Twitter: More Than Just An Online Water Cooler

Where does Twitter go from here?

Having resisted for some time I just signed up this week. I’m already hooked.

As great a social networking tool as it is, though, I think Twitter’s potential business spin-offs will be even better.

I recall Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz, on For Immediate Release, describing Twitter as an “online watercooler.” Right now, they’re absolutely right.

The value of water cooler talk is well established. Twitter lets us expand that beyond our ‘bricks and mortar’ environment. It allows us to take it from the office and out into our own communities. It It really is a fantastic, time-efficient, way to network.

I can’t stop thinking, though, of the potential uses of twitter-like applications outside the social networking world.

FIR (via Gridskipper) recently talked about the new Orbitz Traveler Update – a Twitter-like application that allows travelers to post updates on the latest situation at US airports. This great mash-up of difference services combines FAA data, traffic updates, weather information and more with the traveler updates to provide a great way to check up on your local airport situation before you fly.

On the PR side, Twitter is another potential channel for corporate announcements. BBC Business already uses it for updates… Barack Obama and John Edwards use it for campaigning (no sign of candidates from Ontario’s election though)… why not companies? If you’re announcing a new product launch, talk about it on your Twitter feed and link to your website.

Twitter also provides another way for organizations to dip their toes into social media without going fully-fledged into blogging, podcasting or other ‘2.0’ technologies.

Twitter-like applications could be used to mobilize a crisis management team in an emergency, or to alert the general population of an emerging situation (bringing to mind the tragic Virginia shootings in April 2007 – would something like this have helped?).

Internally, Twitter would be another great tool in the virtual teams toolkit. While instant messaging may be a better way for a one-on-one exchange, Twitter allows users to quickly share information and questions with their entire team.

Twitter has enormous potential, and I’m already addicted. Right now, though, it still has a bit of the ‘so what?’ factor for a lot of people. As my mother recently noted:

Twittering sounded intriguing, so I had to investigate, but it seemed a bit beyond me. Who is it for? Do you get response from complete strangers, or do you just like talking to nobody in particular, or is it aimed at your circle of friends, & if so, why don’t you just talk to each other? Oh dear, I think I’ve missed something somewhere.

Well put.

For Twitter to leapfrog from the “fad-with-potential” group to the forefront of social media, more of these business uses need to emerge. Without these, Twitter risks becoming a “fad-that-had-potential.”

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.