"Learn to Twitter if you want to stay connected"

Working Ideas

Learn to Twitter if you want to stay connected

by Donna J. Tuttle

As a chief inspiration officer for San Antonio’s Sales by 5, Nan Palmero is a technology power user. So when he flipped open his Dell laptop last week and saw vertical lines, he shifted into uber-geek mode. He tracked down a YouTube video that displayed the exact problem and called a Dell support technician. “I wanted to email him the video so he could troubleshoot quickly,” Palmero says.

The specialist couldn’t accept an e-mail and, instead, started to submit Palmero’s request into that black hole, otherwise known as the repair request process. Annoyed, Palmero sent out a Tweet on social networking channel Twitter.com

“Dear Dell, I could show your support team EXACTLY what’s wrong with my XPS M1330 if they had youtube access. Apparently, it is a common prob,” Palmero tweeted.

Immediately, Palmero got a response: “@nanpalmero What’s going on with your Dell XPS? Is there something I can assist with?”

Ten minutes later, a technician fixed Palmero’s issue and one of Dell’s Twitter team followed up to ensure his satisfaction.

Palmero’s experience hardly is an anomaly. Corporations all over the world are responding to customer service issues with staff that monitors channels like Twitter and Facebook. It is another avenue to preserve their company’s image and promote their brands.

Receiving excellent and immediate customer service is only one reason to Twitter. Getting familiar with a medium that is taking the world by storm is another.

Trust me, I understand how uncomfortable this makes you. I already struggle to answer my workday e-mails and exigent text messages from one of my four kids: “R u making dinner??” Now, I’m supposed to track hundreds of alternately witty and mundane Tweets? “I just don’t get it. And, for that matter, who cares?” is the collective response from many first-time Twitter users.

Tim Walker, an Austin-based editor and blogger for Hoover’s, says we should care. In a presentation that hit the audience over the head with a Web 2.0 two-by-four, Walker posed the question: “How new are the social media?” His answer: Not new at all. In fact, Walker argues that one of history’s first Tweeters was the late theologian Martin Luther, who died in 1546, a full four and a half centuries before Twitter became a phenomenon. When Luther nailed a copy of the “95 Theses” to the door of a church and the message was printed, copied and distributed like wildfire, he was using a form of social media, Walker says.

Twitter, today, is no different from the earliest letters, telegraph messages, and e-mails. Historically, people always have pressed for new ways to connect and communicate faster, and especially on channels that fly under the radar of the mainstream. Twitter is to computer users what CB radio has been to truckers and lighthouses have been to ship captains.

“Twitter is an easy way to interact with your community,” says Jennifer Navarrete, one of the founders of Social Media Club San Antonio and a social media consultant. “If you are a business, people are talking about you — good or bad and if you’re not participating in that conversation, you’re not promoting or problem solving. Likewise, if they’re not talking about you at all, then they should be.”

If you’re ready to take the leap, here are some steps you to get you started:

• Look up www.commoncraft.com (at the recommendation of Palmero) to watch How-To Twitter videos, which are simple step-by-step explanations using stick figures.

• Go to www.twitter.com and sign up for an account. It’s free. For your settings, make sure you click “See all @ replies” so you can view responses.

• Download a Twitter application to your iPhone or BlackBerry.

• Jennifer Navarrete (@epodcaster) offers up this starter pack of people to follow in San Antonio: @alanweinkrantz, @kr8ter, @calamityjen, @Pandaran, @doing media.

• On the national scene try: @chrisbrogan, @Twalk, @nanpalmero, @BryanPerson and a few I find interesting: @taxgirl, @incspring, @johnlithgow and @iamneurotic.

• Check out tools like Twittersearch, geotweet, and Twittergrader to find out who is Tweeting locally and what they’re chirping about. Use the Tweetdeck to organize your followers into groups like: work, family and current issues.

Hoover’s Walker likens Twitter to a cocktail party, and, indeed, the awkwardness of walking into the virtual lounge is palpable. It’s noisy in there. In one corner, advertising and marketing gurus are jockeying for position by throwing up posts about new Twitter tools. In another corner firms are announcing new products. In between, artists, parents, and animal lovers are getting chummy over life issues and popular movies. There are online snobs who liken novices to “Twitter Tots” and grimace at Twitter blunders through emoticons. Users need to find their own groove.

Like any human interaction, the beauty lies in the serendipitous connections. A business contact hooks you up with a cheaper, more efficient product. A like-minded parent eases your worries. A company representative is so warm and funny that you reconsider your opinion of that giant firm. Or, you simply make a new friend. Twitter is a human knowledge database standing, ready and waiting on your front lawn 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s an interactive encyclopedia and global support system on steroids.

Marc Warnke, an Idaho-based author and speaker on social media (@marcwarnke), says this: “It’s critical to understand that Twitter can be a business tool, but if you come to the table with only your business in mind, you will never be set a place to eat,” he writes in his blog. “If someone jumped up on a table and yelled his or her pitch (at a cocktail party), it would be very inappropriate... walk lightly around self promotion. Be helpful, funny and that person who people want to hang around with.”

For your professional life, Navarrete says consider Twitter a virtual Chamber of Commerce mixer or industry networking seminar. “You only go to those once a month, and if you miss it, you miss out on a great chance to meet new people and make new connections,” she says. “This is a 24/7 networking opportunity, it’s free, and it allows you to get to know people before you meet in person. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met via Twitter and by the time I meet them in person, we’re hugging like long lost friends.”

Last month, Navarrete and colleagues kicked off the first ever San Antonio Social Media Breakfast (http://sanantonio.socialmediaclub.org). San Antonio is the 15th city in the country to form this type of breakfast group where marketers, educators, business owners get together to learn something new about social media and share information. I’ll be there. Look me up @writeontime, and we’ll plod along on this journey together. Not interested. Don’t worry. That crazy new thing called Internet e-mail? It was just a passing fad.

The Working Ideas column by staff writer Donna J. Tuttle focuses on workplace issues, strategies and trends and will appear occasionally in the Small Business Weekly section.

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