Social media’s lingua franca is ‘Tweet’-talking its way into business

21 Aug 2008

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Firms are embracing social media messaging platform Twitter to drum up business and boost reputations.

If ever a new, emerging technology had its ‘flash in the pan’ moment, it was this week when popular messaging platform Twitter informed the world it was no longer footing the bill for sending SMS messages to its 1.2 million dedicated followers.

While this suggests a retrograde step, fans of the service think it’s actually the opposite and represents a moment in time where one of the internet’s fastest-growing services could strike lucrative deals with major mobile operators.

But first off, what is Twitter? Twitter is a social media and mini-blogging tool that allows users to broadcast to other ‘followers’ what they are doing in a short, 140-character message known as a ‘tweet’.

The service has so far claimed to have attracted some 1.2 million users worldwide and has been followed by a range of tools and services such as a message mapping tool like www.twittervision.com and desktop clients like www.twhirl.org.

The technology has been embraced by web developers, social entrepreneurs and IT workers across the world and businesses like Cisco, SAP and Dell have adopted it as a way of communicating with customers and employees.

In Ireland, recruitment firms and media companies, including RTÉ and Breakingnews.ie have begun using Twitter to issue headlines with the aim of drumming up web traffic.

Irish internet music TV channel, Irish Music TV (IMTV), last week launched its Twitter service to keep people informed of upcoming gigs, industry news, gossip, new videos and free tickets. IMTV founder, Stephen McCormack, explains that the company used last weekend’s Solas Festival in Carlow to experiment on messaging among concert goers.

“We view Twitter as the future of text messaging,” McCormack says. “We think there’s enormous potential to use it as a messaging service at festivals like Oxegen and Electric Picnic so friends can broadcast to each other which tent their favourite DJ will be performing in, for example.”

McCormack believes businesses intent on driving traffic to their websites, as well as establishing familiarity with customers and employees, will embrace messaging technologies like Twitter in a big way. “It’s a friendlier way of communicating rather than having an email newsletter that gets tied up in junk mail. For firms, it is a good way of building brand awareness. And because you can only send 140 characters at a time, you get concise bursts of information to people rather than too much.”

Many of Twitter’s users tend to opt to update their followers and receive tweets via SMS, which until now has been done on Twitter’s account via a UK mobile number. But last week, Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, dropped the bombshell that the service was no longer footing the bill.

“Mobile operators in most of the world charge users to send updates,” Stone said. “When you send one message to Twitter and we send it to 10 followers, you aren’t charged 10 times – that’s because we’ve been footing the bill. When we launched our free SMS service to the world, we set the clock ticking. As the service grew in popularity, so too would the price,” Stone explained.

Most Twitter users agree that it would have cost Twitter on average €1,000 per user every year just to keep them informed via mobile.

“Everyone understands that as a business Twitter needs to make money,” explains social media expert, Damien Mulley. “In the same way that people are happy that Google does search ads, they want Twitter to make money because they are fans of the system.

“In one survey I read recently users were asked would they pay for the service – some 50pc of people said they would pay for it because it is useful but would want a guarantee there would be no outages. That’s a potential captive audience of 600,000 and Twitter and any mobile operator worth its salt would be mad to ignore it.”

Entrepreneurs are already developing services around the Twitter messaging platform. One example is Cork-based entrepreneur, Pat Phelan, who has developed a product called TwitterFone, which reads out Twitter messages or ‘Tweets’ to phone owners.

“I think it’s actually fantastic that Twitter is looking seriously at its business model and saying it can’t afford to handle the SMS volumes. It’s an opportunity that can’t be ignored,” says Phelan.

“Personally, I use it as a fire hose. I don’t have time to send one message at a time to my friends and colleagues but this way I can keep everyone up to date. I also use it to share and get knowledge. Around 25pc of my Tweets are hyperlinked to other sites. I have about 1,700 followers and more of them read my Tweets than my actual blog,” Phelan points out.

“Effectively, Twitter allows me to gain knowledge at a faster rate than if I was just visiting websites or reading blogs,” Phelan concludes.

By John Kennedy

The message is out there: Stephen McCormack of Irish Music Television is one of the latest crop of entrepreneurs using Twitter to drum up business

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com