I have been as excited about twitter as I have been about the advent of the fork or the football - I'm not intrigued by the thing- only the application of it. Twitter is a utensil that provides a single basic function with stylistic differences that are determined by the user's agility with the tool. Now, before all the twitter "gurus" get up in arms - the definition of a utensil is "any instrument, vessel, or tool serving a useful purpose" so it is indeed relevant. To play out my football analogy - that pigskin in one guys hands is a silver bullet and a mudball backyard game in another hand. In fact, I am a tweeter myself and in this great Haiti tragedy, when the search began to find Haitian who are close to me and my family, we turned to twitter as the fastest channel to get information. This was the first time my Leader Networks persona and my personal voice have blended online.
In thinking about twitter for business, more and more clients are bubbling up a desire to get a twitter channel. Predictably, as a curmudgeonly strategist, I repeatedly ask "what do you want to accomplish?" and "what are your business goals for use?" to help figure out whether it makes sense or not as taking on a Twitter account for business is no small task and in *many* cases not a good idea for the company to begin with. Sure its free to get one, but the need to maintain it, staff it, monitor and respond to interactions can be quite costly from a staffing perspective. After all, the point is to engage so the better you get at twitter, the greater the accountability.
The next step after determining the business rationale, is to figure out what is the most appropriate Twitter Voice for the company. There are many compelling voices on Twitter - personas, companies, experts sharers. Some focus on connecting and others serve as information channels. Most successful twitter business voices are both consistent, persistent, and useful to the audience in some way.
Too many organizations just open an account willy-nilly and see what happens, or learn about an account that some well-meaning employee opened months after its been in operation. Good sometimes, bad often but definitely not strategically ideal. A better approach is to think through the strategic intent and voice of the twitter stream - what will it do for your company? Who will be in charge of it? What is it's main goal? What is the Twitter Voice and how aligned will it (should it) be with the company voice? In some cases, a more human Twitter voice can serve to take the "edge" off a company's opacity. In other cases, it can help a large company seem more initiate responsive. It can demonstrate thought leadership. It can be witting, and charming and wise. But, it is best practice to make an informed choice and not just inherit the voice that happens to come out unintentionally as your company is speaking to potentially millions of people!
Here are some examples of effective twitter voices for consideration
1) Product-Centric Voice. In this strategy, the business humanizes the corporate voice by giving an identity to the channel.Using the example of Dell, they have broken out the different channel products into distinct twitter channels as a way to streamline interactions and mke them most productive and relevent. This strategy is particularly well suited for larger organizations with multiple product lines.
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2) The Voice of the CEO (or other notable spokesmodel). Often ideal for SMB or those with a particularly gregarious spokesperson, the Voice of the CEO often blends personal and professional information in the twitter stream. This strategy allows the company to grow closer to its customers through the blending of information styles and by creating opportunities for customer intimacy and (the perception of) relationship building. One great example is Richard Branson, Virgin's CEO who is a delight to read due to the personality of the stream.
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3) Customer Care Online Voice. By bringing customer care online to the twitterverse, companies can often be more responsive to their users and buyers in a 24X7 environment by sharing information interesting to the customers and fielding customer care issues online. This is a "traditional" use of a new customer service tool.
This twitter voice is in some ways the easiest to implement because it clearly is a shared endeavor between a number of customer service representatives and can be staffed accordingly. Because it is clearly a group account, there is no need to have a witty voice or a consistent persona as is the burden when some of the other twitter voices are outsourced. A great example is Orbitz's Twitter account.
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These are some examples to consider and there are many more out there to learn from. But the moral of the story is there is a place for twitter in business - sometimes - as long as the goals and outcomes are well thought out, there is a clear plan and approach to the twitter strategy and an operational plan that is well suited to achieve the goals of the effort. Twitter can be a viable business channel for some organizations but does require a strategy, tactics and staff.