A few months ago, intrigued as to what all the fuss was about, I signed up to Twitter to find out why on earth it appeared to be taking over our lives and taking up countless newspaper columns. Since then, its popularity certainly hasn’t died down and recently, even more celebrities have been tweeting, whether it’s Barack Obama drumming up support for his election campaign, Oprah sending her first Tweet live on air or Demi Moore expressing her love for Britain’s Got Talent’s singing sensation Susan Boyle. There definitely seems to be a link between Twitter and recognition, reputation or status – it was a clever move of Obama’s to exploit it for publicity purposes and no doubt Demi’s declaration of appreciation for the surprise star increased YouTube’s hits on the video of that particular episode and therefore the singer’s popularity. And it works both ways: the traffic to Twitter increased by 43% thanks to thousands of viewers watching Oprah become hooked right before their very eyes.
Twitter’s use has also broadened into mass journalism. News of the emergency landing of a plane into the Hudson River actually broke on Twitter with an eye-witness uploading a photo onto TwitPic within seconds. Demonstrators against the G20 summit used Twitter alerts to communicate with each other and stay one step ahead of the massive police operation that took place to control any riots. The police, meanwhile, also monitored the demonstrators’ activity via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Regardless of the occasional negativity that surrounds Twitter (and my own personal cynicism), there’s no denying that Twitter increases communication and awareness beyond anyone’s expectation.
Most noticeably, Twitter has changed the way businesses market and communicate with their customers. Many companies have created Twitter profiles as part of their communications strategies, much like corporate blogs. They Tweet about business accomplishments, distribute links to press releases or promotional web sites and respond to other Tweeters comments about their brand. However, there’s a warning with this method of promotion – Twitter could open up companies to more criticism and uninteresting or blatantly self-serving Tweets could hinder a company’s brand image. But nevertheless, Samsung keeps its customers updated with their product news on Twitter, Ford offers internal business information and Starbucks promotes new offers. But is this enhanced visibility actually making the organisations money?
Twibs.com offers the power of connecting businesses with customers and gives Twitter users a place to find products or services. Although not affiliated with Twitter, users can sign up in the same way and add their business, attaching tags and links to help people find them. Over 10,870 businesses are now being advertised on Twibs.com so it appears companies are taking advantage of the free publicity. But to establish the quality of their services and products would certainly require more research and who knows whether it’s really increasing the number of their uniques and conversions, and ultimately bringing in new customers. Regardless, it’s likely that the use of Twitter will continue to grow and that more and more companies will take advantage of sites such as Twibs. Whether Saffron decides to adopt the Twitter lifestyle though depends on whether it can enhance the services and value we offer. And could Tweeting aid learning? Perhaps this is a question to think about another time…