Friday, August 21, 2009

Beyond Social Networking …

by Pawan Thampi

Airline policy prohibiting the use of cell phones on flights makes it impossible for passengers to inform people who may be waiting for them of any delays that occur during the flight. However, with the advent of Twitter and the introduction of wi-fi access on flights, passengers now have a way of communicating flight status to their friends and family. Let’s say on a flight from JFK to SFO international, passengers are informed of a 30 minute delay an hour before landing. Passengers with Twitter accounts could ‘tweet’ about the delay which in turn would send a text message to all their ‘followers’ who have chosen to receive updates on their phones, thereby saving their friends or families the trouble of waiting at the airport.

Twitter could also prove to be an invaluable tool when it comes to advertising. A corporation running a limited-time promotion on their products could update their Twitter profile with promotion details and contact their followers via SMS, irrespective of their location. This mechanism allows the corporation to get the message to consumers instantaneously. Traditional print advertising entails a delay between the creation of the marketing material and consumer awareness, since the consumers may not learn of the promotion till they visit the store. In some cases, the consumer learns of the promotion after it has ended. Advertising through Twitter makes the end consumer aware of promotions of interest in a timely manner and gives them the opportunity to take advantage of promotions that they may have otherwise missed out on.

The weakened job market also provides opportunity for Twitter to drive home the indispensability of social media networks. Job seekers who get updates on their cell phones from job sites with Twitter accounts of their own are more likely to learn about job openings first. It will not be surprising if the likes of and even professional headhunters resort to reaching out to their clients through Twitter.

Twitter really comes into its own in emerging markets where people prefer communicating through text messages rather than making phone calls. This cultural preference creates an environment that is perfect for the service sector to use Twitter as an advertising/communications tool. For example, very often remote villages in developing nations share only one doctor between them and clinics are understaffed leaving the doctors overwhelmed and unable to follow-up on basic but essential tasks like timely vaccination for children. With a single Twitter update, doctors could easily send reminders to multiple parents about the date on which children should be brought into the clinic for their shots.

Given its potency, Twitter comes with its own set of risks. As it gains in popularity, any negative press on Twitter is likely to damage a company’s reputation. The ability to ‘re-tweet’ (i.e., forwarding ’tweets’ to followers of one’s profile) exponentially increases the likelihood of bad press spreading like wildfire. To counter this threat, companies can invest in the establishment of a social media team tasked with managing public opinion on Twitter. Prompt and sincere responses to grievances from customers and the general public should help mitigate the threat of negative publicity through Twitter.

The inherent risks aside, Twitter can clearly evolve beyond being a social networking tool and change the way corporations do business. Corporations can benefit from the untapped potential of this tool, provided they learn to manage the risks involved in dealing with such a speedy and widespread communications tool.

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