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Twitter Business Still Up For Grabs

At TwitterCon, most panelists admitted they were trying to find ways to increase brand equity despite not being able to fully rely on Twitter's servers.

Michael Singer

June 2, 2009

4 Min Read

If your business is still uncertain on how to adopt and/or capitalize on the success of Twitter, consider yourself in good company.

A gathering on Sunday of enterprises, nonprofits, entertainers, and just plain old attention seekers could not agree to agree on a single best use or practice of Twitter. The 140-character microblog entered into mainstream this year thanks to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Ashton Kutcher, and Shaquille O'Neill.

But the future of Twitter may be a flash in the pan, according to researchers at analyst group ThinkTank. Some 44% of people surveyed by ThinkTank believe Twitter has long-term value, while 52% believe it to be just a trend.

At an event in San Francisco known as TwitterCon (hash-tagged as #twtrcon), speakers tried to quell fears of a total Fail Whale. The panels featured insights from well-established corporations such as Virgin America, Comcast, Dell, Carl's Jr., and Cisco, as well as novelty appearances from the rapper M.C. Hammer and the author of Twitterville, Shel Israel. Each speaker tried to define what it means to contribute to Twitter, use Twitter in marketing a brand or idea, or relate successes on Twitter.

"We had a passenger on one of our planes who had not yet gotten his in-flight meal and started to Twitter about it from his seat. Our marketing team saw the post and radioed the plane to help him," related Porter Gale, VP of marketing for Virgin America. "Guest service expectations are becoming a real-time issue and keeping that level of service is, too."

Likewise, Frank Eliason, Comcast's director of digital care, got a vote of confidence from the audience for using Twitter to erase the cable provider's historical reputation for less-than-stellar customer service.

"I have worked with people on Sundays through Twitter and even given out my phone number to customers in the name of better service," Eliason said.

In fact, using Twitter to improve service has been shown to improve not only reputation but sales. According to ThinkTank research, 40% of Twitter users surveyed regularly search for products or services online using Twitter. About 20% of those queried follow at least one product or service. And because of the information gleaned from following a particular brand, 12% in the survey said they're inclined to choose a service or buy a product because of Twitter.

However, the majority of panelists admitted that using Twitter isn't an exact science and most are still trying to find ways of increasing their brand equity despite not being able to rely 100% on the uptime of Twitter's servers.

Part of the problem is that Twitter itself doesn't adhere to a contemporary business model. Three years into its evolution and Twitter's leaders have still to identify a sustainable revenue model. The company even turned down a $500 million offer from Facebook last year.

Twitter project manager Anamitra Banerji was quite coy in saying that Twitter is focusing on user experience to minimize churn.

"If Twitter does what it needs to do to be a necessity in people's lives, the money will take care of themselves," he said, adding that he felt most companies still don't get the value proposition of being active on Twitter. The value of using Twitter within an enterprise has been fragmented, too, by the emergence of businesses servicing power Twitter users and their companies. TweetDeck, HootSuite, PeopleBrowswer, and Tweet Funnel all report marquee customers for their dashboard, analytics, and reporting tools. The goal at this level is to build a customer base around the Twitter market, through several of the presenters were also looking at other social networks to tap into, like Facebook.

Twitter's demographics do indicate that regular users are likely to be avid users of new media and especially smartphones, of which 15% of ThinkTank's respondents use BlackBerry devices, while only 10% use an iPhone.

Tying together scalable service with customer relationship software, and a mobile strategy may be the key to Twitter's future, panelists suggested. To that end, Steve Rubel, who is the senior VP and director of insights for Edelman Digital, suggested that potential suitors for Twitter include Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Disney, Google, Comcast, and Yahoo.

Still, Rubel and several panelists emphasized that enterprises must have a Twitter strategy. And as a word-of-mouth tool, Twitter's importance may in the end lean on businesses being authentic and active.


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