Twitter at Work

Twittering at work raises interesting questions about security, commitment to work and protection of intellectual property; all questions raised by use of Instant Messenger applications. Whereas a company IT policy often (and I think, should) ban or actively prevent use of Instant Messengers such as Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo, etc., how employers should approach Twitter use should be considered carefully.

Twitter provides two ways of communicating and participating with other Twitterers: the web, or their API which is used by Twitter clients such as Twhirl, blu (formerly known as *chirp), etc. Twitter is an ideal platform for participating in discussions with people you’d never dream of being able to reach in any other situation and the only way to really be a participant in this discussion is using a Twitter client which itself can look and behave almost as an Instant Messenger application does. So it would hardly be surprising if, on sight, an IT policy zealout would immediately object to its use. If it looks like IM, and feels like IM, then it must be IM.

Twitter is a distraction to work. Those seconds of distraction to your thought process as new notifications pop up or a couple of minutes here checking the current Twitter feed and establishing the flow of discussion, if any, can add up. In some jobs, such as my own, those seconds distraction cause more delays as I try and recover my train of thought, often along quite challenging lines.

So there seems very little reason why employers should allow or accept Twitter usage in the workplace.

Consider, however, the hidden benefit of Twitter as a training and awareness tool. By expanding your network to people within your industry sector, you can monitor others’ Tweets which are probably quite irrelavent, boring or even egotistical much of the time but sometimes there are gems that can help. For example, my current role is involved in developing a CRM system, so I add CRM users/developers to my network. I work with Sitecore, so I add Sitecore Twitterers. And so on. My network includes Journalists, Developers, Technology Evangelists, Product Area experts (CRM, BPR, etc) and you can learn a lot from this network. The development of this network is largely down to Twollo.com, which has really helped grow my network to be one of quality, with less noise.

This is what I learnt from Twitter this week:

  • The iPhone does not correctly use the mobile CSS stylesheet, which we knew, so our mobile interface didn’t work on iPhones. Turns out that you can add a tag to address this
  • Why WordPress removes tags from the XHTML in the Post Editor
  • Where Microsoft intends to add the Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF)
  • How the new Microsoft Semblio could be used as a Training resource for our software

(actually, those 4 things were just in the last 24 hours)

This proves that Twitter is actually acting as a hidden trainer. Sure, this knowledge could be Google-d for, but we all have busy lives, often such searches fall by the way-side. In the case of the iPhone fix, I was not directly involved in that issue, but I remembered my team member had raised it so it helped him.

This knowledge comes both as a result of inviting response by my own posts, but also passively monitoring the Twitter feed. But you have to participate in the discussion. Participating shows that you are able to provide the time and attention to others, whether or not anything you contribute is useful or not. If users see you participate, they would be more willing to return the favour if you ever needed help.

Titbits of information can come from Twitterers working at their desk, re-posting information while in a seminar or presentation or even secretly tweeting in a boring meeting! The source may be an individual, or it may be a brand. Many brands are already on Twitter, which represents an additional channel from which to access useful material. Telerik (@telerikbuzz) tweets about upcoming product releases, hints and tips and suggestions that I have found useful on more than one occasion. This can provide an ideal opportunity to market your product, access new and existing customers and provide “passive” training. This could be a “Tip of the day”, or hidden features that may not be documented due to their support issues (promoting the idea that only Twitter users heard about it). Twitter provides an opportunity to create a training relationship between the brand/company and the end user, whatever their level of expertise. I intend to build on this idea in our next CRM version.

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