John recently set up his neighborhood cigar shop, New Trends Cigars, with a Twitter account. When we stopped in for a smoke Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves explaining Twitter to one of the regulars. This guy has been seeing it talked about on the news and spotted the links appearing everywhere, but he still had no idea what it really does. As we explained it and tried to apply it to his day job and his personal life, it occurred to me how far this simple little app has come.
When I first started using Twitter a year ago, videos like Twitter in Plain English pretty much covered it: Twitter made it easy to tell your friends what you were up to. Now it’s become a huge phenomenon used by news services and corporations, and it even makes an appearance in a new Sprint commercial. I use it to keep up with several of my friends and I follow folks I find interesting, but it’s surprised me by becoming a handy tool for getting help or making connections.
For example, John had a problem with Comcast cable several months back, and he griped in his blog and on Twitter. Suddenly Comcast Cares came to his rescue, resolving his problem and saving him some money on his cable bills (I did a little investigating and found out DirecTV is on Twitter as well). I griped about the service at Hardee’s once. Moments later, I got some replies from folks running the Hardee’s Twitter account. Today I griped about a WebEx meeting, and a WebEx rep offered to help me out. Once I made an off-hand comment about needing business cards for a convention, and VistaPrint offered me a discount via Twitter. I even made a comment about the Deadliest Warrior TV show and had one of the guys behind the show, Max Geiger, drop me a reply.
I mention cigars and I get several followers. I mention martial arts and I get several followers. I even got a free cigar after entering a quick photo contest run on CAO’s Twitter feed. I’ve got a cousin who uses it for job searches, and I get a lot of comics and writing news from several different sources. When I’m slacking off instead of writing, a couple hundred of my readers know it, and there’s a good chance at least one of them will give me a much-deserved smack upside the head. I even post my tweets to my website, and my mom and some other friends are able to keep up with what I’m up to.
Companies are not just using it as a PR and marketing tool, they’re using it as a customer relations application. It’s easy to use, and there’s a plethora of tools available to them so they don’t have to spend any money on development or upkeep. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these folks are managing the Twitter account while they’re doing routine office work.
What’s even more amazing is it’s all public. Where you’d normally send an email or pick up the phone, these companies are searching you out and both sides of the conversation are available for all the world to see. Can you imagine a company making all those calls they record “for quality assurance” public? Not gonna happen.
Of all the big social networking apps, this is the first to really move beyond just a basic social purpose. A company might set up a presence on Facebook, but it’s largely a one-way street and amounts to a big page of spam. With Twitter, you get the same interaction of a chat or phone call, but the spam side of things just doesn’t work because it’s easy to block someone you don’t want to hear from. Heck, you don’t even have to go that far: if you see someone’s a spammer, you just don’t follow them and you’ll never see their messages again. If only email were that simple!
It blows me away how far this simple little toy has come. A week ago, I’d have told you all the apps and sites built around it are ridiculous. Now that I’ve given it some thought, I’m really not surprised.
And that’s the last point I’d like to make: it’s easy to make Twitter yours. I’ve been given a hard time about not following as many people as are following me, but I really don’t care. I can’t keep up with 1500 people! Turning Twitter into a broadcast medium isn’t my goal, it’s a byproduct. I like the original idea of Twitter and I’ve stuck close to it; now I just have a couple hundred extra people listening in on the conversation.
The Internet really is changing everything.