If you're responsible for the direction of the online strategies for your company or organization, you've probably been hearing buzz about Twitter, a next-generation instant messaging tool. Even if you're new to Twitter, this will—by linking to resources and providing a starting point for your strategy—serve as a guide to educate you and help you make a decision.

Web Strategy Theory to Know Before You Go Forward

If you've not already figured it out, the corporate Web site is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and Google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of customers (who are "like them") far more than marketers, and Facebook lets these communities of practice assemble: Your brand is decentralized—embrace! (If you don't understand these concepts, it's hard to move forward; so please refer to posts that the above links point to.)

Opportunities: Why Twitter?

A tool embraced by the early adopter, Twitter users can benefit from thought leadership, connection to the influencers, additional message reach, access to mobile communicators, real-time communication, but more importantly, the opportunity to build relationships through conversations. Who is it good for? Media companies, social-media-savvy brands, those who may already have a blogging strategy, those with frequent updates. High-communication individuals may prefer this tool.

Limitations and Challenges: It's not for everyone

Twitter is not for everyone. Here are a few considerations: Due to a high degree of micro information, the user will need to self-parse information. Although there is no formal data, I suspect that the audience and user base consist of early-adopter social media folks and influencers, with an average age of 30-45. Although parent company Obvious recently received funding, the product infrastructure is still going through growth pains and error messages are common. Twitter is still in its early stages, and its full value has not been realized.

There are other competitors in the space, such as Pownce, released by Kevin Rose of Digg.com, and Zooomr's Zipline. Expect Twitter-like features to emerge in many social networks as a feature.

What you should know


Twitter began as an experiment inside of Odeo, Inc. by Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey and debuted March 2006 (see Wikipedia's entry).

Twitter gained traction at the 2007 SXSW interactive festival, where flat panel displays in several places at the convention showed the Twitter activity of attendees. That was a defining moment for Twitter.

What is Twitter

A form of text-based "MicroMedia" (coined by Jeremiah Owyang), Twitter is really much like blogging, but on a miniature scale. The character limit is 140, which requires that users simplify their message.

Twitter has social network features, so users can add or remove friends, for example. An considering that leaders like Chris Messina and others are seeking ways to segment groups, more features will come.

Twitter is a next-generation instant-messaging tool; users can blast messages to their network, send private messages, or search. When users publish messages, those are often called "tweets."

As a communication platform, Twitter exports data (such as RSS) that can be reused in other interesting ways, such as Twitter maps and other mashups (10 top Twitter apps, or this comprehensive list). The Twitter team has now acquired a design team and has launched "Twitter blocks," which show the network activity of a particular user.

Remember that Twitter, like most blogging, is public: What you say can be used against you as well as for you. See this case in point: Steve Rubel's criticizing his own client and having to retract.


Twitter, till now, has been for the highly engaged, early-adopter, pro-technology user. This is the "influencer" community, meaning they will shape the direction of others. It's highly likely that these users participate in other forms of online publishing and communication, like blogging, Facebook, and mobile activity.


Having in mind the 140-character limit, users are publishing the following types of content:

  1. Presence information: Users will shout out information related to them, from "eating with Joe" to "heading to the office," or even questions like "has anyone seen the Transformers movie?
  2. Responses to others: Members within a connected network (they must be friends) can respond to each other using the reply symbol "@"—such as "@Transformers was a great movie."
  3. URLs: URLs are automatically shortened by the Twitter application. (Tip: Consider 130 characters the limit if publishing a link. The system will then have enough space to convert your URL to a TinyURL.)

Notable Brands

Several brands are using Twitter:

Some publishers use it as an announcement feed, just as Robert Scoble publishes his shared-link feed called Scoble's Link Blog from his Google reader—all automated. And, recently, Marketing Profs launched its own Twitter account.

Advanced Tactics

Event Integration

Savvy brands and individuals are using Twitter to keep virtual and real-life event attendees up to date. It can be used for live streaming, live blogging, or focusing attention on particularly helpful speeches. For example, during the Web 2.0 expo, I was live event-streaming using UStream; I would use Twitter to tell my network who with and where I was, keeping them up to date. Many other uses have not been documented, such as using Twitter for project management and financial alerts.

Pebble Strategy

Recently, I announced my job change on Twitter. I dropped a series of "pebbles" (tweets) explaining my move. Dozens of users responded, "congrats @jowyang," which prompted others in their network to see what I was talking about (they could visit my profile page to see what I said), building more interest. Finally, I linked to the blog post URL of my announcement in Twitter, and I received 91 comments on the first day. For more information, read "Want Waves? Drop a Pebble."

Best Practices

Savvy Twitter users realize that effective communications isn't about just pushing content to readers; they also converse with others and otherwise respond to them. I use this tool as a global chat room, responding to others, building relationships, and listening in. Like blogging, the rule of anti-marketing marketing is required for success: Engage your community.

Unlike traditional forms of advertising and marketing, Twitter is "opt-in," meaning that users choose to "follow" a twitter account, and abuse of their goodwill will result in users' unsubscribing. For the rules of engagement read Brian Oberkirch's "Advanced Twitter: Don't Tweet Like A n00b."

Getting Started

While not for everyone, Twitter is a next-generation communication tool that provides the Web strategist several opportunities to connect with online communities.

Understand Twitter. There's plenty of educational material. Consider watching a video interview by Jennifer Jones with cofounder Biz Stone. Check out Rafe Needleman's (CNET) "Newbie Guide to Twitter," or Twitter's own "Getting Started."

Evaluate whether it's right for your audience: Use the anecdotal demographic information I provided above, or use the search tool for notable individuals within your community and marketplace.

Explore the tool: The best way to learn? Experiment. Try creating a personal account before deploying a brand account.

Publish: Well, what are you waiting for? Try some tweets!

Integrate: Use in conjunction with other tools, providing an "integrated mesh" of cross linking. Use to post announcements, changes.

Advanced: Communicate back with others. This is not just a broadcast tool, it's also a conversation tool; reply back to followers using the "@" symbol, and engage in dialogue.

Advanced: Mashups. There are many uses (known and yet to be discovered) of the tool, as third-party developers continue to create mashups for Twitter. Build your own, or examine others to get creative.

Measure: From the start, consider measuring the impacts of this tool—amount of followers, amount of replies, incoming links, etc. Look at the referral logs for visits to your Web site from Twitter, and use search tools to gain intelligence. Read "Social Media Measurement Strategy" for more information.

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image of Jeremiah Owyang

Jeremiah Owyang is a Web strategist, speaker, and blogger/videoblogger focused on how companies use the Web to connect with customers. He is active on Twitter and can be followed at jowyang; if you follow him, he'll follow you back.