Thursday, November 18, 2010 myBiz Blog
The Purpose of Tweeting - Business School Edition by Zack Zaban

Senior Thoughts

To most students on campus, Twitter seems like a foreign concept. Words like Tweet, Hashtag, ReTweet, “At”ing, and TwitterFail make these people, including a few of my friends, feel uncomfortable and cause them to run away from innovation instead of embracing it.

I pose one question to anyone who is reading this: how do you think the rest of the world perceives Twitter in general?

I could (and will) provide you with a bunch of statistics about Twitter and its importance in the business world, but first I will explain what, exactly, is Twitter. Twitter Logo

According to its website, Twitter is “…an information network made up of 140-character messages called Tweets. It's a new and easy way to discover the latest news (‘what’s happening’) related to subjects you care about.”

Okay, this makes sense on a technical level. In my own opinion, however, Twitter is a new form of communication; it’s how we are starting to share ideas and information in an age of overbooked schedules, instantaneous technology flows and aspirations to become something more in the professional world.

With Twitter, you essentially have 140 characters to express yourself to the world. If you have a public profile, users can add your Tweets to their “feed” and you can do the same with their feed. The real fun and importance comes from specific word combinations that people in Twitterland have adapted into their vernacular. Much like a marinade for Chicken, Twitter codes bring information from the abyss of tasteless ideas into a dynamic pallet of flavors and opinions.

Here’s a list of Twitter terms, direct from the both the business section of Twitter’s website and it’s Twitter Glossary section :

  • Following: "To receive messages on Twitter, you follow other people and companies you’re interested in—which means you get their messages as they post (put another way, their messages show up in your incoming timeline on your Twitter home page). Conversely, people get your messages by following you."
  • Tweet: “Users refer to an individual message as a tweet, as in, “Check out this tweet about our CEO dancing on the sidelines of the Phoenix Suns game.” People sometimes use it as a verb, too, as in, “I tweeted about the stimulus package this morning.” If “tweet” is hard for you to use with a straight face in a business context, try “twittering” as a verb instead. Alternatives include “post,” “message” and “update.”
  • @username: The @ sign is used to call out usernames in Tweets, like this: Hello @Twitter! When a username is preceded by the @ sign, it becomes a link to a Twitter profile.
  • Direct Message (DM): Also called a DM, these messages are private between only the sender and recipient. Tweets become DMs when they begin with "d username" to specify who the message is for.
  • Retweet (RT): Like a Tweet? Retweet! Sometimes you come across a Tweet that you just have to share. Twitter's retweet (otherwise known as "RT") feature helps you and others quickly share that Tweet with all of your followers.
  • Trending Topics: : “Twitter is about what is happening right now and our Trending Topics algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help people discover the "most breaking" news stories from across the world. We think that trending topics which capture the hottest emerging trends and topics of discussion on Twitter are the most interesting.”
  • Hashtag: The # symbol is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. Was created organically by Twitter users.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, I’m assuming that you’re somewhat intrigued by what Twitter actually is. Now, onto the golden question that I alluded to a few paragraphs ago: why is Twitter important for business and for you as a student?

One simple answer: people are using Twitter at an increasing rate to learn about topics and ideas within the global marketplace of ideas.

I pulled some information from Alexa.com, which is a web data analysis site, to show graphically how Twitter’s reach has skyrocketed within the last year and a half.

Graph From Alexa

The graphic above shows the difference in daily reach between Twitter, New York Times, CNN and the Wall Street Journal. Twitter triumphs over the other three news sites. If you’re a marketing major, imagine the power you can have in changing consumer preference through Tweets. Delta Airlines, for example, monitors its presence on Twitter and will respond to unhappy customers. A Deloittee technology analysis explained that Twitter and other social media outlets put customers in control. Essentially, if people are pissed off about a product, they have the power to express their anger to other customers and potential customers.

Now what if you’re a finance or accounting major? Think that Twitter’s useless? Well, you should change your mindset. The Technology Review blog by MIT reported in early October that researchers from Indiana found that Twitter was 87.6% effective in predicting daily stock changes  of the Dow. Multiple accounting associations use Twitter to share job offerings and post contact information to get in touch with current employees Even the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the Government Accounting Standards Board use Twitter.

As you can see, businesses benefit from the use of Twitter. However, I digress and want to get back to you, the student, and talk about the benefits of Tweeting while in college.

I’ve Tweeted for the last two years (okay, year and three quarters) and can say that it’s influenced how I’m connected to local, national and global news. Now I do not want to put myself on a soapbox, but I feel that I’m more in-tune with current topics than some of my non-Tweeting peers. And I’m not the only person that feels this way. The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning just published an article, which I ironically found from a friend’s Tweet, about Twitter’s influence on college student engagement and course grades. As you can see below, there's evidence that use of Twitter was beneficial for college students. The point I’m trying to emphasize is that Twitter is more than a status update informing your friends about your bathroom schedule or what you’re going to microwave for dinner – Twitter is a way to learn about issues, opinions and overall news.

Twitter Engagement

Twitter and Grades

Finally, Twitter give you a chance to feel comfortable in your own skin. New York Times contributing writer Peggy Orenstein wrote a long piece in late July about expressing yourself through Twitter. Orenstein talked about her first Tweet and said “…distilling my personality provided surprising focus, making me feel stripped to my essence. It forced me, for instance, to pinpoint the dominant feeling as I sat outside with my daughter listening to E.B. White.” Through long hours in the library and gallons of coffee consumed during the semester, we as students tend to forget about life beyond academics. Like Orenstein, I too take 35 seconds out of my day and Tweet about my feelings, which in return helps me internalize my thoughts.

I'm so comfortable with sharing my thoughts that I'll give you the address to my Twitter account: http://twitter.com/zackzaban.

Whether you’re using it for advancing a business, informing yourself about local news, or simply sharing your feelings, there’s one universal thing you need to know about Twitter: JUST USE IT!