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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Emails, Calls, Meetings -- all Twitter

Depleted from the labor pains of birthing my blog, I turned for titillation to Twitter, the online, hyperventilating chat network.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t set up my “friends” network when I signed on months back, and I wasn’t sure who I would talk with. But, c’mon, of the 2.3 million people who use Twitter, surely someone would say “hello” (which is 139 words fewer than Twitter’s longest short message).

After signing on, a window popped up saying that no one was following me and I was not following anyone, and asked, “What was I doing?” In other words, “Nothing to say … no friends?”

Aren’t those the two reasons why corporate managers – the decision-makers who thumb social networking up or down -- won’t take to Twitter. They don’t have time to follow anything else nor do they want anyone following what they’re doing. And when they hear about Twitter, it strikes them as a lot of key-tapping for what amounts to trivial exchanges.

But, is Twitter really extra work and a waste of time or, strangely, could it possibly be a more engaging, and, yes, efficient way to achieve business results? Is it much different than what occupies our time now? Stay with me.

Look at what we say runs and over-runs our lives: emails, smart phones, and meetings. Why? Don’t blame technology. We choose to open emails, turn on phones, and attend meetings. We impulsively tell colleagues and new acquaintances to “keep us posted,” “call us,” and “set up a meeting about that.”


It’s because we humans crave attention, news, and companionship. We are driven to be in the know and be known, to like and be liked, and to draw power from information and people. We will even consider that information when it’s trivial -- gossip, speculations, reality TV – and from people we don’t like all that much.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Call it chatter. We chatter when we jot a few words in response to emails from colleagues, banter with customers by phone between golf swings, and when we catch up on each other’s lives while waiting for a meeting to start.

Quick-fire exchanges seem like time-wasters -- rationally thinking, that is -- but are they ever informative. The more emotional the conversation, the less posturing people do; the more babble, the more we seem to understand what’s going really going on behind what appears to be happening. That’s because, in part, the messages are short, transparency abounds, and PowerPoints are missing. Chatter is good: it informs, centers, and stimulates us. And we like all of that.

Strangely, meetings are more fulfilling than phone conversations, which are more satisfying than emails.

  • Emails are one-to-one, pre-meditated, time-delayed, and impersonal.
  • Phone conversations are one-to-one, spontaneous, immediate, and friendly exchanges that rely on questions for context: “What are you doing now?” “Where did you go for lunch?”
  • Meetings are one–to-many, many-to-many, and yet personal. The most effective meetings involve lots of interaction, honest sharing of ideas, to-the-point questions, and concise dialogue.

Now we’re talking Twitter: one-to-many and many-to-many; quick transactions of unedited, raw-honest comments that feel personal.

But do we really want all those interruptions? Don’t we encourage that now?

  • We tell everyone that our door is always open to them.
  • We extol the interactivity that cubicles are supposed to provide.
  • We let our staffers have our cell number on speed dial.

As David Sacks notes – he’s the founder of Twitter competitor Yammer -- we don’t want to hear five times a day what friends are doing, but we do want to hear from co-workers five times a day about what they’re working on.

If I have convinced you at all that the nature of Twitter is the nature of what we’re doing already – and want and need to do – then why not try out this new channel as possibly a more effective way to learn from each other and increase productivity.

Here are three painless ways to explore the possibilities, ranging from you as a bystander to you as a full participant:

  1. Pick an enterprising staff member who is a social networker (uses Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc.) and ask her to set up a staff Twitter group. Have your administrative assistant participate. Your lead staffer will give you reliable reports; your AA will tell you if and when you should connect.
  2. Set up a Twitter group among those with direct and dotted-line reporting relationships to you and who are working remotely (at home, in other offices and countries). Explain that you are exploring new, possibly more efficient and more human channels for keeping everyone informed and swapping ideas. In this scenario, you join in, at least every few days, to check progress and add comments.
  3. Set up a group for an upcoming event -- a trade show, annual meeting, customer outing – and use Twitter on laptops and cell phones, primarily, to orchestrate the logistics. Here you are a constant participant by monitoring your staff’s work, adding brief revisions, and throwing in accolades.
Try out Twitter for three months with these guidelines.
  • Stick with this one channel for now; jumping headlong into My Space, Flickr, and other networks will make you cool with your kids but will quickly lead to fatigue.
  • Get regular staff feedback on how to customize the use of Twitter to your group's specific needs.
  • Focus on results, though don’t be too rigid on making a go/no-go decision at the end of the three months. You may want to extend its use or apply it to a different situation before you add or cut Twitter.

I almost forgot. What about the concern of being followed? If you’re a leader or emerging leader, you know the formula: be transparent, dialogue honestly, show trustworthiness, be available, entertain all ideas – in short let people know you, how you think, and how you act and, perhaps, they will indeed follow you at work and on Twitter.

Set up a
Twitter account
Read 11 reasons to use Twitter for business
Read Applying Twitter: How It Works For Business
Read Looking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter
The Secret to Twitter
Subscribe to TwiTip, a new blog on Twitter
Twhirl. a tool that reportedly simplifies. beautifies, and amplifies twittering
Statistics supporting the Twitter craze


Anonymous said...

Twitter to increased productivity, not just social networking. Brilliant Rich!