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Twouble in Twitterville? Now with 8 million users, Twitter fans add ‘fine-tuning’

Do you use Twitter? If you’re one of the current base of Twitter users, now 8 million strong and growing, there’s no question you’re probably using it for chatting with your friends, connecting to others and widening your social circle. Or maybe you’re someone who is viewing it as some sort of channel of messaging distribution for your business and sending out “‘tweets” that are all about you and what you offer.

If you’re not yet on board and using it, you’d have to be in some remote cabin in the wilderness to not have heard of it and been aware of its use during the presidential campaign, on CNN, spoofed on “The Daily Show” or used by members of Congress on their BlackBerries during President Obama’s recent speech to the nation.

At the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference going on this week — the place where Twitter first hit the scene in March of 2007 — Twitter has, once again, been one of the primary conduits of communication for festival-goers as well as those in the greater Twitterville user community. Even companies like PepsiCo, in an apparent desire to capitalize upon the in-crowd’s use of this fun service, paid for a “PepsiCo Zeitgeist” application that tracks tweets that people insert with the #sxsw “hashtag” (an identifier so the message can easily be found by others searching with that tag) and displays them in fun and unique ways.

But there’s twouble in Twitterville at SXSW, and from that comes a note of caution and advice if you’re planning on leveraging Twitter personally, professionally or as an organization.

The biggest issue facing Twitter users at SXSW are the volume of messages. Not only are people at SXSW using the #sxsw hashtag, but so is every other Twitter user discussing anything related to SXSW! Many are using ‘sub’ hashtags (e.g., sxswi for south by southwest interactive) to better separate their tweets from the film and music venues down there in Austin, Texas, but it’s not enough.

People have been crying out for other ways to manage the thousands of tweets, and services have sprung up to try and make communications easier to find and absorb. SXSWBaby, a blog and this Twitter account is aggregating key happenings and content at the conference as well as such aggregators as Twitmatic, a site collating all SXSW-related videos.

A newly launched service, Foursquare, is delivering geo-located services (e.g., so you can enter where you are with coordinates if your phone supports GPS and others can find you) as well as simultaneously messaging to and informing your Foursquare friends and Twitter. I’m one of the first in Minnesota to be using this on my iPhone, and apparently it’s gaining a lot of buzz at SXSW as an alternative to Twitter.

Another problem that’s emerged at SXSW is access to Twitter. As it turns out, smartphone usage at SXSW (the iPhone in particular using its built-in GPS) is all the rage and one observer has seen far fewer laptops and netbooks vs. people primarily using mobile devices for all their Internet-centric activities. The additional problem with that and Twitter? People have been having huge problems even accessing AT&T’s 3G service with their iPhones. Fortunately, AT&T was undoubtedly monitoring both press coverage and Twitter outrage and took steps to double capacity and avert a likely public relations disaster.

My note of caution is this: There is no magic with Twitter in the same way, you may recall, common knowledge indicated having a website was in 1997 or using email for marketing in 2000. Both of them seemed like a panacea at the time but quickly turned into new channels that required an understanding and effort to use them effectively (and ward off the spammers and charlatans, also emerging in Twitter).

Does that mean you shouldn’t sign up for Twitter? Quite the contrary. In my view being online, connected, and augmenting your in-person social connections will be “table stakes” to be in-the-game going forward. If you’re not connected online, it’ll be like not having a telephone or email.

· As an individual, resist the temptation to embrace Twitter just because everyone else is and thus expect miracles. The amount of noise that comes with a critical mass of people online is always higher than the signal … similar to trying to hold a conversation in a stadium when the crowd is cheering. It’s going to be more challenging as a brand-new person now than it was when Twitter was smaller in the number of users, but it’s becoming as important as having a telephone in many ways so you should join and at least get started

· Professionally it’s undoubtedly important, especially if you’re a thought leader who blogs or is concerned about being relevant. More and more I’m seeing younger business leaders looking for those older folks that “get it” and are involved, engaged and embracing online activities

· As an organization, it’s nice to use Twitter as an automatic way of notifying those who care to follow you (e.g., by automatically having blog posts update your Twitter account, engaging conversationally with other Twitter users, and so on). It’s also a great way to ensure that you’re engaged with your brand in this people and communication milieu. One example of that is how Comcast — the cable and Internet company that has experienced several backlashes from the tech community and a website — created a Twitter account called “@ComcastCares“, in order to be directly involved in Twitterville and able to instantly respond (NOTE: I complained about a problem, and the community manager for @ComcastCares sent it to escalation within the corporation and my problem was handled quickly).

· There are a number of thought leaders right here in Minnesota. We enjoy some very astute technologists and observers whom you might want to follow on Twitter (because if you’re not already signed up, you will do so immediately after reading this article, right?). As I write this post on Monday morning, I’m listening to the streaming Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) program called “Twitter Nation” with just a couple of Minnesotans involved in Twitter who also enjoy unique perspectives. The guests are:

· Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Consumer Technology reporter and columnist for the Pioneer Press, and author of “twitter means business: how microblogging can help or hurt your company.” (And someone we had on a Minnov8 Gang Podcast you can listen to here). Find Julio: blog; twitter; his day job at the Pioneer Press.

· Jamie Thingelstad: Former CTO of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, and now an entrepreneur-in-residence with Split Rock Partners.

· John Hodgman: Author and humorist. His latest book is “More Information Than You Require” and even though he’s not a Minnesotan, he looks and acts like one, so we can make him an honorary citizen if he can be taught to say, “You betcha.”

There is also a chapter of the Social Media Breakfast Club, made up of more than 550 members who you can join and learn from and who are pushing the envelope with Internet-centric communications. This group is made up of technologists, marketers and interested others who are involved in Twitter as well as many other social media/networking offerings.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 03/17/2009 - 08:45 am.

    Hhmmm. Do I comment here, or Tweet about it?

  2. Submitted by Meghan Wilker on 03/17/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    Thank you for saying that Twitter is not magic and advocating for a thoughtful, strategic approach to adopting new technology tools.

    Every year there is a new trend that is looked at as some kind of secret sauce to making millions online: Blogging! Email marketing! Make it viral! No, wait, now I need social media!

    These things are neither magic, nor “nothing” as Joe Soucheray and others would have us think. They are simply tools, and their success or failure for each of us lies in how we choose to use them (this is a point Nancy Lyons and I recently made in a podcast on the Geek Girls Guide:

    In addition, we are hosting a Social Media 101 – A Beginner Bootcamp to try and help people understand how to use these tools effectively in their personal and professional lives:

    I know there is also another local bootcamp coming up, which Julio Ojeda-Zapata is speaking at.

  3. Submitted by James Svoboda on 03/17/2009 - 10:37 pm.

    I love the new Twitter directory at:

    Jimmy Fallon has more followers then the New York Times, Al Gore and Shaq!

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