Before we get into what Twitter is though, let’s start by reminding everyone what a blog is.
At its most basic a blog is an online diary/journal authored by someone who wants to share their thoughts and opinions with others in a public location. It is not generally a real-time format (people aren’t reading your post the moment you post). A blog is generally long-form and a writer is best served when they put some thought into what they are writing before they post it. For instance you do not normally write “going to get some coffee” as a blog post. In fact if someone comes to your blog and sees that as your only post, they probably aren’t coming back.
Fundamentally, a micro-blog is a blog where the author just wants to fire off a thought without having to compose it into a full sentence/paragraph. It is a very informal and casual medium by design. It’s also very transient in that people don’t generally go back and reference old micro-blog posts like they would a standard blog.
Twitter is a specific micro-blog platform (like WordPress or Blogger are for blogs) where everyone’s micro-blogs are published exclusively on one web site. By design it makes micro-blogging real-time (people are reading it as you post) because your friends can monitor your updates without much effort by just leaving their Twitter home page up on their desktop someplace or by using an RSS client (among many options).
What makes Twitter more interesting is that it is effectively a giant chat room where a million people are all talking at the same time but you can decide exactly who you want to listen to, and since everyone is on Twitter you have lots to pick from. Common courtesy has also been that if you are going to take the effort to listen to me and you think that what I have to say is important (followers) then I’ll listen to you in return (following)… quid pro quo.
Additionally, Twitter has the ability to allow you to send a direct private message to any other user (of course you can only do this with people that follow-you thus establishing a trust relationship which in theory reduces the risk of spam). Plus it allows for a shorthand quick-sort/search capability vis-à-vis hashtags (placing a “#” before a keyword).
But, let’s not forget the thing that makes this all work. As I mentioned above, everyone else is on Twitter… even Oprah. Sadly though, she is not following you. She’s pretty busy.
Of course Twitter use has evolved since it’s launch and people now use it in many ways to connect with one another here are four possible use-cases:
- You write corporate tweets that are one-way communications of news to followers who want to know about your company.
- You write corporate tweets about the company but also engage with customers both publicly and privately. Generally this two-way usage will need you to conform to an agreed to corporate voice and protocol since you are acting as an official voice of the company when you engage with the world.
- You write personal tweets about your company where you follow others and engage them in conversations about your business either privately or publicly. This method really calls for you to talk in your own voice, but still retain a certain level of professionalism. Since you have identified yourself as an employee of your company, you are now a public representative and poor behavior can reflect back on your employer.
- You write personal tweets where you say nothing about your employer and just go on about every time you get a cup of coffee and scratch your nose.
That’s just four use-case scenarios from off the top of my head but I hope you can see that there are lots of ways to use this tool that are only limited to your imagination. Just remember that any given usage approach you take has it’s own certain social expectations and acceptable uses.
For instance, if you’re writing in case #1 you are probably going to be posting links to press releases and news stories about your company and executives. Posting in a corporate or personal voice is purely optional and either way is acceptable. Just be consistent! This is the best case for when you are planning to automate your tweets via some kind of robot program or reprogramming your press release publishing system to also push out a Tweet for the release when it goes live.
In case #2 you’re more than likely going to post tweets in a personal voice but you should never become casual in your language. Again, consistency counts here.
In case #3 a strict corporate voice is going to get you looked at funny… unless that’s the kind of person you are in day-to-day communications. You still don’t want to get to casual here but people expect you to be yourself.
In case #4, how you handle your personal life is your business 🙂
You’ll find that from a business perspective most corporate Twitter users fall between case 2 & 3. You’ll find personal users will be a mix of 3 & 4 if they talk about their employer at all but hopefully they will learn to separate the two before they do something that costs them their job (see my series about personas).
Bottom line… Twitter is a Pull technology (more on this later). Because of this it makes it easier for marketing teams to engage users without negative repercussions since the only people listening to you are people who want to listen to you. Generally the only ways you’re going to get a negative hit by corporate engagement with customers via a Pull technology is if you misrepresent yourself or your activities to your readers (ie, be transparent!), you make some culture transgression that causes a backlash (eg, you get a million people to follow you on Twitter and then you start spamming them with direct messages to buy your product), or you trick people to lure them to your content (back to the transparent thing).
Twitter is a great tool to communicate to people, no magic… just a tool.