns in the Western Mail and Daily Post, Twitter has the potential to be used as a discussion area during the period between each one, a conduit for more ideas or just as a way to engage in conversation with me.

I look forward to your tweets @DylanJonesEvans.