To tweet or not to tweet?

Last week Brits crashed Twitter in their effort to defend the NHS from US critics, but is that power really of any use to brands?

Last week, I heard all the reports that the microblogging service, Twitter, shut down because so many people were “tweeting” their support of the NHS after former USA vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin called it “evil”.  This was on top of countless other stories that have been reported over the last few months showing the impact of twitter. 

But I was still sceptical about its real value. So I called in my vice president of communications planning, Babs Rangaiah who seems unhealthily obsessed by it and my head of global media, Laura Klauberg who sees some of the benefits, but is also not sold on its practical daily application.  Is it the “real deal”, why is it important and how should we be using it…so here’s the transcript of those conversations! On Twitter, obviously.

sjclift:
Why are you so crazy about this Twitter thing? i don’t get it.
lklauberg:
I understand some of the appeal, but most of the tweets are useless.  Babs, I really don’t care about who you were  “hanging with at dinner last night”.  And doubt whether anyone else does either…unless of course you happen to be dining with Bill Clinton, Bill Gates or another of your world renowned fan base.
babs26:
You guys have to look under the hood a bit more. At first blush, the benefits aren’t entirely clear, but use it regularly and you’ll quickly see the value. I felt the same way when I first began using it. Now I cant do without it.
sjclift:
Why? What do you use it for?
Babs26:
First of all, following your friends’ daily cool happenings on twitter  isn’t that far off from having a phone conversation where your friend tells you what he/she did last night. Only with Twitter it’s more like a conference call with multiple friends.
sjclift:
Except with the whole world listening in! You have to be on your guard, because in what seems like a very intimate medium – your mobile phone – your every thought is potentially in the public domain.
Babs26:
You just have to be smart about what you say. But the real value is that it’s an incredible source of information for work, a way to follow discussions at an event that you weren’t invited to or couldn’t attend and finally as a journal of your own life…
Lklauberg:
I fully get the instant sharing of interesting events, news & information, and of course the business applications…that’s how i first got turned on to the mashable blog.  But I don’t think for a minute anyone other than YOU is using it as a personal journal.  How can you justify all the time you spend on it when you’re “supposed to be working”?
Sjclift:
Ok, fine, but how much job relevant information can you possibly get in 140 characters?
Babs26:
URL shorteners like bit.ly extend those characters significantly. It allows me to easily access websites, reports, pictures, etc… that are of great value since they came from an expert. 
Lklauberg:
Why wouldn’t I just use igoogle for those things? 
Babs26:
This information is provided by experts on the topic not some algorithm and it’s in real time.
sjclift:
But other news services aren’t exactly slow!
Babs26:
But they’re slower…Last week, for example when the helicopter crashed over the Hudson, living in London, I couldn’t find much information through search…but I was getting real time pics, video, and commentary on Twitter. 
sjclift:
So the key selling point is that it’s 5 minutes faster for those essential moments when someone puts an aircraft down in a river?
Babs26:
Ok, how’s this example.. a few weeks ago when I couldn’t get to a media conference I just followed the hashtag and got a blow by blow account….at no cost…Before Twitter, I’d have to wait weeks or months and even then I’d probably just get some kind of broad summary if I got anything at all.
Lklauberg:
I feel like I get much of the real time info from my RSS feeds and stay connected to specific people via facebook. While Tweetdeck is a great organiser, I still find it overwhelming following all of these people, and distinguishing the junk from the valuable information.
Babs26:
I wouldn’t say that Twitter replaces search, social media or news sites….but it combines them in a way that offers great depth. For me it’s my morning paper, DLicious, Digg, search, and my fastest way of connecting with others.   
sjclift:
OK I get the disaster reporting and the gatecrashing meetings you haven’t been invited to, but how should we use it for our brands?
Babs26:
Well for one, it’s a good way to listen to what your biggest advocates, consumers, the press, bloggers, etc…are saying about your company, brands, campaigns, etc…it’s also potentially a way to test out new concepts/ideas about your brand…
Babs26:
Also, if a brand is able to provide something interesting or of added value, ..it provides a powerful platform for cultivating a big fan base of advocates. It’s a great way to let your followers know about a new innovation, a great new video, beauty tips, recipes, etc…  
Sjclift:
But I get the impression that most agency people are not more adept than me at tweeting! So isn’t it like asking someone to make a TV ad who’s never seen a television?
Babs26:
Fair point on agencies. They should definitely be more out front on this,  there are pockets of expertise out there. But like all media it’s the content that makes it ricochet all over the globe.…if you create great content in any channel it will be amplified via Twitter. Even if the brand has a niche following.
Babs26:
The other thing is it’s a great way to find opportunities for your brands. Whenever a big announcement comes out about a new technology, a merger, an announcement by a media company, the discussion thread immediately alerts me to what the implications are, what it really means, giving me the inside track.
Babs26:
Also if I need immediate information about the media habits in a particular country, stats, etc…I get answers in minutes…obviously at Unilever we have access to multiple resources to get that info, but on twitter I get it almost immediately and usually from experts in the given area. 
Lklauberg:
How do you measure the value of Twitter? 
Babs26:
It maybe the easiest thing to measure..There are several resources that can measure twitter behaviour. Sites like www.tweetstats.com and www.twitterholic.com  allow you to see # of tweets by week, day or even hour..allows you to see retweets, replys, etc as well as trending topics and who the biggest Twitterers are. 
Sjclift:
I read that about 5% of Twitterers are responsible for the vast majority of tweets. You’re locked on ‘broadcast’ so  that would include you I suppose…
Babs26:
Yes, that’s probably about the % of people that truly express themselves, share information and lead in any forum. Generally speaking, most people prefer to follow.  
Lklauberg:
But it takes up so much time out of your day..every time I come by your office you have that Tweetdeck open…when are you actually working?  I don’t get how you find the time to weed through all the mindless tweets to find the golden nuggets!
Babs26:
Media never sleeps, LK…Seriously, this and other new technology tools allow me to work much more efficiently…it’s faster than some other tools because it’s not browser-based for me because I’m doing it via apps. Also, there’s no inbox problem. I dip in and out…and when I have down time before I got to sleep or whatever, I review old tweets…
Babs26:
And from a personal standpoint, I don’t have to look for emails from acquaintances when I want to send mass emails to friends. I just post…it makes it much easier to communicate and connect with my network. 
sjclift:
If you want to tweet, that’s fine, but why do you keep hounding me and Laura to tweet? 
Babs26:
I don’t think it’s critical for all top management to tweet, but I do think you both should be more engaged in Twitter. It would put you in more direct contact with our global team around the world, foster creativity in the media space and push the idea of open collaboration. It would also demonstrate our leadership position, both internally and externally.
Sjclift:
But are you sure you’re not just enchanted by the latest, shiniest toy? Since Twitter came along, your facebook presence has been non-existent! Won’t it be here today and gone tomorrow?
Babs26:
Lol..that’s not true..there are many examples of hot new technologies that I didn’t get into because I didn’t think they made sense for me or our brands. Second Life is a great example..i brought it to our team’s attention, but never thought much of it…Twitter is just better for me personally than social media sites in general because it’s quicker and to LK’s point..I have work to do
Babs26:
Honestly, I don’t think we’ve even begun to see the full potential of Twitter yet. Some aspects are really unique. And it’s more compatible with the lifestyles of busy execs. And its flexibility allow you to post from mobile, an app, etc…and its done in a short, concise format that allows you to easily share a link, a thought, an idea, quick learning, a pic, etc…in seconds.    
sjclift:
OK. I’ll keep at it but I’m going to be much more discriminating about who I follow …starting with you.

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