Enterprise microblogging: the business case

This post appeared first in Corporate Website. (29 October 2007)

Microblogging (Twitter, Jaiku) has caught the imagination of millions as a revolutionary communication tool. Many have grokked the uses of microblogs for the enterprise, but nothing has transpired as yet, excepting Google rousing and snapping up Jaiku. Perhaps corporate IT are still getting to terms with Web 2.0 and microblogging is a late entrant. Perhaps we’re focussed on trying to pinstripe Twitter, and are limiting the brief of what enterprise microblogging can be.

So this is first in a two-part series. While we redefine the benefits of enterprise microblogging here, the next instalment will be a wishlist of what we want in such an application. I refer to microblogging here as evidenced by Twitter and Jaiku, although make it clear that they are not enterprise-ready.

Convergence

As you know, you can email, IM, blog, SMS updates to your Twitter profile. In the spirit of Web 2.0, you can retrieve them all in the same way. Bear in mind the following:

  • 91% of mobile phone owners keep them within arms-reach 24-7 (Mary Meeker, Morgan Stanley)
  • IM has been identified as the web-based enterprise technology CIOs feel has the most business impact
  • SpinVox recently announced voice updates to Twitter (and Facebook and Jaiku)

Every Facebook user (everyone you know) is extremely familiar with posting short status updates, checking for updates from others and possibly even mobile posting, RSS updates and IM

Urgent news Dissemination

The fires in California have seen a tipping point in Twitter adoption. Weather, fire news and authority news can be relayed to people in all the formats mentioned above. The LAFD has had a Twitter site for months.

If your enterprise relies on this kind of rapid dissemination, you would do well to replicate these systems.

Presence

Facebook and Skype, and now Twitter, have taught us that constant status updates pre-empt unnecessary calls or emails. When you know someone is in Brazil or otherwise not available, you don’t waste time trying to contact them. Easy notification of employees’ availability is not just to enforce presenteeism. Call centres have been identified as a critical operation that relies on presence: the agent can check expert or supervisor availability, escalation options and customer query progress.

Easy adoption

Using Twitter is as difficult as using SMS. Digital natives will bring it into your enterprise anyway, for personal use. After you block it (which you will) and they move it to their mobile devices (which they will) we will have enterprise microblog apps and they will teach you how to use them while other companies have advanced (which we will).

On that note, IBM has moved on this with their BlueTwit application. Unfortunately, that’s all I know about it: the name.

Lifestreams or rolestreams

Many digital natives and meta-bloggers (bloggers blogging about blogging) are suffering from information overload as they manage various profiles, websites, RSS feeds and try out each new application. Out of necessity, they often aggregate all their own RSS feeds or RSS subscriptions into a microblog, and may even synch their calendar with the blog due to its dispersion methods via SMS or IM. This lifestreaming is a river of the knowledge snippets which make up their day.

I bet many knowledge workers feel the same. Too many rely on Outlook to manage all their information, yet the information therein is hardly portable to other notification applications. Microblogs are built to leverage RSS, and could be a live, AJAX scrolling alert system that sends up flags or alerts based on hierarchy or importance (Oops, I’m straying into the wishlist article).

The added benefit of a lifestream, or rolestream, is that its time based and easier to round up billable hours at the end of the business day..

The Wires

The instant information retrieval nature of microblogs mean that companies can bypass traditional wire services. As IR WebReport recently blogged:

“In essence, [microblogs] can be a notification system and an editorial system. It can tell someone news is available and provide a link to it. For example: “Sun reports Results for Fourth Quarter and Full Fiscal Year 2007 http://tinyurl.com/2h5osq

It can also be an information system by delivering the news in a concise format: “Sun Beats Profit Target Q4 Revenues $3.835 billion, EPS $0.09 vs consensus $0.05 http://tinyurl.com/2h5osq

Sun’s recent decision to bypass PR wire services for its earnings releases is but a baby step in what is coming.

Ticker

The relation of a microblog to a blog post is often compared to the snippets of news on the ticker below the main news story on CNN or Sky TV News. Often a few pithy words is all the information you need to convey, and it does not detract from the main stories which are actually a different media. Stock traders have a need for some figures and a word or two to describe sentiment to make million-dollar decisions. Sure, often the source of that information is an analyst who has gone through reams of data and submitted a lengthy report. Its wholly complementary.

Presentations

Creating a microblog for a live conference, that’s projected on the stage, allows the audience both at the event as well as external to pose questions or make statements. I worked on a financial presentation for a dual-listed company where we wanted to synch Twitter or Jaiku with the webcast. In the end, the lack of moderation and branding confusion made me just hack a WordPress blog to deliver live comments. Enterprise microblog? I could not have paid enough for it.

Brevity

TinyUrl and pithy sentences lend themselves to a new form of communication where rambling is not respected. Just the facts. A global furniture concern got me to develop a secure application where they all executives could share snippets of strategic information in their respective markets. It was restricted to 250 characters and the administrator was notified by SMS with each entry. This was in 2006, they were microblogging.

We recognise that email is an indispensable office tool, but email overload is as real as the lack of importance we place to information trapped deep in an email’s body.

Knowledge Management

Much like enterprise bookmarking, enterprise microblogging can allow employees to send quick “hey, look here” updates. Others can act on it or be enlightened by information snippets that would have been beyond their reach. Sending an email to a vague, amorphous group, CC’ing other employees with a subject like “interesting link” and, in the body, a link that is not human readable, are all signals for the recipient to disengage with this communication.

Networking

Follow the travails of Twitter and you’ll come to hear that its a form of social networking. Sure it is, but that’s a spin-off to its larger benefits as highlighted above. Anyway, you have a social network, its called your Company. Or office, or team.

I wouldn’t suggest a that a major benefit of microblogging is that it brings your employees closer or improves morale. That would be trite. I do think you’ll have benefits of moving conversations off email and project leaders will be able to swarm all project members, developers can scrum and sprints will be slick relays. That should be a given. However, you can use it to create dialogue with your customers or stakeholders. You can also track usage in the Twittersphere and be alerted whenever anyone mentions you, your brand or your interest.

Buzz

You can use your channel as a media outlet and a buzz engine for product releases. Twitter is pretty viral and following a stream is a one-click process. These buzz strategies are far better detailed in Jeremiah Oywang’s post.

Topic(s): Corporate Blogging, Tools & Technology
Keyword(s): Webcast, Weblogging, Web 2.0, Microblogging

About Derek

My key interests are online investor relations, websites, social media, enterprise 2.0 and intranets, and XBRL. Speak to me if you need a solution in any of these disciplines, or follow my knowledge links on this site and others. Find me on Twitter, LinkedIn or in recent conversations.

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