CxO Insights — Why You Need to Understand Twitter

You can't open a newspaper or IT publication these days without reading headlines related to the phenomenal growth of micro-blogging service Twitter. But isn't Twitter more of a tool for people to let their friends know what they had for lunch or some other arcane piece of information? If you're a CEO, CIO or CTO, is this something you should pay attention to?

Today's Wall Street Journal featured an article on how Twitter can be used to avoid significant PR issues that can affect a companies' brand. The topic of the Journal article is real and the list of Fortune 500 companies that have a presence on Twitter is impressive — Dell, too, has a significant presence on Twitter and uses it for a variety of purposes, including solving customer issues.

If this was the only reason for a company to pay attention to Twitter, it would be enough. But there's more and it calls for all of us, including CxOs, to embrace Twitter on a personal level.

Bob Evans of InformationWeek wrote an article this morning on some prominent executives who are ahead of the curve and are embracing the tool to transform their businesses.

In the article, Bob says the following: "So you don't use Twitter, huh? You think it's a silly productivity drain and solely the province of professional goofballs and teenagers? With zero or less than zero business value? You couldn't possibly be more wrong. And at best, your blinders could get you labeled permanently as the backward-looking CIO who's resistant to new ideas. At worst, your pig-headedness could cost you your job." Yikes, lose your job? Now I've got your attention.

So which of your peers is using the micro-blogging tool? It's hard to find a specific list but here are some of power users: Cisco's Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior is on Twitter and has more than 800,000 followers and yet only follows about 70 (the power of Twitter is not necessarily in who follows you but in who you follow). Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos and has 1.1 million followers, follows half that many and is great example of a company that embraces customer relationships better than nearly any other company. Chairman of Virgin Group Richard Branson follows 6,549 people and Kodak's Chief Marketing Officer Jeffrey Hayzlett follows about 6,600 people.

Other CxOs you should look to are Charlie Catlett, CIO of Argonne National Lab; Linda Cureton, CIO for NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center; VMWare's CTO Steve Herrod; Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers; Jeff Bonforte, CEO of Xobni; Ron Tolido, CTO of Capgemini; and Jim Dowson, CTO of EMC. The list goes on and on. Are you on it?

My experience with Twitter is probably typical for newbies. I started in May of 2007 and then promptly stopped for the rest of the year to become a "lurker," one who follows people and observes how they use the tool. I was then inspired to pick Twitter back up in January of 2008 and took some hand-holding by my colleague @richardatdell, who along with Dell's @ggroovin, was one of the earliest Twitter users and has helped guide Dell's use of the tool. As I look back through my tweet stream, it's like a walk down memory lane where I'm taken back to many of the projects I worked on, the people I met with, the meetings I sat through, my readings.

And yet, that nostalgic walk for me does nothing to convince you that Twitter will transform your business or your career. I'm not naive to think that I would influence you in that regard but I would suggest you start asking your peers if they are on Twitter. I would venture to guess not all of them are but you should pay attention to those who are. Should you decide to take the leap in to the twitterverse, I'd suggest the following links as must-reads:

  • Chris Brogan last week published a post on Twitter Etiquette that has quite a few good tips (in my view, Chris Brogan is a must-follow, must-read kind of guy);
  • Bruce Philp recently wrote a post on the "Five Habits of Successful Executives on Twitter" that is definitely worth a read;
  • We Follow is a tool that you should use to find colleagues to follow. Or, better yet, look for someone you respect and look at who they follow — you'll most likely want to follow similar, if not the same, people.

I realize that over time I became much more comfortable with how a business person uses Twitter. Simply watching a Commoncraft video by Lee and Sachi LeFever doesn't fully capture imagethe full essence of Twitter. What a CIO does between meetings of the day doesn't capture just how powerful the tool can be. It's not about the pastrami sandwich you just had: it may be a Gartner report on a new trend in IT computing; it may be a blog post from a credible colleague; it may be a list of how to better manage your busy schedule. But, it's what interests you and, in turn, what interests you most likely interests those who follow you.

If you're interested in a great book on the power of Twitter, be sure to check out a yet-to-be-released book by Shel Israel entitled "Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods."

The book is described this way on Shel's Global Neighbourhoods blog: "It tells the stories of more than 100 people Israel has interviewed in all aspects of business ranging from home office to global enterprise. It tells you about accidental citizen journalists who happened to be present when a plane landed on the Hudson River; when an earthquake devastated Szechwan, China; and how people with causes have raised money from thousands of people, sometimes in just a few hours and how government is starting to use Twitter to be both more efficient and responsive."

If you'd like to pre-order the book, Amazon is now taking orders here.

I was on a call with Shel last week and asked him for his thoughts on when CxOs would begin to embrace the tool as broadly as others have. His comment (paraphrased) can be found here. His other powerful quote from that call was this: "Twitter enables you to hug an old friend the first time you meet."

So, what are you waiting for? It's easy, go sign up and lurk for awhile. If you've got questions, follow me, @Dellservergeek, @richardatdell or others and we'll do our best to answer your questions.

About the Author: Bruce Eric