Lots of folks wonder whether Twitter is a communications tool or a collaboration tool. I'd probably peg it as a communications tool with a collaborative twist.
That collaborative twist is how Twitter brings a new and welcome dimension to such communications-intensive activities as talent recruitment and business conferences. In those cases, Twitter complements the activities. There seems to be no danger it could replace them, at least not any time soon.
But are Twitter, Facebook and other social channels putting a hurt on chambers of commerce and similar business associations? According to an item on TechFlash, at least some young professionals network and connect with their peers using Twitter and other free online tools instead of joining such associations. Says Hanson Hosein, director of the University of Washington's Master of Communication in Digital Media program:
There may still be value in these old-line organizations, but people now realize that they have a choice.
But there's another side to the story. Business associations also can employ social tools to reach their members and atrract new ones. The Greater Seattle Chamber, for instance, has its own YouTube channel, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Flickr photostream and more than 1,100 followers on Twitter. TechFlash reports it uses these tools to communicate with members, publicize its events, and spotlight regional business news. It also invites social media experts such as "Wired" editor-in-chief and "Long Tail" author Chris Anderson to speak at its events and help educate chamber members on best practices.
The North Mason Chamber of Commerce in Belfair, Wash., has boosted its membership 75 percent by using Twitter, Facebook and a site hosted on social networking platform Ning. The Ning site, which includes videos, personalized home pages, events listings and an online activity feed, attracts far more traffic than the home page of the chamber's traditional Web site, says its president, Frank Kenny.
Other groups like the Seattle Rotary Club continue to rely on such relatively old-fashioned communications tools as e-mail. That group's executive director explains by saying, "We are not a social network. We are a service club."
With even such traditionally staid organizations as government agencies giving Twitter a try, though, can most business associations be far behind?