Twitter for Business

wd_156-232x300An article I wrote for Web Designer Mag 156, go buy it, its a super read.Let’s all get on the same page here, unless you have been living in a cave… …actually scrap that, apparently even the Taliban use it. I’m talking Twitter, the latest thing to go nuclear.Even so, and despite all the airtime the popular micro blogging service gets, I am still shocked at the number of technology professionals that still have barely heard of it.I should declare that I am a hard core Tweetnic. In this article I will try to uncover how microblogging is now an unmissable tool, a critical cog in communicating what people are doing in work as well as socially. It’s also one of the most powerful trend spotters yet to be seen.Social StructureTwitter is diverse, it’s made up of big egos, celebrities, professionals, students, Mothers, Fathers, Children. There are people from every walk of life. In fact the way I describe it to non believers is to compare Twitter to walking into a busy pub (@rustyrocket will probably be buying the first round).The pub comparison can be continued further. The clever thing about Twitter is the clear social structure supporting it. Let’s face it, if it was just about broadcasting content, it would have already disappeared without trace.Twitter flourishes because it makes it possible for people to connect at a personal level. The individual has the power, and it’s easy to find people with similar interests. You can independently follow another person’s updates. For me this is the big difference between Microblogging and Social Networking. Facebook is about connecting with existing friends, Twitter allows you to make new ones.TrendsI have been using Twitter for just over a year. During this time it’s connected me to some leading industry figures, developers, designers, strategists and business owners. Not only has this enhanced my professional network, it’s enabled me to tap into a rich source of information. I’ve been able to spot trends and generally work more effectively.I find the content not only more relevant, but also more accurate. I trust my Twitter friends, rather than some random content that Google has scraped up. People often refer to having their “finger on the pulse.” Used correctly, Twitter will have that pulse throbbing right under your finger!FeedbackTwitter hitting the mainstream is excellent news for anyone wanting to use the service for feedback, crowd sourcing or gauging opinion. Getting balanced feedback is always tough, especially if you’re a small firm.A great resource is the excellent design critique website pleasecritiqueme.com. Designers submit their work for comments from an expert panel of designers with the real power coming from its Twitter feed (@critme). The feed is used to publish details of submitted work, providing a great mix of the expert critique panel alongside anyone else.Twitter for Business?Judging by the number of people that happily title themselves ‘Social Network Consultants’, it’s clear the business world is happily adopting Twitter at a rate of knots. Some of the great successes include Dell and the very excellent Skittles.com.Twitter is fundamentally different to what has gone before, and I think this is why business has been a little slow to adopt it. It turns the whole advertising model on its head. Suddenly business needs to engage with their users. Blanket ad campaigns aren’t possible, they would just turn users off.This principle is captured in a great quote from Scott Monty (@ScottMonty scottmonty.com) the head of social media at Ford Motor Company:"We're not interested in advertising on social networks; we're interested in getting in there and interacting with people." Ford are being proactive, with a great set of Twitter feeds and a head of social media to boot. In contrast, it’s very interesting to see that the official Google twitter account is incredibly quiet. Could Mountain View learn from Detroit?Designing a site around TwitterYou may be keen to tap into Twitter and integrate it into your sites, and I can guarantee that if your customers aren’t asking yet, they will be soon.The good news is that Twitter has a fantastic API (Application Programming Interface) and there are a ton of resources out there to get you started (http://bit.ly/iTndL). You can start from putting your latest 20 tweets on a homepage all the way to optimizing a site for searching real time.IRL?One of the brilliant side effects of all this chatter is the social aspect. I love to learn about the people that choose to follow me. So follow me at your peril!I am sure the Daily Mail warns us to be scared of “People from the Internet”. However if the recent Twestival event is anything to judge by, it’s turning a nation of keyboard warriors into very social people of all shapes and size, race and religions.Locally the Tweetup (Twitter + Meetup) principle is spawning groups all over the country. People are getting together to learn more and network with each other, built around a defining common interest. Can you name another web technology that’s having this impact?What do you think, let me know at twitter.com/benjamindyer.Tips for designers using Twitter:1. Collaborate with others; get feedback from fellow design peers2. Follow others and spot design trends before they’re mainstream, Digg has a great list of 100 designers to follow: http://bit.ly/s7NI3. Use Twitter search, listen out for people talking about you, your customers or your space.4. Ask questions, but…5. …don’t just ask questions, assist others as well6. Look to embed Twitter services and features in your designs7. Be consistent but not droll, mix your tweets with business and personal information8. Don’t use it as an online advert for your agency; nothing puts people off more than a constant barrage of why you’re the best!9. Take it further and attend a Tweetup