Twitter: the most effective tool yet


Book Review
Twitterville: How businesses can thrive in the new global neighborhoods
By Shel Israel
Portfolio Books, 2009. 306 p. 

In 2006 Shel Israel and Robert Scoble co-authored the book Naked Conversations, which argued that blogs can help repair corporate image and rebuild lost trust.

Now Israel argues that Twitter has become the most effective tool in the growing arsenal of social media tools. He shows that Twitter is neither silly nor a waste of time, but has in fact been used to improve customer service, raise funds for charitable causes, and even save lives.

A seasoned journalist, Shel Israel brings a tremendous amount of research and synthesis to the task of presenting a catalog of illustrative case studies.

Twitterville examines the inefficiency of traditional marketing and argues the case for using social media instead of advertising.

For example, Dell’s social media team uses Twitter to monitor conversations about their company and to get results faster than they could using Google Blog Alerts. They use Twitter to find useful Internet content they might have missed for days, or perhaps entirely.  Dell’s team realized they no longer needed to invest in focus groups:  Twitter provided real-time feedback from real customers who were passionate and well informed.

Hundreds of Zappos employees use Twitter to answer customers’ questions about the company while refraining from hawking their product.

H&R Block uses Twitter to build its base among younger taxpayers.

IBM employees use Twitter to talk with anyone they wish, about anything they want. Anyone who chooses can follow what is being said.  IBM says Twitter saves time, brings employees and customers closer together, and makes the company collectively smarter.

RedMonk, an open-source research firm, uses Twitter Search more often than Google searches.

Israel is not the first to claim that the Broadcast Age is dead. But what he does well is to pinpoint what distinguishes the Conversational Age we now live in: More business decisions are made faster, at the front lines of business, where a company’s representatives interact most with its customers. This reverses the old-school command-and-control system where most important decisions were made by a few senior people.

Many of the companies Israel profiles have yet to develop a clear business model for Twitter.  Be patient, he advises. When people follow their passion and find others to do the same, then communities form. And as they grow, the appropriate path to monetization becomes clear, as it did for Google, Facebook, and other companies.

Israel sees a convergence of old and new media in the short-term future. In that convergence he sees what he calls “braided journalism,” which includes traditional media, citizen journalism, and social media.  As an example, he reminds us of the story of the Airbus that landed in the Hudson River.  Janis Krums, a passenger, posted a photo on TwitPic. A few minutes later he received a call from MSNBC. He spoke live on air and TV viewers saw the photo he had shot and uploaded. The world got to see what he saw and the press got to see the value of the new breed of citizen journalists and their network of choice.

The Afterword walks the reader through the process of setting up a Twitter account and provides a dictionary of twitter terms.


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