As businesses struggle to consider the uses of microblogging platforms such as Twitter in the workplace, Gartner, Inc. has highlighted the four ways in which organizations are using Twitter.
Twitter allows users to post short, 140 character updates, on what they are doing right now. Users distribute quick thoughts, news and ideas, and this broadcast element of Twitter has led this type of service to be called microblogging, as each individual message (called a "tweet") can be considered a very small blog post. Users select other "Twitterers" to follow or receive their messages in close to real time.
Gartner analysts predict that by 2011, enterprise microblogging will be a standard feature of 80 percent of social software platforms on the market. While other consumer microblogging platforms exist (such as Plurk, Jaiku, and Identi.ca), Twitter is the most popular.
Twitter is primarily aimed at individuals, so it is not imperative for every corporation to be actively participating at an official level. However, the popular impact of microblogging is leading many companies to explore how they could use it. In addition to the individual use of Twitter, Gartner has identified four different ways in which companies are making use of the Twitter application: direct, indirect, internal, and signaling.
Direct — The company uses Twitter as a marketing or public relations channel
Many companies have established Twitter identities as part of their corporate communications strategies, much like corporate blogs. They Tweet about corporate accomplishments, distributing links to press releases or promotional Web sites, and respond to other Twitterers' comments about the brand. Gartner maintains that this approach should be used with caution because uninteresting or self-serving Tweets could hinder the brand image as much as it could help. Responding to comments can be particularly risky, as the anonymous nature of Twitter can easily descend into a negative spiral. Gartner recommends that at a minimum, companies should register Twitter IDs for their major brand names to prevent others claiming them and using them inappropriately.
Indirect — The company's employees use Twitter to enhance and extend their personal reputations, thereby enhancing the company's reputation
Good Twitterers enhance their personal reputation by saying clever, interesting things, attracting many followers who go on to read their blogs. As people enhance their personal brands, some of this inevitably rubs off on their employers. Twitter provides a way of raising the profile of both individuals and the organizations they work for, which elevates these companies that want to be seen to employ influential leaders.
Internal — Employees use the platform to communicate about what they are doing, projects they are working on and ideas that occur to them
In most cases, Gartner does not recommend using Twitter or any other consumer microblogging service in this way, because there is no guarantee of security. It is crucial that employees understand the limitations of the platform and never discuss confidential matters, because as a seemingly innocuous Tweet about going to see a particular client can tip off a competitor. Other providers, such as Yammer and Present.ly, provide Twitter-like functions targeted at enterprise microblogging with more security and corporate control.
Twitter streams provide a rich source of information about what customers, competitors and others are saying about a company. Search tools like search.twitter.com or the twhirl application can scan for references to particular company or product names. Savvy companies use these signals to get early warnings of problems and collect feedback about product issues and new product ideas.