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Twitter Hashtags

I ran across this article today on FastCompany.com on the topic of effective, or at least intentional, use of hashtags.  Speaking to an audience at the National Association of Broadcasters show, Twitter’s director of media partnerships addresses the interesting topic of cross-pollination that occurs between broadcast shows and twitter conversations using hashtags.    One of the things I found interesting was the variety of types of hashtags that can be leveraged, specifically the “canonical” and “mad-lib” hashtags.

The topic of naming conventions is one technologists, marketers, even general users have wrestled with for years.  Finding something that is memorable, concise, reproducible, descriptive, and trendily is difficult.  Add in the elements of contextual and technology maturity, then you have a sizable challenge.  With the web we do this with URLs or web addresses, email addresses, and let’s not forget about server or networking hardware designations.

The interesting aspect of Twitter hashtags is that they bridge the concept of naming conventions with the individual exercise of labeling or cataloging.  Take for example a conference.  The organizers might promote one hashtag, while attendees maybe using several completely different hashtags.   Obviously the organizers are attempting to promote their conference and the subsequent conversations.  The attendees, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily concerned with the conference promotion, they are tweeting for their following audience.  What I have observed in the last year is that some organizers are attempting to get in front of this scenario by promoting hashtags in their communication plan for the conference.  I’ve also seen organizers retweet posts with the “official” hashtag.  Another tactic I’ve seen employed is where conference organizers have deployed large LCD screens in prominent areas which display tweets with the intent to have participants to tweet with the hashtag so their messages will be displayed on the screen.  I believe Twitter did this at the first South by Southwest show they attended, to promote the service.

It’s a interesting dynamic, finding the “right” hashtag that the masses will adopt.  My own opinion is that it suggests that both organizations and individuals should be intentional with the use of hashtags.

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Does Tweeting = Message Delivered?

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Earlier today, my organization began noticing some curious issues associated with our wireless network and wireless attached devices connecting to external sites.  It is one of those problems that takes time to quantify the problem  before we can begin looking for a resolution.  After I came back from lunch, I was checking twitter and noticed a colleague had dispatched  a tweet about problems with the wireless network several hours before I checked twitter.

This brought to mind the age old question, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or in my instance … if someone directs a tweet to someone, and they aren’t online, is the message delivered?

When I did see the tweet, my first reaction was to question why this colleague felt twitter was the appropriate medium to dispatch the information.  Email, phone, text message, or face-to-face conversation all seem to be more viable methods to communicate this message to me.  My second reaction was why would this person feel the need to broadcast this message on a shared medium.

In 2009, Success Magazine posted results of a survey they conducted on “preferred methods of communication.”  Todd Smith, founder of Little Things Matter, posted the results of this survey on his blog.  Of the 950 respondents, email and face-to-face were the preferred methods of communications (40% and 39% respectively).  The phone was a distant third with 13 percent.  Social media and text messaging rounded out the list with 5% and 3% respectively.  Mr. Smith’s point in referencing this information is that we should be intentional in our efforts to communicate with others and use the avenues that the person we are communicating with prefers.

From my stand point, if I had received an email from my colleague, I would have seen the email in a more timely manner and could have responded to the message quicker.  The experience does bring to light some interesting conversations regarding the pervasiveness of social media as well as the recognition that not everyone leverages the tools in the same manner.

Twitter vs Email, the Noise Coefficient

It was just eight months ago that I was standing a mobile learning conference when a colleague told me that “we were tearing it up on twitter.”  This was my first introduction to the micro-blog service and I’ll be honest, I had no clue what my colleague was talking about.  While I don’t pretend to be a Twitter expert, I do see this medium as an opportunity to gather and share information.  As part of one of the estimated 18 million users that eMarketer predicts will be tweeting by years end, my philosophy is to “bring value to the conversation.”

However, not everyone shares in my optimism that there is value to be derived from twitter.  I recently had a discussion with my staff about utilizing twitter in some fashion as part of the tool sets utilized to support a university network infrastructure.  Questions arose during this conversation whether this would replace something we currently use.   Other comments during our brief discussion centered around concern the amount of noise we would  subject ourselves to.  The “noise” comment struck me as odd and to that end I decided to conduct a non-scientific research project comparing twitter to email.  My assumption was that email is noisier than twitter, simply because we have some control over the amount of tweets we can see.

During the week of September 27, 2009, I polled the number of email messages I received versus the number of tweets from folks I’m following.  Obviously the experiment was non-scientific as I only surveyed my own activity, and I have not reference point to determine if I’m a “normal” email or twitter user.  At the end of the week, I had received 464 emails and only 106 tweets by folks I was following, referenced me, or sent directly to me.  What I found as significant was that of the 464 emails I’d received during the week, 80.8% of these were either marked as spam or I deleted.  I should note that if I receive a message that I want to keep I tag it and then file it away.  So over 80% of the email messages I receive in a given week are what I would consider as “noise”.

The point of this excercise was to demonstrate that as Internet users, we are already equipped to manage “noise”.  To quible about the amount of “noise” that twitter might offer seems a mute point when we recognize the amount of “noise” we are already accustom to via email.  Couple this with the recognition that as twitter users, we can determine whom to follow, which gives us control over the amount of “noise” we are exposed to.

I will concede the point that twitter and the practice of “real-time status updates” can be daunting.  Two professors at Rutgers University recently identified in a research project that 80% of twitter users were “meformers” or individuals who “use the platform to post updates on their everyday activities”.  The research also indicated that “meformers” had significantly fewer followers than their counterparts who use the platform to share informational updates like links to news articles.  Another study from research firm MarketingProfs, suggests that the motivation from many twitter users is learning new things and getting information in a timely manner.

To conclude, I don’t necessarily believe “noise” is an actual deterant from utilizing twitter.  While there is a potential for information overload, I believe there is an opportunity to find valuable nuggets in the midst of these tweets.  It may be like looking for a needle in a haystack, so the question is whether the value of the found needle outwieghs the labor to find the needle.  My experience is that yes, the value justifies the labor.