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The burgeoning interest in Twitter was evident yesterday when several hundred people turned out for a keynote panel session at Internet World. Here is a summary of the question-and-answer session, with some additional pointers which might also be helpful.
Yesterday's obligatory Twitter event on Day 2 of London's Internet World conference (#IWTD) was an open Q&A session with a panel featuring Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein, Kai Turner of Agency.com and Guy Stephens of Carphone Warehouse.
Former Revolution editor Philip Buxton, who was moderating, ascertained that the audience was split pretty evenly between those who "use Twitter and love it", "those who use Twitter but aren't sure about it" and those who "don't use it".
Despite the lack of a live, online demo due to technical reasons (the curse of too many internet conferences), there were some interesting takeaways from the panel session which I've summarised below with some paraphrasing, direct quotes (where my shorthand was keeping up) and some of my own observations.
Who (within an organisation) should be Tweeting?
According to Ashley Friedlein (@ashleyfriedlein), it makes sense to see who in the company is already "Tweeting" so that an organisation's Twitter efforts can be streamlined and managed efficiently.
Guy Stephens (@guy1067), Carphone Warehouse's online help manager and author of a recent Econsultancy blog post on corporate tweeting, stressed that companies should see Twitter as "just another channel" and not get too fixated by who within the company was doing the Tweeting.
Kai Turner (@kaigani), Agency.com's head of information architecture, added that Twitter "was a protocol which will work its way into every aspect of a business". His point was that Twitter is becoming a channel which transcends its original role as a microblogging service.
I would add that Twitter ownership within a company depends on what you are using Twitter for. If there are real and tangible sales objectives then it is probably something for a sales team employee whereas, more typically, it might be something owned by a customer service representative (as in the case of Carphone Warehouse) or by someone working in marketing and PR (who can monitor what is being said about a brand).
It's worth checking out a previous Econsultancy blog post on 'The 13 types of Tweet to take notice of'.
Of course, it may be that an organisation doesn't allow its employees to Tweet about company business. For every Carphone Warehouse, there are dozens of organisations where devolution of control to individual employees via Twitter and social networks is anathema to senior management.
Will Twitter have any longevity given its simplicity and focus on one function (a 140-character message)? Will it matter that it is a "one trick pony"?
The panel strongly agreed that part of Twitter's appeal is its simplicity and that this was certainly not a stumbling block.
I would add that Google's success has very much been around its simple interface allied to its paid search auction model. Google has turned its hand to numerous other ventures with varying degrees of success but most of the other things it has done is really a footnote to the story of its unbelievably successful AdWords business.
Twitter might have this case study in mind when it tries to keep things simple and lets others develop applications if they want to. Of course, Twitter still needs a business model, I hear you say.
"Whether it will be the definitive micro-blogging platform service remains to be seen," said Friedlein.
What is Twitter for?
There were plenty of people in the room who still don't get Twitter. And why should they if they can't see any personal benefit or upside for their business?
@guy1067 stressed that Twitter wasn't relevant for everyone and shouldn't be treated as the answer to everything.
At a personal level, Twitter is about personal expression .... though not everyone has something they want to tell the world about.
From Econsultancy's perspective Twitter is a hugely valuable way of understanding what people are saying about us and getting feedback which wouldn't be forthcoming if you were talking in person. "It gives you insight about your website and proposition that you probably wouldn't get face-to-face. People often can't be bothered to send an email or pick up the phone but if something is wrong with your site they will Tweet it," added Friedlein.
How can I use Twitter to drive traffic to my site or how might I use Twitter to get feedback?
@kaigani said that companies are using Twitter as a channel for selling distressed inventory through special offers, using BA as an example.
Dell was also mentioned as an organisation which had built Twitter into a significant sales channel.
@ashleyfriedlein gave the caveat that Twitter accounts need to be clear about their purpose (for example, special offers or customer service) as there is a risk of alienating people if you send out Tweets that are off-message and don't match the expectations that have been set.
He told how someone, with a reputation for digital marketing-focused insights and pearls of wisdom, had lost dozens of followers after Tweeting about how he was enjoying cocktails while holidaying in Australia.
But for many people marketing themselves and their businesses on Twitter, they are happy to talk about themselves at a more personal and non-work level and don't mind if they lose a few followers. Each to his own.
How can a business build a following on Twitter?
As Kai Turner pointed out, you need to engage in conversations which are relevant to your brands, products, services and business sector.
Use Twitter search tools and alerts on key terms and competitors so you can jump on any relevant questions where you are well positioned to answer.
If you are a local business, for example organising weddings in Kent, then you need to tap into what people are saying about venues and services in that area.
Before Mother's Day, I mentioned on Twitter that I needed to get some flowers. Within minutes, a flower delivery company were in touch with a special offer and voucher code.
It takes effort to build a following but the work you put in can pay off. How do you measure this return? Read this blog post by Econsultancy's editor-in-chief Chris Lake about measuring social media success.
Can companies stop negative feedback spiralling out of control?
Companies need to get away from the notion that they can control what is said about their brand. You can take efforts to mitigate damage, for example by reacting to problems and showing that you are listening, but you can't stop people criticising your products or services. Ultimately, if you want people to say nice things, you need to make sure your products and services are up to scratch.
"People crave transparency and honesty more than anything," said Friedein.
The good news for brand control freaks is that Twitter is a fantastic way of listening to what people are saying and getting feedback. You need to actively embrace it.
Is Twitter good for SEO?
Undoubtedly so. Econsultancy's Twitter page ranks very highly for a Google search on its name and generic terms rank highly across every imaginable business sector.
It is no wonder that many people are doing the equivalent of domain squatting on Twitter. Companies were advised to make sure they register Twitter accounts for available and relevant generic terms, and also their own branded and non-branded products and services.
"From a purely commercial point of view, Twitter can drive a lot of traffic," said Friedlein.
A lot of links coming through Twitter have been converted into shorter URLs by tools such as Bit.ly. Technically, Google can understand this but is apparently not factoring in such links when working out page rank.
Is there a danger that Twitter can be a dangerous tool for political propaganda and even propagating violence?
This isn't a Twitter-related problem, this is something that can be said of the internet as a whole.
Twitter can be a useful tool for journalists and for those seeking to engage with journalists. Of course, there are plenty of unsubstantiated rumours on Twitter and people will always need trusted news sources to get the facts.
Is Twitter big in Asia, and in other parts of the world, as well?
Members of the panel weren't sure but here are some Hitwise stats about Twitter growth in Asia and elsewhere. The answer is yes.
Plurk, another microblogging service, is huge in parts of Asia. It's not just about Twitter.
What is a hash-tag and why are they used?
And for those who were wondering, it was explained that a hash tag (e.g. #IWTD) is used on Twitter to aggregate Tweets around a particular subject or topic.
You can follow Econsultancy on Twitter @econsultancy
And you may be interested in this June breakfast briefing (in London) about Twitter and business strategies.