No doubt about it, Twitter has an image problem.
In a Techdirt Insight Community (TIC) report, analyst Carlo Longino poses a question that sums up the feeling many folks have about the emerging platform that people can use to keep other Twitter users apprised of their every move: Can Twitter evolve beyond "I am eating a burrito now?"
Longino tells IT Business Edge that while it's true that Twitter can be used -- or abused -- to deliver those kinds of mundane messages, it has plenty of other, more relevant uses. The BBC, for instance, uses Twitter to deliver programming schedules and updates.
Blogs and other Web 2.0 communications platforms also had many skeptics when they were first introduced, Longino points out.
... it's similar to how blogs began, and even perhaps Web pages. You start with this small, core audience -- perhaps slightly geeky, or just more involved in online activity -- and as the audience expands, and people start figuring out what they can do with it beyond just saying, "I'm eating a burrito," you'll see the uses for it and the content starting to evolve.
Twitter is obviously in its infancy, with many folks still struggling to define it. It's referred to as "a miniblog" service in a recent Technology Review interview with Twitter founder Evan Williams. He explains that Twitter allows folks to stay in touch with other people via the Twitter Web interface, text messaging or several desktop clients, including instant messaging.
TIC's Longino identifies three potential uses for early business adopters of Twitter: promotions/marketing, market research/analysis, and communications between businesses and their suppliers and partners.
While marketing seems like a fairly obvious use case, Longino advises companies to exercise caution in using Twitter to promote products and services.
... Twitter updates or Tweets are interruptions for users. So if you are interrupting someone, particularly if you are sending a message to their cell phone, it needs to be a message that has some value. If I sign up to receive a Twitter feed from a brand that I like, and then I find out that they just send me three Tweets a day that are commercial messages that don't offer me any sort of benefit, that's going to upset me and have a negative impact of my perception of that brand.
Another issue with employing Twitter for marketing is companies will need to accept the fact that -- with Twitter's give-and-take among users -- they will no longer exercise total control over their brand, says Longino.
Though Twitter's effectiveness as a market analysis tool is constrained by its 140-character limit, Longino believes it exhibits potential as "sort of a quick-and-dirty market research tool."
If you have a set of users who subscribe to a feed who are willing to get hit with those sorts of messages, you can send out a message and quickly have it sent to a potentially large group of people and get very quick feedback.
The most compelling corporate use case for Twitter, says Longino, is as a flexible communications tool. Unlike other tools, such as IM, Twitter makes it simple to push out a message to a group.
Twitter founder Evan Williams makes a similar point in the Technology Review interview. "Twitter is fairly unique in terms of allowing one to broadcast to many, on a subscription basis, in real time. That's really the heart of Twitter, and what we consider the core," he says.
TIC's Longino says that Twitter's 140-character limit could force Twitter users to become more effective communicators -- which would be a key benefit in many business environments.
We can all identify with receiving e-mails that are 10 times longer than they need to be. I think that is one reason why people like IM; it encourages more quick and direct communication. Perhaps if you take that another step further, and people know they only have 140 characters, they are going to get to the point pretty quickly.
New uses for Twitter will continue to emerge, says Longino -- and Williams hints at some of them in his interview, noting that developers are working to make it possible for Twitter users to send and receive via e-mail, to search for users, and to form groups.
One of our most requested features is to allow people to form groups. For instance, if people are gathered at an event, it'd be useful to opt in and get Twitters from other people at the event. Likewise, you could have a group for a city such as San Francisco.
As with other emerging Web. 2.0 tools, Longino cautions that Twitter won't be right for every situation.
Again, it's the same thing as with blogs and wikis and other collaborative tools. In and of themselves, they're not a revelation. They're just as easy to implement poorly and without any clear use as they are to implement with some value.