A little bird told me Twitter is ready for business

The hills are alive with the sound of Twitter, the social messaging service and last year’s next big thing on the web. From Jonathan Ross to Barack Obama, Twitter’s 140-character mini-messages are the modern man’s communication tool of choice.

As is the case with any and all phenomena on the consumer web, Twitter enthusiasts are now touting the benefits to business.

JP Rangaswami, CIO of BT Design and social media standard bearer, yesterday told me why Twitter is bound for enterprise adoption.

“Email has corrupted itself,” he said. “Communication is based on trust, but with so much spam, and the ability to ‘blank copy’ in recipients without you knowing, there is no trust in email anymore.”

Twitter’s genius, Rangaswami argued, is that users subscribe to each other’s message – they never receive a message from a sender they aren’t already interested in.

Plus, the limitation on ‘tweets’ to just 140 characters imposes both brevity and good information management principles, Rangaswami added. Unlike an email, you can’t attach a 32MB .pdf to a tweet, only for it to be forwarded around the company, needlessly gobbling up storage space.

There is already some informal Twitter use at BT. JP’s own Twitter feed, which you can read (and subscribe to) here, has 1,600 followers, about 250 of whom are BT employees.

But continued adoption of Twitter – or something like it – is inevitable for all businesses, says Rangaswami: “Every time a device comes out that allows people to share information more easily, corporations see it as a challenge to their control. That usually comes with a ban: there were companies that banned email when it came, and companies that banned BlackBerrys.”

Twitter, he predicts, is poised to go the way of those two ubiquitous tools.

However, there is something to be said for a modicum of control in communications, as one social media expert found out this week.

James Andrews, an account executive from US PR firm Ketchum, was visiting his client FedEx to evangelise on the importance of social media for internal communication when he decided to share his first impressions of Memphis, where the courier company’s headquarters are, on Twitter.

“True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here,’” he wrote in a tweet to his 1,600-odd followers. (His Twitter call-sign is, fittingly enough, @keyinfluencer.)

Unfortunately, one of those followers was a FedEx employee, who did not take too kindly to Andrews’s travel commentary. Cue a stern letter from FedEx’s corporate communications department.

The letter reveals how most corporations feel about social media: “A hazard of social networking is that people will read what you write.”

“True confession,” it continued, “many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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