Saturday, February 26, 2011

Microsoft MVP Summit 2011

I’m currently in Vancouver and tomorrow I’ll be making my way down to the Seattle area for the Microsoft MVP Summit. Last October, I received an MVP Award for Microsoft SharePoint, so this is my first visit to the summit.

Unfortunately, for my blog, everything at the summit is under the umbrella of the MVP non-disclosure agreement, so I won’t be able to blog or tweet about the content of the sessions.


As usual, I’ll try to find time to meet up with my former colleagues in the area, but I’m really looking forward to the summit itself. The main keynote speaker is Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft. I once lost $10 because a friend bet me that I’d speak to or shake hands with Ballmer or Gates within a year of starting work in Redmond. I bumped into Ballmer backstage at a Microsoft conference in New Orleans and I was $10 the poorer.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Twitter for Business: Beyond what you had for lunch

Since Twitter launched in 2006, I’ve heard many criticisms of the short message communication system. Some of the limitations of Twitter are obvious—after all, you can’t expect to be able to express every idea in 140 characters or less. However, I’ve also found that many hacks against Twitter are unfounded and stem from a lack of understanding about how Twitter works and the value it can add. This is particularly true in the context of using Twitter for business purposes.

Recent events have shown that Twitter has profound value in other contexts. For example, political rallies or disaster scenarios. Messages can be sent about demonstration locations or places to find food and shelter. I successfully use Twitter to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in the Microsoft SharePoint community, so I take it a little personally when someone claims that the technology has no value. Here’s a quick defense of the value of Twitter for business.

Update: I’ve now posted a second part to this post: Twitter for Business Part 2: Twitter Usage and Etiquette

Twitter is Open

Some people love to rant that, “Twitter makes no sense because we already have Facebook status.” What these people don’t realize is that unlike Facebook status, Twitter is open. Sure, the Twitter direct message (“DM”) system can be used for private messages, but most messages are not sent as DMs; most Twitter messages are public.

What this means is that any user has the ability to ‘follow’ any other user and read their messages. I doubt Bill Gates would accept a friend request from me, but I can follow him on Twitter to see how his foundation is faring in its fight against polio. Once you’re following a user, it makes it easier for you to see their messages—a.k.a. tweets—but you’re not even required to follow someone to read their tweets. You can visit their Twitter page anonymously and read what they’ve written.

This is great for business because anyone interested in a particular subject—let’s say SharePoint migration software from Metalogix—can read tweets by @metalogix or create a search for tweets with “SharePoint” in the text (or “#SharePoint” if you prefer Twitter hashtags). In other words, if I send out a tweet with key terms, I know that I’ll be reaching an audience interested in those subjects.

Twitter is Democratic

With the exception of some “Who to follow” or “Highlighted users” suggestions, Twitter is largely a democratic system. Each user chooses who he or she will follow and whether a tweet becomes popular depends on how many users choose to ‘retweet’ it. This is radically different than traditional marketing or public relations because business users might choose to follow a software developer’s account instead of the corporate PR account. This must be frightening to old school media types, but companies that effectively use Twitter can reach audiences that might otherwise simply ignore their marketing efforts.

Hypothetically, I might not want to follow a movie studio’s twitter account, but if I choose to read the tweets of an actor starring in one of their movies, I would still see some (maybe a lot?) of plugs for their movie.

Twitter is an Instant Worldwide Bulletin Board

The most common complaint I hear about Twitter is that it’s used for glib messages that no ones cares about. In an episode of the TV show Criminal Minds, a killer tracked social networking users who sent out tweets such as, “Mmm scones.” This is the sort of thing that many associate with Twitter. So much so that, I’ve heard Twitter called “keyboard masturbation.” What these critics need to realize is that those using Twitter in a business context aren’t going to behave this way.

Think of standing on a corner and having a constant flow of people walking by giving you Post-It Notes about the subjects that interest you. It can be incredibly useful and powerful to have that sort of instant access to what people are typing about any subject at any point in time.

When someone tries to put down Twitter, I simply say that if I follow someone for business reasons, and all he does is tweet what he had for lunch (not that I’ve ever done that), I’ll just unfollow him. Besides, it’s a lot less insulting than being un-friended.

Update: I’ve now posted a second part to this post: Twitter for Business Part 2: Twitter Usage and Etiquette

Follow me on Twitter: @cawood