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Tweeting for businesses

Updated Friday, 12th February 2010
Twitter's Evan Williams & Biz Stone share how their company has changed the way businesses communicate while Fiona Ellis-Chadwick of The Open University welcomes a shift in the balance of power.

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Evan Williams and Biz Stone reveal how Twitter offers companies new ways to connect with their customers.

We’re seeing businesses, we’re seeing politicians communicating with their public, with their, you know, with their customers via Twitter.

How do you think this, that’s a different - or rather by the web. How do you think that communication via the internet is different than communication that they would do traditionally via television, radio, newspaper?

Well the one most, the biggest thing is it’s two way. It’s not broadcast.

There’s an engagement there you don’t get from watching TV, you can’t talk back.

And that’s a big thing we’re seeing like with brands and companies is - and we were surprised because they jumped into Twitter and they started engaging immediately.

One of the first examples we saw was this large cable company here in the US, there was a popular blogger and he also had a Twitter account and he was complaining that his cable was out and he was, “I’m going to write about this cable company, Comcast, and how terrible they are, and it’s going to be the number one search result in search engines for years to come.”

And they were monitoring Twitter search for any mentions of their brand name and they saw that within a few minutes, and they replied him on twitter and they said, “What seems to be the problem? Maybe we can send a van to your house.” And they had his cable fixed in like 30 minutes, so the next day the blog post was, “Comcast has great customer service.”

And it was like a, you know, a complete reversal and we were like wow, they’re really smart about it. And so over and over again companies are just jumping in, engaging with customers, and it’s great for the customers too.

Are they actually engaging though, because you’re seeing more and more cynical attempts to use these tools for marketing and people just not getting it?

They’re cynical but there’s engagement.

Yeah. And the basic way Twitter works is people opt into information they want and there are many, many of the most popular accounts on Twitter are commercial accounts and they’re people just selling stuff and people want to know, because people get into commercial transactions and information is helpful.

And whether it’s I want the daily tweet about the special at the café so I can know whether to go there for lunch or I want to know as soon as there is a great deal on this airline then that’s helpful information, and if they don’t want it then they shut it off.

And we, if the companies aren’t trying to provide useful information they’ll get shut off. It’s not like a, it’s not - we call it recipient-driven communication, so it’s not up to the sender to say you will see this in your inbox whether you like it or not.

We've been returned control of our messages, says Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

The internet’s turned things around, I mean it’s turned everything on its head. We the consumers have got much more control, much more power over the messages we read and the messages we send.

Really it started off with, I guess, email marketing brought in the whole idea of giving us permission, you know, have you opted in to receiving a newsletter. So you’re in charge, you’re in control, you can unsubscribe, and Twitter’s taken this to the next level so we can have these short sound bytes of postings, so I can say what I think about a company, I can say it’s great or I hate it, and it’s there, it’s immortalised.

So it’s great for getting the message out. The control, the control has gone, so you imagine wanting to put something in a newspaper, it’s got to go through an editor, you’ve got to get the copyright, well is it 144 characters, you’re there, you’re gone and your message is up there. So Twitter really does let us be in control of getting the message out there.


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