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Twitter Alternatives That Are All Business

Twitter Alternatives That Are All Business

When Twitter launched in 2006, few people could have predicted how microblogging would change online communication. Today, microblogging, or short-form text updates posted to the Web, has exploded in popularity. As a result, a number of microblogging applications for the enterprise--Twitter alternatives that do just a bit more--have surfaced.

The latest example is Salesforce.com's recently announced Chatter, its new software aimed at connecting enterprise employees through personal profiles and status posts that can detail, for example, current projects or customer visits.

During a speech at the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff referenced the need for collaborative, business-focused tools: "I know more about these strangers on Facebook than I do about my own employees and what they're working on," he said. "I know when my friends went to the movies, but not when my VP of sales visited our top customer."

And that's why more companies are adopting microblogging tools in the workplace, analysts say. "[Microblogging] is fulfilling a need that e-mail can't really do. These fast-blast messages really help people stay in contact without using the heavier tools such as SharePoint," says Jeremiah Owyang, a partner and strategy consultant at Altimeter Group. "And one of the big things that's helpful is that these technologies can be used from mobile devices, so as people continue to travel and are on the road, it's easier for companies to keep them updated."

Read on to learn how three businesses are using microblogging successfully and four best practices for implementing it where you work. See our related story, "12 Microblogging Tools to Consider" for a list of useful microblogging tools that businesses are using today.

Use Case #1: St. Louis Public Radio

Why they did it: Tim Eby, general manager of St. Louis Public Radio (SLPR), was an early adopter of Twitter and "discovered the power of it in terms of communicating information, building community and sharing information," he says. When discussions arose about building a company intranet for the radio station, Eby aimed to make microblogging a part of it.

"Even though we have a small staff--around 33 employees--there were many silos built up across the department," he says. Microblogging, he hoped, would help get his staff talking and collaborating.

After evaluating several microblogging tools, Eby and his team decided on Socialtext's Signals, a microblogging tool that is accessed via a browser, mobile device or an Adobe AIR desktop application and is integrated with a wiki, social networking profiles and "activity streams" (which are similar to the Facebook News Feed).

Gaining buy-in: Adoption of the application was fairly quick, Eby notes, although there was some hesitation among staff members. "Even in an age when people are on Twitter and Facebook, there are some people who haven't embraced social media tools," he says. "Some were hesitant about exposing too much, so this allowed them to embrace a secure, internal tool in a comfortable environment."

To get the skeptics onboard with the project, Eby invited them to join the team responsible for choosing and testing the tools. Buy-in from upper management was just as important, he says. "Multiple departments have to buy into the project, it can't come from the top down or the bottom up," he says. "If you don't have everyone on board with the project--including the organization's leaders--the project is going to be difficult to adopt."

How they're using it: Eby and his staff at SLPR use Socialtext's app partly as a "watercooler" by sharing links to articles people have found interesting and as a way to cut down on e-mail blasts and "reply-alls."

For example, SLPR's receptionist received a call from a listener who heard an announcement on the radio about an event at a local high school and wanted to know more about it. Instead of sending an e-mail blast to all staff members, the receptionist used Socialtext's app to poll the staff, and received an answer in less than five minutes. "There was an immediate response, and we didn't have to clutter e-mail inboxes to get it," Eby says.

Eby also says microblogging has helped the radio station achieve more camaraderie and collaboration. "Our part-time staffers don't have company e-mail addresses, so traditionally they'd miss a lot of our communications," he says. "This tool allows us to communicate internally with them, and they can even update us on what they're doing from the field by sending messages securely through their phone."

Use Case #2: Motorola

Why they did it: With many of its staffers interested in social media sites like Twitter, Motorola decided to look into a new, internal type of communication that would be helpful to employees for disseminating and commenting on information.

The corporate communications department, for example, relied on e-mail to make announcements, says Rami Levy, distinguished member of the technical staff with Motorola's open-source technologies department. "Usually mass e-mails usually get deleted without people reading them, but using a microblogging tool has made people pay more attention and engage in the conversation," he says.

Motorola sought an open-source tool, which Levy says was a challenge because there are "few stable and secure options" available right now. Ultimately they chose a tool from StatusNet, and integrated it fully with the rest of their technology tools, he says. Employees can access it via their desktop, Web, mobile or e-mail.

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