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When I was researching my new book, Twitterville, I discovered six ways companies were using Twitter. Perhaps some of them can be adapted to your company and its needs.
- An always-on newsletter. IBM is the world’s largest technology company. It is also the world’s tweetingest, with over 1,000 employees using it. The primary purpose is for IBM employees to share information with coworkers as well as the partners, customers, vendors, analysts and editors who comprise the company’s huge global ecosystem. According to IBM’s social media manager Adam C. Christensen (@AdamClyde), IBMers are involved in thousands of tweeted conversations every day. It allows them to share information fast and out on the edge, without the tedium of filtering from corporate headquarters. “Twitter makes us a smarter company,” he said. This seems particularly noteworthy considering that IBM owns LotusNotes, an ageing internal network system designed to do exactly that as well.
- Recruit Talent. If you’ve ever savoured the cuisine in hospital, military or college food services in North America, you probably have eaten food prepared by Sodexo. Even in these current tough times, Sodexo is growing like gangbusters and is finding senior talent by moving its executive recruitment efforts into social media. They tie it all together on Twitter (@SodexoCareers), using a network of recruiters. Arie Ball, VP of Talent acquisition told me that Twitter has helped them find chefs, facility engineers, and dietitians faster – and at lower cost – than other possible options.
- Launch for nearly nothing. Several companies have told stories of using Twitter to introduce new products or the companies themselves. Seesmic, founded by the French charismatic serial entrepreneur Loic LeMeur (@loic) launched his video chat service as “Twitter for video chat.” In less than 18 months, he has built a user base of over two million. His marketing hard dollar costs: nearly zero.
- Cultivate a Valuable Niche. Newell Rubbermaid (@Rubbermaid) is a 70-year-old manufacturer of bins, racks, boxes divided and the ubiquitous kitchen dish rack. Jim Deitzel, Rubbermaid’s e-marketing manager started tweeting as a new way to distribute company information. Like many company spokespeople that I interviewed, he soon discovered greater value in listening than speaking. In fact, he found an entire community of professional organisers who were passionate about Rubbermaid products. He started collaborating with them, asking them for help reorganising his own pantry closet. He emerged as a de facto community leader, by serving as the glue that brought the company together.
- Roll your own marketplace. CrowdSPRING (@crowdSPRING) is a Chicago-based startup but it exists globally through Twitter more than in any physical location. Their website and Twitter serve as a virtual marketplace for designers and potential new customers in a most disruptive way. A company goes to the website and describes what logo or graphic elements they are looking for and declares a maximum price. Then a global network of more than 12,000 freelancers and small agencies bid on the work by showing graphic ideas. New buyers and sellers are mostly found through Twitter.
- Cross the Chasm Pitney Bowes Is a 100-year-old company with a very stodgy image. They continue to be known as the “postage meter company” despite a 15-year migration into software and services. Aneta Hall (@Anetah) is the self-proclaimed company change agent, using Twitter and other social media tools, partly to show that the company is at least slightly cooler and hipper that the image implies. Hall is also a self-proclaimed change agent, using Twitter to persuade entrenched corporate power that there are more efficient ways than traditional marketing to get closer with customers and prospects.
I could write a book about the different ways businesses are using Twitter. In fact, I did. It’s pretty much like the Blind Men and the Elephant. Every business thinker that touches Twitter seems to find a different perception of value.
Shel Israel is a social media story teller. A frequent speaker, he is the author of Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods (Portfolio, Sept 2009) and is the co-author of Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers (Wiley, Jan 2006) and The Conversational Corporation, a Dow Jones e-book (2009).