23/07/2010

By Wayne Gibbins, Communications & Partnerships Director, Viadeo

What is it?

Twitter is a communication tool where users can follow other people to stay informed of each other’s updates. These updates take the form of text and links up to 140 characters. Various features such as @ messaging, direct messaging and RT (retweet) exist to help people communicate directly to each other, in public or in private and to spread each other’s messages.

Personal use

Self-promotion, keeping track of news and events as they happen as well as keeping up-to-date with the products, industries and companies they are interested in are all common reasons why people use Twitter. It is a great example of the modern way of dealing with internet information overload - letting the news you are interested in “find” you rather than the other way around.

Business use

Since it began people have investigated and tested methods of using Twitter for business. Be it for discovery, networking, recommendations, information sharing or advertising, businesses are still finding the optimal methods to exploit its popularity and reach. Some good examples of businesses that have become experts at using Twitter include Dell (sales), Seesmic (customer service) and Zappos (brand personality and marketing).

URL shortening

It is typical to use a URL shortening tool such as bit.ly or TinyURL when linking to websites in your update message to save space— a shortened URL looks like this: http://bit.ly/apSblI

Mobile & Desktop Apps

Twitter is available as an iPhone app (Tweetie), on BlackBerry (Ubertwitter, Twitter for BB) as well as via desktop services such as Seesmic and Tweetdeck (which also have mobile versions). Most have URL shortening tools directly integrated.

Ageing

The average age of a Twitter user is currently 39 and is increasing each quarter to make it a service used by all age groups.

Exponential?

Twitter continues to grow — it now gets approximately 190 million visitors a month which included 90.2 million unique visitors in May (ComScore). If you compare this to last year when Twitter was getting 37.3 million unique visitors the growth has been huge. It is also becoming more and more popular in non-English speaking countries which means there is massive potential for the service to keep on growing.

Alternatives

Competitors such as other microblogging tools like Yammer or Posterous have not grown as fast as Twitter nor had such widespread publicity — possibly because they are both focused on more niche markets.

Model

Twitter very quickly opened its platform to developers. It was this developer ecosystem that was responsible for some of the innovation at Twitter and also for most of the off-site tools that enable people to use and interact with the service in so many different ways.

Twitter did however recently launch their own BlackBerry application and bought the most popular iPhone application (Tweetie) causing some to be concerned they were damaging their relationship with the developer ecosystem. Time will tell but as there are still lots of great apps and integrations being implemented and developers are generally motivated by more than just a “special relationship” with a brand it is unlikely that this will stop them.

Open

80% of all Twitter use comes from the API — demonstrating a shift in traditional onsite traffic and advertising models versus distributed, multi-platform and open systems with new business models (such as mobile advertising, licensing of the fire-hose, micro payments, sponsored messages in the stream)

Summary

Easy to use but requires perseverance to master. Has business benefits and can be good for personal branding. Has been made popular in the media by celebrities but is a serious tool which is not going away anytime soon.

And finally…

If you are already on Viadeo you can now synchronise your Twitter feed with your account so that you can easily keep your contacts updated with your news — click on the News Settings option on your profile to get started.