I was never too sure about Twitter.  A few years back I considered it the least useful of the social networks.  Not as insightful as Facebook, nor as business focussed as Linkedin.  But I’ve long since come around to the power of the Tweet.  The sheer weight of information available through Twitter is breathtaking, and for the past couple of years it’s been my bread and butter data source.

With Twitter turning off its API’s, this might of course all be changing, with the data fire hose becoming more like a private swimming baths.  But for now Twitter is still at the top of the food chain, and the below top tips hold true.

Predicting the future

That’s a pretty bold claim, but it’s not unfounded.  By tapping into the Twitter fire hose and evaluating reported symptoms, pharma companies are able to predict outbreaks of disease a good two weeks before they’re announced by the World Health Organisation.  What does this mean in terms of revenue?  Two week’s worth of pre-emptive medication marketing and sales.  That’s what.

Another great example is computer hardware manufacturers – by looking at reports of hardware failures on Twitter, such as slow loading times, black outs or flickering screens, most hardware experts will be able to evaluate the problem and suggest a solution before issues become fatal to the end user.  This not only gives providers the opportunity to build strong relationships with their customers, but also facilitates the selling of hardware fixes.

These are just two examples, but with a little imagination and pro-active thinking there are no doubt thousands more.

Sharing graph data

Need to showcase trend data or financial metrics in 148 characters or less?  Well Twitter has just the solution.  https://datacollective.org/sparkblocks/ allows you to input values into a form field (using space bar as the divider) and churn out a corresponding bar charts that can then be copied and pasted into Twitter.  Great for giving your Tweets some business gravitas, but also useful for generating 1980’s style cityscapes.

Talking in tongues

A wise man once said, “A picture’s worth a thousand words, but a symbol’s worth 10 characters or thereabouts”.  We all know the standard smileys, but did you know there’s a whole plethora of symbols out there to help you articulate your Tweets and cut down on your character count.  Check out http://www.simbolostwitter.com/p/english.html for the full range and have a think about how they can add value to your own communication strategy.

Employee engagement

We’re fast approaching the end of two of the largest sporting events in peace time Europe, and social media has been a huge part of their success.  We’ve seen how athletes have given unprecedented public access to the Games, but behind the scenes social media has had a massive role to play, and I’ve been lucky to be a part of it.  With 4,000 catering staff to recruit back in October 2011, keeping staff engaged through to summer 2012 was always going to be hard work.  To meet this challenge we created the Be More Than a Spectator campaign.  Supported by a specially created website, the campaign relied heavily on Twitter to keep staff informed, engaged and turning up to work on time.  Social media quickly became pivotal to staff communications, with the majority of conversations taking place through Twitter or private messaging on Facebook.

Did the social approach to staff engagement work?  An average large event (such as Royal Ascot or The Open Championship) will have a staff no show rate of 10%.  For the Olympics and Paralympics we experienced an average no show rate of 1% throughout.  So I’d say so.

Share the love (Even if that includes your competition)

Here’s the great thing about Twitter.  Give people something of value and they’ll keep coming back to you, even if that something of value belongs to one of your competitors.  Like a digital equivalent to Miracle on 34th Street, by recommending the best solutions for your fan base and not necessarily for your pocket, you build your own reputation for integrity and customer care and open up further opportunities for sales later down the line.

Look at it another way – if a critical mass of people are asking you for product advice on Twitter and you don’t have that product in stock, you’ll either look like a great supplier by referring a company who does, or incompetent, by admitting you don’t have the product and don’t know where to get it.  Better yet, customer requests should act as an impetus to you stocking up your shelves with in demand products.  So make sure you keep those communication channels open.