Thursday, January 29, 2009

Companies, Communities, and Twitter

Back in November of last year I wrote a blog post called: Communities, Stars and dealing with "hit by a bus" Scenarios. As I said back then:
One of the more interesting concepts related to the Cluetrain inspired openness in community dialogue is that at their core they involve people talking to people. And, guess what? People move companies, they retire, they even get "hit by a bus" sometimes. A company embracing this level of openness needs to factor these changes into their community model.
The Web 2.0 world is about communities at its heart. If you are a company looking to really embrace this new world then you will need to deal with these scenarios. Of course, the usual reaction by companies is to make communications anonymous, which defeats the whole point of these communities. The most effective communities are those where people are actually talking to other people and building relationships. This is in direct contrast to the usual press-release powered world of corporations.

Having embedded myself in the Twitter community over the past couple of months I'm observing a whole host of interesting interactions.

There are some really fabulous relationships being built where people really utilise the full power of the medium (i.e. interacting through posts/tweets, replies and direct messages etc). There are people representing companies on both ends of the spectrum - drivel to seriously interesting. There are the "power tweeters" who blast huge amounts of messages and generally just create noise - I wish it was of the background variety but unfortunately it ends up swamping everything else - the twitter equivalent to spam. Twitter is also a good trend / news spotter where the community effect around conversations can give you a nice insight (or periscope as JP Rangaswami has called it) into what's going on around the globe.

Where is this post going? Well, my conclusion really boils down to how companies should look at Twitter and consider how their staff officially and unofficially use the medium. Basically, some people will represent themselves and their employer extremely well. However, as usual, some people will behave in ways the corporation may not appreciate especially if they are seen to be associated with said company.

Either way, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Companies need to figure out how they are going to deal with this. I take a common sense approach. Firstly, huge numbers of companies don't even know what is being said about them on these forums. Your brand isn't determined by you, it is determined by how others perceive you. For example, you can tell everybody all day every day that you are all about safety, but if you sell products with a less than stellar safety record, your brand will reflect this.

Go do some Twitter searches for your company (and keep repeating them!). Internally, companies can use the HR police to clamp down if they choose (the nuclear option) or alternatively they can embrace, support and encourage those employees who have built up a following. The choice is yours, but keeping your head in the sand is not really an option.