Getting help, growing networks: Twitter

by admin on December 16, 2008

in Featured,General,Innovation

twittergrowth1I know many of my professional readers look at Twitter and go ‘Uh?’ That’s OK. I did once as well, casting it as a complete waste of time. In recent times the service has proven itself incredibly valuable. As always with technology, it’s not the tech itself but how it is used that delivers value. That’s both a function of the ‘extras’ you can bolt into a service and the manner in which you exploit its capabilities.

James Governor for instance is using Twitter as a crowdsourcing research resource. Recently that led him to pen this interesting piece about sustainability and Unilever:

During lunch I thought why not try some show, rather than just some tell, so I took out my trusty N95 and asked my Twitter community (which is now more than 3000 people), What does the Unilever brand stand for?

I sat there for a few minutes, hoping I wasn’t going to be embarrassed by a lack of response. And sure enough you came through- like a fire hose not a trickle. One way to check out the responses is probably with a twitter search of monkchips + unilever. I also favourited as many responses as I could see.

Check the repsonses he lists. Also note that by using Search.Twitter, James has been able to isolate the relevant responses. That’s incredibly powerful. Earlier today, I used Twitter to help me source a project management tool. I’ve documented the results over at IT Counts:

Check out the graphic. Note the times involved. I sent out the original Tweet message at 09:19. Someone repeated the message at 09:23 and SIX people came back with EIGHT suggestions by 10:12. I now have eight solid recommendations from the 1,000 or so people I trust (because I agreed to follow them.) They are all on-demand offerings. In one case, the cost could turn out to be less than $90/£60. Problem solved.

Given that a good 60% of my Twitter followers are in the US and Far East, that represents 1.3% reply rate. In any email marketing or survey request, you’ll be lucky to get 0.5% response. This implies the ties created via Twitter are potentially much stronger than those developed through other means.

As an aside, I have only met TWO of the respondents in the real world. What does that say about the ability to create digital relationships that have meaning and value? Moving on.

As an exercise in vanity, I plotted the growth in mine and James Twitter network since April using Twitterholic. The data is not completely up to date but is good enough for this purpose. James is represented by the green line and is clearly accelerating away. Good for him.

Also note that both James and I received substantive responses to our questions. There are lots of possible interpretations and I am aware there is a level of vanity in following people who have thousands of followers. What matters is that each of us received targeted responses from people who know more than we do. The beauty of Twitter is that you can never be wholly sure where that’s going to come from but you can check out the veracity of the soures with a single mouseclick. More value.

If that was all Twitter delivered I’d willingly pay for the service. It delivers a whole lot more. That’s one reason why I am so interested in micromessaging platforms and why I believe ESME is going to be an incredibly important development in 2009.

Now parse this to your client networks. How useful might it be to use services like Twitter to find out what clients or peers think. What bothers them, what do they want to know about, where do they need help and so on. It sure beats the heck out of employing a survey agency at £X,000 when you can do it for free AND have the results tailor made for your network.

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Jon Reed December 16, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Dennis, you nailed this one. So-called crowdsourcing has got to be a key aspect of Twitter's business value. I'm pretty new to Twitter and have a modest 225 followers, yet in the last month, I have sourced several questions of some importance to me in the SAP space: SAP upgrades, SAP and social media, and SAP and consulting best practices, and received a handful of very credible responses. Again, above the 1 percent response rate, and immediately applied to either obtain clients or insert into paid deliverables for existing clients – not to mention give me more of an authentic, street level view of the SAP marketplace, something you cannot put a price on if you care about being real. Certainly not enough followers for comprehensive responses, but I can only dream of how powerful this aspect of Twitter alone will be for me if my followers continue to grow.

- Jon -

Dennis Howlett December 16, 2008 at 10:31 pm

I think you know Francine McKenna – I turned her on to this about 4-5 months ago and she hasn't looked back.

Since we operate in tightly defined niches, we will not necessarily garner large numbers but I do believe that we'll attract the most 'edge' types – ie the most advanced thinkers. That of itself is a massive advantage over others trying to do the same thing by other means. IMO.

Francine McKenna December 17, 2008 at 1:42 am

Small world. I had just got off the phone with Jon Reed when I got your DM to point me to this post. Of course, I met Jon on Twitter. I can't remember how. But a girl like me might have never run into him otherwise. Our circles overlap only on the edges. But we quickly knew we would have common ground to explore, including how to help each other. I am eternally grateful to you, Dennis, for many things and launching my "Twitterhood" is only one of them.


Phil Baumann December 17, 2008 at 1:45 am

I definitely believe that enterprises can benefit enormously from (properly, intelligently) incorporating microblogging into their collaborating, networking, crowd-sourcing needs.

I don't know if the underlying implications of a service like Twitter (and the ever-growing Search pool) have yet been plumbed and fully realized. Traditional search (text on servers) and Search.Twitter (direct human input & exchange) produce vastly different results. Twitter is opening a new door to an old house.

We have gotten so accustomed to the traditional portal to the web (browsers and search engines that algorithmically crawl text on servers) that we've sort of forgotten that "brain search" is where it's been all along. Twitter (with a 140 character limit and a simple tiny url) provides the server-bypassing mechanics needed for brain-to-brain connection and search.

Twitter changes the game I think. Enterprises tend to look at Twitter and see frivolity (Twitter is frivolous, and therein lies its infectivity). If enterprises understood the vast and almost hidden implications of the simple mechanics of Twitter, I think it wouldn't be long before they would see the value.

A lot of the Kool Aide crowd who touts Twitter and other Social Media don't understand the deeper and larger problems facing enterprises. They tend to ridicule the "suits" who "obsess over that ROI thingy" and pen endless ramblings that seek to explain it away as if we're all complete morons. This crowd is probably compounding the confusion that the "suites" might be having. (I don't blame them in a way.)

I'll kiss your ass Dennis and say that it's good to have someone with your experience to "get Twitter" (a condescension btw) – not in a faddish and trial sense, but in the potential you outlined in your post (although I'm sure many of your followers enjoy the occasional splurge of sardonic humor among your tweets).

'Social Media' needs to grow up. Enterprise, if it uses its brain well, may be the agent for needed change.

BTW: Are you aware of any Health Care suits interested in something like ESME? There's a HUGE opportunity for such clients in that industry. Huge. Just a thought.


Dennis Howlett December 17, 2008 at 4:54 am

@phil – I think I'll skip the 'kiss my ass' bit but you are broadly correct. I spend a lot of time experimenting with tools and what I'm describing are 2 relatively simple use cases that deliver measurable and demonstrable value. I don't believe I will have any difficulty in persuading finance types of the outweighed merit of these, let alone others that I find along the way.

With ESME, we have built 2 specific use cases and are working on others. That's really the only way to help managements understand the value proposition. But I would locate that in the idea that work can be fun. In that I see huge rewards. Check Euan Semple when he talks about making people's lives better. He advises some really large organizations.

If you can come up with a use case then we can certainly talk about how that gets articulated. As you might imagine, we have a lot to think about going forward, especially as we're trying to ensure ESME is located in the notion of business process.

Richard Murphy December 17, 2008 at 9:04 am

I feel myself being dragged into a space I really don't intend to visit…..

But you've done that to me before Dennis


Dennis Howlett December 17, 2008 at 12:07 pm

@richard – you've been running way too comfortable for a while (lol) – BTW: check out my post re: IFRS, I am starting to hook up with blogger/Twitter CPAs in the US via Twitter. It's interesting stuff.

Jon Reed December 17, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Dennis, you make a good point here about the caliber of followers. I'm not sure it's true in all industries, but certainly in the SAP world some pretty interesting people are on Twitter. I'm pretty thrilled by some of the people who DO follow me. It's not so much a numbers game as knowing that people you really respect, who operate somewhere in your industry domain, are interested in what you have to say and vice versa.

So, beyond "Twittersourcing" which does seem to imply a certain volume to get a comprehensive result, even a modest number of followers can be a huge asset, as you say, in a focused area. I'm really looking forward to seeing these folks in person at the next trade show because as opposed to pre-Twitter, we've really built up the relationship virtually in between the in-person events. That should make the in-person conversations much more powerful as so much context has arleady been established – all through a certain kind of intimacy that can only be achieved through this kind of daily exchange.

I guess Dennis I do owe you a cold one, the first time I really gave Twitter more than a dismissive thought was during a webcast replay where I heard you talk about your own skepticism about Twitter and how it had been turned around. Perhaps your latest entry will inspire others to give it a second look.

- Jon -

Dennis Howlett December 17, 2008 at 4:25 pm

@jon – get a gravatar please.

I've seen a report on the friend/follower thing that I have uploaded to DropBox: <a href="http://(” target=”_blank”>( It comes out of HP Labs. It's a decent explanation of the concepts but I think it misses a few tricks. So for example it doesn't address the issue of loose ties being formed and reformed, nor does it address the issue of ambient intimacy that is critical in these scenarios.

Robert Harper December 18, 2008 at 10:52 pm

I'm a recent and speedy convert to the twitter community and watched in amazement at the response James received.

Fascinating article and certainly something that needs to be looked into further.

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