Monday 19 October 2009

Twitter: Something or Nothing?

When I attended SAS Global Forum 2009 (SGF 2009) in Washington DC earlier this year I was surprised and puzzled by all of the apparent chatter about Twitter and other social media. There were posters, inserts in my conference pack, and goodness know what else, all telling me about the Crowdvine site, the Twitter hashtag, the facebook page... the list just seemed to go on and on.  I went along to David Thomas's Birds of a Feather (BOF) session on social media and learned enough to pique my interest. David is SAS's Social Media Manager (yes, that is a real job!). In the months that followed, I decided to investigate and see what Twitter in particular had to offer to me and to my company.

I use a lot of mobile phone text messages to keep in touch with family, friends and clients, but I couldn't see any benefit in a system that offered even shorter messages that would be seen by an uncontrolled collection of Twitter users of varying points of interest. I figured that the best way to find out about it was to join and follow a few people. So, I started following SAS's David Thomas plus some of my favourite celebs (like Suzi Perry and Jason Bradbury from The Gadget Show). Then I noticed that my favourite motor sport magazine (Autosport) had a twitter account, so I started following that too. After a few days I could see some patterns emerging.

David was tweeting with his abbreviated thoughts on social media plus links to recent social media articles on the web, so I was able to expand my reading around the subject of social media; Suzi and Jason were tweeting whilst filming upcoming episodes of the Gadget Show, so I was amused with precied stories of accidents that happened on set, and I got early sight of upcoming features; and Autosport tweeted every time that they added a new article to their web site, so I got the chance to see the articles earlier and I didn't need to keep checking their site just in case there were any new articles. All-in-all I was pleasantly surprised.

I had expected to be bored to death with tweets from David about congestion on his journey to work, and tweets from Suzi about her latest handbag shopping trip, and tweets from Autosport about who had what type of coffee from Starbucks that morning! Instead of which I was learning about social media, getting greater engagement with my gadget addiction, and being kept right up to date with the motor sport world.

I quickly learned that the Twitter web site was not the most useful way of utilising the Twitter service. I discovered TweetDeck for my PC and PockeTwit for my Windows Mobile phone. Both free, just like the Twitter service itself. I added a column to Tweetdeck to show me all tweets that feature the #sas hashtag - this captured all tweets about SAS software.

So, now I had a much better understanding of how Twitter could be useful a) to me and my interests, and b) to my company and its nascent blog. I've already posted details of how we constructed the blog and how we made use of TwitterFeed to automatically tweet every time we posted a message to the blog.

I subsequently found lots more interesting people and companies to follow. Some of the top twitterers in the SAS world that I follow are sasbi, cjdinger, sascommunity, susanslaughter, and saspublishing, but there are many more. And if you're into motor sport, the following three are very topical at the moment: OfficialBrawnGP, rubarrichello and The_Real_JB.

So, in summary, I've been pleasantly surprised with the value I've got from Twitter. How can you not get value from a free service?! But therein lies the conundrum. What lies ahead for Twitter? With no apparent business model, how can it continue supplying a service that makes bigger and bigger financial demands (as the expanding service demands more and more hardware to make it run) with no income stream to match it? When you have TechCrunch's Devin Coldewey questioning the purpose of Twitter's existance, you can see that Twitter has a tough road ahead of it. For my part, I hope that the powers-that-be at Twitter can figure out where the road should take them, and how best to navigate that road. Good luck to them...