3 Reasons a CIO Should Care About Twitter

By Chris Curran

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The media are all over Twitter. It was recently the subject of a cover story in Time. Del Jones (@jonesdel on Twitter), USA Today’s leadership reporter, wrote a story a few weeks ago on capitalism vs. socialism using Twitter as his only source for information and quotes. The Wall Street Journal offered its readers (your boss, your peers, your customers?) a How to Twitter primer recently.

If all the buzz in the mass media isn’t enough to get you interested in Twitter, here are three solid business reasons why CIOs should devote some time to learning more:

Get Targeted Insights Faster - Today, we often turn to Google to start the process of answering a question. It is great to offer pointers to established sites and articles. The downside is that a site or author needs to have established itself to be listed prominently in a Google search since Google is reputation-based. Some of the smartest people I meet haven’t devoted themselves to publishing or publicity that gets them a high Google ranking. But they are willing to share their experience and make themselves available for legitimate conversations.

Enter Twitter. Anyone can post their 140-character question, idea or comment on any topic. While the stream is uncensored and unfiltered, it is highly searchable. And because responses come in real time, it’s a channel that is particularly suited for time-sensitive information.

Participate in Social Media Innovation - Chief marketing officers are falling over themselves trying to get smart about Twitter and other social media technologies. Can a CIO afford to be left out of a conversation about generating revenue using technology?

Over two-thirds of Twitter’s traffic doesn’t come from its website. Instead, through the magic of their open application programming interface (API), hundreds of startups, hobbyists and hackers have developed Twitter-based tools to handle everything from automatically following people based on keywords you provide to automatically unfollowing someone if they unfollow you and everything in between.

There are two things that the CIO and his or her team are uniquely qualified to explore here. First, every organization can learn from the open API and the innovation that follows. Similar innovation is happening with the Apple iPhone and the AppStore, except that Apple has final approval of apps that make it on the iPhone. Twitter-based applications and mashups have no such limitations except for a limit on how many calls to the API can be made per hour to help manage traffic. Seeing what others have created can spark your thinking about what data and services your organization might open up to its important audiences.

Secondly, the availability of Twitter’s API may present a direct opportunity for you and your company’s brand and products. Is there a way to utilize Twitter to support customer service (see @ComcastCares), promotions, order tracking, etc?

Expand Your Professional Network - The initial explosion of social media properties―MySpace, Facebook, and now Twitter―has come from the popular media. In Twitter’s case, much has been made about Aston Kutcher and Oprah, although in Oprah’s case, she doesn’t even do her own tweeting. Not very compelling for a business leader, I know.

The question is: as Twitter participation stabilizes will a valuable professional community emerge? There are some early signs that a viable CIO community exists on Twitter. At this point, I’ve identified over 70 CIOs across 20 industries. You can keep tabs on the growing community at http://www.ciodashboard.com/cio-twitter-dashboard/. Some of the CIOs tweeting include NASA’s CIO, Linda Cureton (@curetonl), a Dell IT SVP Vic Fetter (@vpfetter) and Harvard Medical School’s CIO John Halamka (@jhalamka).

Over the past three months, I have added at least 10 people to my IT leadership network. In addition, I have connected with a high profile industry luminary who I have been trying to meet for a few years. I just had a Twitter debate regarding how business leaders perceive IT investments with three colleagues, @PeterKretzman, @ITGEvangelist and @wmmonroe. I interact with these professionals almost daily and although I have never met them personally consider each of these people to be part of my new social-media driven, professional network.

Begin Your Exploration

You can choose to explore the Twitterverse yourself or delegate it. Personally, I would recommend trying it yourself for a while so you can call the bluff of people making uninformed comments. Here’s how to go about it:


First, you have to get a Twitter account. In fact, you may want to get two, one for business and one personal. I know a CIO, an avid poker player, who started with only one account to interact with his card playing friends. Once his professional connections found him on Twitter (see http://www.ciodashboard.com/social-media/are-there-any-real-cios-in-the-twitterverse/ for more on finding people), he decided to create a second account to separate his IT-related professional conversations from his poker, sports, and other conversations.

Choose a User Name and Profile

You will need to choose a user name. I suggest something with your name and initials versus “CIOdude” or some other clever moniker if you want to be taken seriously. Once you’ve signed up, you will need to do two more things. First, write a short biography in the Twitter settings page. This is important so that you can be found by search engines and tools. List your title and name of your company and anything else that describes your interests and will fit in the allotted space. Second, you will need to replace the generic icon with a photo. This makes things much more personal and again, tells people you are a human, not an auto-generated feed or marketer.

Follow 21 People

You need to learn about who else is out there. Here is a basic recipe for following the first 21 people. If you are already on Twitter, make sure you have mixed in some people from each of the categories:

Employees from your firm (3); Employees from competitors (3); Customers of yours or those who comment on your products/category (3); Peers within/across industries (3); Consultants/vendors you use (3); Leaders in topics that you care about (3); and General and/or industry news (3).

To find people, you will need to use a site that searches Twitter bios (http://search.twitter.com/advanced is a good place to start). You can also search for topics using keywords (company names, product names, etc.) and click through to look at the person’s bio.

Search for a Hot Topic

In addition to following the posts of your 21 “tweeps”, you will also want to follow a few keyword searches. The easiest way to do this is to download one of the integrated Twitter applications, such as TweetDeck, based on the Adobe AIR platform. It allows you to view the posts from all of those you are following and several searches in one window. If you don’t want to download anything, you can also use a browser-based Twitter search tool like TweetGrid.

Now, for the first week, set aside 15-20 minutes a day around lunch or end of the day to observe. At some point, some post will compel you to respond with a post of your own. Don’t hesitate, do it! You might actually enjoy it.

Some say Twitter has already peaked. Noted tech writer Mike Elgan asks Who Killed Twitter? in a recent Datamation.com article. He cites statistics from Harvard, Neilsen, HubSpot and others that show Twitter’s growth tapering off and that a large portion of users are stagnant. I believe that Twitter’s growth numbers are slowing for two reasons: people got tired of reading and writing answers to “What are you doing now?”; and people expected the sizzle of MySpace and Facebook.

This growth and tapering off is a product of Twitter v1. What is emerging now is Twitter v2 with people answering a new question “What am I thinking now?” Combined with the API innovation, Twitter v2 presents an exciting time for more trusted, more topical and more social experiences for professionals and individuals.

Chris Curran is CTO at Diamond Management and Technology Consultants in Chicago. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/cbcurran.