Has Twitter any role in business continuity?

Get free weekly news by e-mailCan Twitter save the day? By Steve Dance.

Although I consider myself ‘tech savvy’, I have to admit as far as social networking and Twitter in particular go, I just didn’t get it – particularly in a business context. I just could not see how ‘Tweeting’ had any place at all in a commercial context. So, when I saw an example of Twitter being used for customer communication in a business recovery context I decided to dig a little deeper.

Most people know what Twitter is and the basics of how it works: you have a Twitter account, you post messages (called Tweets and some people ‘follow’ you (if they’re interested in what you are posting). Unlike blogging, Twitter restricts you to publishing quick, frequent, 140 character messages. Your ‘followers’ then pick up alerts via their Twitter home page, their elected email account or their mobile telephone, if the phone and their network provider support it. That’s all well and good, but what’s the point of it in a business context?

This week I got my answer. During the course of gathering updates to our business interruption statistics database, I came across an interesting news article that lead me to a little further research, that I thought I should share with the readership of Continuity Central: the news item related to a power failure that hit an IT Services company called Codero, based in Phoenix in the USA.

What sparked my interest was that Codero used Twitter as a means to keep its customers informed of progress and to deal with specific customer issues during the recovery phase of an incident. The firm had to recover hundreds of servers and some customers (as you might expect) had more problems that others in getting back up and running. Much of the customer interaction (and the logging of it) was managed via the company’s Twitter account.

So why was Twitter a good way for Codero to support and communicate with its customers during its recovery activities? A little further research shows some real advantages of using Twitter in this way:

1. Those who want to follow you just need to set up a Twitter account themselves and then opt to follow you. Therefore you don’t have to remember or maintain contact details for each of your customers.

2. The person following your tweets can also elect to receive updates to an email address of their choosing or their mobile telephone. The tweeter has no need to know where to send the message the receiver chooses the delivery media according to their needs and preference;

3. The Direct Message facility allows a tweeter and a follower to have a private conversation that’s not on the public message log which is displayed on the tweeters Twitter page.

4. Twitter also maintains a complete history of Tweets and follower responses, so when the dust dies down you have a log of all of the conversations as a record of your customer conversation via Twitter.

So, to implement a customer communications channel in the event of a major incident you now have six simple steps to implementing a basic mass communications tool for incident management:

1. Open a Twitter account for your company;

2. Decide which individuals in your company will create tweets;

3. Advise your customers in advance that you have set this up and advise them to create their own Twitter accounts;

4. If an incident strikes:
i. Send a Tweet via the Incident Management Twitter page to alert the incident management team;

ii. Have a procedure in place to update your website and any pre-recorded message service to announce that you are in incident management mode and direct visitors and callers to go to your Twitter page where they will be able to see updates at the time they occur;

5. Even if a caller or visitor does not have a Twitter account they can be set up in minutes (the Twitter help function is quite good in this respect);

6. Send Tweets as and when required and your customers will be fully informed of events as they occur, receiving the updates on the device and channel of their choosing.

You could, of course, set up another Twitter account for the specific use of the incident management team to help them communicate with each other. Here you set up an Incident Management Twitter account that all members of the incident management can update it as well as follow. This way anyone in the team can create a tweet that can be received by all other members of the team.

Does this spell the end of the incident notification system? Probably not for everyone (although it is a good public communications tool) and there are a few ‘bells and whistles’ that might be important to some that it does not have. But Twitter, of course, is free which raises the standard in what needs to be available to warrant a paid for solution.

Basically we’ve seen from a live example that Twitter, a free social networking system, can be used as an effective tool in a corporate incident management situation. It has quite unique features that are provided by the principle of ‘following’ that support low maintenance communication and interaction with a large audience which make it suitable for many types of organization:

* All types of commercial organization could use it to communicate with their customers during an incident;

* Local government organizations could use it to provide community updates for different types of emergency;

* Diverse, geographically separated teams can communicate and collaborate without the need for specialised applications and devices.

Much of the log still remains on the Codero Twitter page and it makes interesting reading (You’ll also see how you can click on a tweet and link to the follower’s response that initiated it).

To see the log on Codero’s Twitter page, follow this link.

Author: Steve Dance, managing partner, SDPL Solutions.
steve.dance@sdplsolutions.co.uk

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Note: Continuity Central uses Twitter as a means of disseminating daily news updates and also providing information during any major incidents. Follow us at http://twitter.com/continuitycent

Reader comments

While I appreciate the commentary Mr. Dance makes about Twitter, one caveat I did not see in the article relates to Twitter’s own availability and reliability.

1. I’ve been tweeting personally since July 2009, and there have been periods where Twitter is completely down and not available.

2. I have seen periods of tweets that have ‘disappeared’ (Tweets over a certain period that were posted to Twitter and that were live on Twitter simply vanish – I had a block of tweets to me from many users over about a two week period last December just fall off. There were enough unique users that I’m sure all of them didn’t delete their prior tweets at about the same time).

3. And even when the service is up, there are periods when due to heavy usage for given users it is not available – the beloved ‘failwhale’.
So while it is great for the flexibility it offers, companies considering it need to be aware of not only the benefits, but also its shortcomings.

Brian Jilek

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I concur completely with Mr. Jilek’s comments and would like to add some additional thoughts:

The private sector may have different concerns than the public sector, which may drive a different decision-making process. For example, the private sector audience is fixed (a known list of employees) and furthermore opting out is far less desirable, or even not acceptable. Moreover, security is a large concern as private companies have brands to protect and thus cannot afford an internal message getting into the wrong hands or without proper context.

I suggest we make a split between the model and the service. With some modifications (like removal of the opt-out capability) the Twitter model can be applicable. There are circumstantial needs for mass communication vehicles in the private sector. The current service (from Twitter, anyway), however, requires some work. Availability, reliability, security, administration, and more come to mind and I’m sure there are more.

Perhaps a ‘Twitter for Business’ is where this needs to go. I know there are business-oriented mass communication services available but none seem to have adopted the social networking model. Conversely the social networking services en masse have yet to find their niche in the business world. There is applicability in the overlap, but I think this has not yet been fully explored.

Dan Holmes

•Date: 24th March 2010 • Region: World •Type: Article •Topic: Crisis communications
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UPDATED 7th APRIL





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