There's a new kid on the social media block that's starting to garner a lot of attention from companies.
Microblogging sites, such as Twitter, are increasingly becoming a companion to an existing blog—or a standalone strategy for businesses that are using social media to connect with their customers.
But many companies aren't sure what the microblogging "rules of the road" are. This is where Connie Reece comes in.
Connie was an early adopter of Twitter and is considered a true microblogging authority. She will be moderating Best Practices in Microblogging session at Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer, and she was kind enough to give us a preview of that session, as well as a primer for companies that want to learn more about Twitter and other microblogging sites.
Q: Microblogging seems to be the hot area of social media recently. What exactly is a microblogging site, and what makes it different from a blog?
A: "Microblogging" is a misleading term, in my opinion. "Micro" is accurate, because the popular services like Twitter strictly limit content to 140 characters, about the length of the average text message. It's the "blogging" aspect of the term that is fuzzy. Even though you can pack a lot of information into 140 characters, the content and format are much less structured than a blog.
Sometimes you'll see these sites referred to as "presence" applications; in other words, they are a quick and easy way of being "present" with friends who are far away. This phenomenon was aptly termed "ambient awareness" in an excellent article by Clive Thompson for the New York Times: "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy."
Each little update—each individual bit of social information—is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends' and family members' lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating.
Q: A lot of companies seem to be creating presences on Twitter. What are some of the ways that companies can utilize Twitter?
A: Twitter is yet another way to put a personal face on an impersonal entity: the corporation. Most companies are initially attracted to Twitter because they perceive it as an additional marketing channel. If that's all they use it for, they will not succeed.
However, if they use Twitter to actively engage with people, then a couple of things will happen. One, they will be able to use Twitter as a means of promotion, by occasionally sharing links to their online content. But most likely they will wind up using Twitter for the sheer enjoyment of interacting with customers.
As far as particular uses are concerned, Twitter is especially suited to promoting an online contest. It can also be used as an additional sales channel: Dell's Twitter account DellOutlet has generated around $500,000 in sales by offering special discounts to Twitter users. And many Twitter users enjoy subscribing to their favorite news channels on Twitter.
Marketing Profs Digital Mixer conference attendees will get to hear from Bryan Person how he looks forward to ESPN tweets' popping up in his timeline. And I will share how our local newspaper, the Austin American Statesman, not only uses Twitter effectively on a daily basis but provided superb coverage of Hurricane Ike through a special account, TrackingIke.
Another panelist, Frank Eliason, who tweets as ComcastCares, provided an immediate answer to someone who lost Internet service during the hurricane, explaining that Comcast could not restore cable service until the power company gave them clearance. (As we're conducting this interview, some 1.5 million homes in the Houston area are still without power, one week after Ike.)
Q: While many companies are beginning to explore using Twitter, some companies are finding that their brands are being "hijacked" by people that are posing as employees of a company, but really aren't. How can a company guard against this?
A: Companies need to reserve their name space now, even if they are not ready to use Twitter—and the same applies for other sites. When they do start to use Twitter, the company should add a link from its Web site to its Twitter account, so the public will know the account is genuine.
Of course, companies should be monitoring Twitter to follow chatter about them, and if they find their brand has been hijacked they should contact Twitter to have the unauthorized user account shut down.
Q: Twitter seems to be the microblogging site that most people have heard of, but are there other microblogging sites that companies should be aware of?
A: My favorite, as you know, is Plurk because of its threaded conversations. I love the informal "plurkshops" we have, which are online discussions around a particular topic. (They are archived at plurkshops.com.) I have not seen business adoption of Plurk yet, and it is unlikely until the API is released and it becomes easier to use.
One of the reasons we know that microblogging is here to stay is the rapid uptick in enterprise adoption. Several applications intended for behind-the-firewall use have been launched recently, including Yammer, which is a domain-specific application with many similarities to Twitter.
Q: Moving forward, do you think that companies will begin to use a microblogging strategy in place of a company blog, or in conjunction with an existing blog? Which approach do you think is more effective?
A: Some companies might start with Twitter as their entry-level implementation of social networking, but it will be more effective long-term in conjunction with a blog. The Twitter-blog combination will provide synergy, with Twitter being used to drive traffic to the blog and vice-versa.
Some limitations are inherent in the 140-character format of Twitter: It's difficult to retrieve tweets, for example, if you have more than a few favorites; the lifespan of a tweet can be less than a minute if you follow many people. And some things, like this interview, simply need a longer format.