Dennis Howlett hosted a panel on micro-blogging (with a strong focus on Twitter, but not exclusively) that also included Chris Brogan of CrossTechMedia, Loren Feldman of 1938 Media, Rachel Happe of IDC and Laura Fitton of Pistachio Consulting. Although not explicitly stated in the session description, the focus was on the adoption of micro-blogging in the enterprise.
Fitton and Happe feel that micro-blogging allows us to exploit the power of weak ties. It changes the velocity of when we get to the value, or “a-ha”, moment. It’s like a gateway drug to social media, demonstrating the value of social media quickly. It allows for serendipity in business relationships, where people who you might not think of including in a project will see what you’re twittering about it and self-select themselves into it, or leverage your ideas in their own work. Fitton also live-tweeted her ideas on the advantages of micro-blogging in the enterprise (these are copied directly from her Twitter stream, hence are in reverse chrono order):
- Instant field reports from remote sites, conferences, meetings…
- (You may not know the answer, but you know someone who does.)
- Fast, powerful way to query your own experts/source unique solutions by getting the question to the right niche expert quickly
- Flatten hierarchies
- Cultivate mentoring opportunities
- Foster camraderie and esprit de corps
- Share ideas
- Create versatile mobile communications networks around sales teams, events, global projects and other geographically dispersed teams/groups
- Create opportunities for collaboration, contextualization and spreading ideas fast
- Tap into and create a powerful network of loose ties within your organization
Feldman took the opposite tack, saying that he thinks that micro-blogging will never take hold in the enterprise because of the openness and the brevity of the medium — the very things that people love micro-blogging — and Brogan mostly agreed that it would likely only be used for internal technical communications. In fact, Feldman referred to Twitter as “dopey” (he’s a video guy) and thinks that text, particularly 140 characters at a time, isn’t rich enough for the sort of immediate communication that Twitter is trying to provide. As someone who drives thought processes through writing, I don’t agree: I consume (but rarely create) audio and video at times, but text is a much more useful medium for me.
There was a lengthy discussion, including both the panelists and the audience, on whether enterprises would do this on a purely internal system, or on a public system like Twitter, and the relative advantages. There is no suggestion that micro-blogging would entirely replace other methods of enterprise communication, but it can augment them for cases when you want asynchronous but nearly-instant communication to a very broad audience in a public manner, with the capability for interaction between a large number of participants. It can change the velocity of business, critical in today’s market. It can also be a distraction, if people are micro-blogging (or IM’ing or Blackberry’ing) during a meeting or conversation, but that’s a matter of protocol and culture. I don’t even take interview notes on my computer because I think that it gets in the way between me and the interviewee in a face-to-face situation, so I’m very unlikely to ever micro-blog while in a small group, but others are more comfortable with that. If you’re micro-blogging in the context of real-life conversation, then it’s really no different than taking notes on paper in terms of attention.
Enterprise users are using social networks, whether their enterprise masters like it or not. If their work environment gets locked down so that they can’t use them there, they’ll use them from their mobile device (hence the popularity of platforms like Twitter, which is easily consumable on a mobile browser or purely through SMS). Enterprise computing policies will never go away, but it’s time for enterprises to realize that they might actually gain an advantage through their employees participating in social applications like micro-blogging. At the end of the day, I’m not convinced about the value of micro-blogging to me, but I’m not ready to write it off: I likely just haven’t had my a-ha moment yet. That being said, this week is the first time that I met someone who, on hearing my name, told me that they just started following me on Twitter.