The time has come. If you thought you could continue to ignore social media, and the change it's bringing to technology and culture, you can't.
The rate and pace of change that social networking services, led by Twitter, are bringing to the world of business are profound and will only quicken and deepen as time goes by. And it's more than just the typical "customer outreach" or the "you-need-to-have-a-presence" arguments that never seem to have real business implications connected to them. There are real-world, business process and IT changes that are happening because of Twitter, Facebook and others.
It's more than just the fact that Iranians protesting political developments in that country relied on Twitter as a significant communication device when the government shut down cell phone service. It's more than just celebrities using it as a vanity platform to communicate with their adoring flocks. It's about what it means for the enterprise, for the data center, for the call center. Here are just three examples of how Twitter and its competitors are impacting technology in business:
The Data Stream It's changing for businesses. How a company builds a real-time data stream, harnesses it and uses it will be a competitive differentiator. For both internal and external use, a data stream that a company can build through comments from, and interaction with, Twitter followers (or that it can build through its own open-source alternative to Twitter like Laconi.ca) provides challenge and opportunity. "Trending topics" can provide actionable intelligence in real time. Companies like People Browsr have realized this and have created nascent data mining technologies for business.
It's being used now, cheaply, as real-time CRM. Businesses that are early adopters are also able to use data from both the global Twitter stream and from their own lists to make real-time decisions about inventory, staffing levels and service issues. And People Browsr, for example, has combined both data mining from the stream and geo data to provide visual intelligence as well.
Communication Businesses can't do without telephones. They can't do without email. Can't do without a web site. Can they do without Twitter? "We think of it the same way as we think of a telephone," Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, said Tuesday at the 140 Characters Conference in New York. His company uses Twitter for both internal and external communications.
Hsieh says Zappos.com began using Twitter as a way to communicate between employees for social reasons, but soon expanded its use.
Going forward, businesses won't be able to do without a social networking stream. Twitter is an important place to start, because it combines communication through SMS text messaging, the web, desktop applications and smart phone applications. Twitter is where people are, and where they communicate. (Laconi.ca, though still in development and a little raw, offers the same.) And businesses need to speak the language of their customers. Stowe Boyd, a veteran of collaboration technology development, is in the middle of working on the the Microsyntax project - - which is attempting to smooth out that language on 140-character platforms. It's worth following.
Developer Talent Developers go to where the money is, or where they think it will be. Just ask Microsoft, which has built the largest developer ecosystem in the world based on its market-leading software platforms. And when developers go to where the money is, that's where innovation starts to build, that's where products are built and that's where change begins to take place. Developers have already begun to move to the iPhone platform in staggering numbers (just based on what's available at the iTunes App Store.) A strong and growing number of those applications are focused on social networking.
These areas aren't about marketing, or feel-good business techniques. They are about performance, reliability, scalability, flexibility and investment in IT. If you're a technology solution provider and your customers aren't planning or taking action on these changes, but their competitors are, your customers will be steps behind in the very near future.