February 26, 2010
While companies like Federated Media are looking to Twitter to enhance their existing business, others are using the service as a launching pad for new entrepreneurial pursuits. The majority of startups piggybacking on Twitter's success are third-party software developers. Twitter's open programming environment has given birth to a sprawling developer ecosystem creating premium and free applications for both the web and mobile devices. Many Twitter apps target small businesses, enabling them to more efficiently access, update and manage their feeds. One app, twtQpon, offers tools to create exclusive coupons for followers, while another, Monitter, offers a live streaming view of what Twitter users are saying about your company.
Laura Fitton's oneforty.com collects these scattered Twitter applications in one place--users can search for specific apps, browse by platform or sort by popularity or rating. "The application ecosystem flourished so fast," she says. "We have about 1,600 apps in the store, and there are as many as 20,000 more on the way." Don't Miss:
10+ Things That WON'T Happen In 2010 The 17 Essential iPhone Apps For SMBs Putting Public Social Networks To Work For Business Top 10 BlackBerry Apps For SMBs For businesses that have yet to embrace Twitter, the microsharing concept and its attendant pool of applications may seem incredibly complex--even daunting. Fitton insists it's anything but. She says all companies with an event-driven or locally focused business model are poised to benefit from a Twitter account. Businesses that rely on contact lists--consultants and real estate agents, for example--are also positioned to maximize the social media opportunity. "Any company that would benefit from a monthly e-mail newsletter would benefit from a Twitter feed," Fitton argues. "Because it's all voluntary, you never feel like you're spamming your customers." The key to successful tweeting, she says, is offering useful content and making sure the tweet is interesting to the reader. "Twitter feels like a brave new world, but its basic behaviors we all know," she says. "Think about how you approach a cocktail party--you don't walk up to a cluster of people and start talking. You slowly merge yourself into a conversation. You listen and see what other people do, and wait to speak until you can offer something useful. Etiquette on Twitter equals effectiveness." Even companies without customers on Twitter stand to benefit from the service's reach and scope. Becky McCray is a three-year Twitter veteran who operates her own cattle ranch and liquor store, as well as a website, SmallBizSurvival.com., in Oklahoma's Woods County. She credits Twitter as the source of business tax recommendations from an accountant, promotional advice from a marketing consultant and startup tips from the founder of multiple tech firms. "The value of Twitter lies in interacting with other people inside your industry, or even outside," McCray says. "It's ultimately about improving your business, whether you're connecting with new people, forming a new project with them or just learning from them." If it seems Twitter's beauty rests in the eye of the beholder, that's the point. The service continues to evolve, adapting to the respective needs and demands of each individual user. Meanwhile, all eyes are on the company as it continues to evolve and faces the seemingly inevitable backlash that comes with becoming so big, so fast. "[Twitter has] to focus on making its product better and more valuable, as well as drive towards a viable, scalable, long-term revenue model," Battelle says. "One thing that made Google so powerful is not only that it allowed for searches to be so good, but also because it came up with a revenue model that made their business better. By tying commercial information to your query, Google delivered value to the user, to the advertiser and to Google. Twitter could put up display ads right now, and a lot of people would want to buy them, but it's not a long-term solution--they need to add value for all parties." While some critics question Twitter's long-term viability--pointing to the declining fortunes of once-hot social networking platforms like Friendster and MySpace--proponents argue the core concept is here to stay. "At last count, as many as 500 rival services have come along and tried to usurp Twitter," Fitton says. "All of them offered essentially the same form factor, and none of them managed to secure the same audience. Compare it to going to professional networking events--you meet a lot of strangers, but what are your best mathematical options for making a good connection? Twitter is also random, but you can meet many more people in much less time. And best of all, you can do it in your pajamas."
Jason Ankeny is a Chicago-based freelance writer and media critic.
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