Tweet this! Is Twitter actually useful?

Most of us think of Twitter as a kind of silly application that lets people say things like “John Brian is preparing for the robot uprising” or “Brad thinks the refs blew it in the Caps/Flyers game 7.” It’s chief purpose, so far, is entertainment, with a dash of TMI thrown in.

But lately, I’ve been wondering.

A couple months ago, at South by Southwest, an interview with Mark Zuckerberg famously went awry when the Twitter-feuled audience first started heckling the interviewer, then eventually took over the microphones. (If you are interested, check out this particularly thoughtful account of the event, which includes an amazing video of the interview with a twitter overlay).

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a different conference (the IA Summit) where Twitter was again used by the crowd, but this time in a far more sanguine way, to share information amongst the audience and make insightful comments about the presentations. It probably helped that the audience and the speakers actually knew each other, even if only passingly in some cases.

I got enough value from following the Summit’s twitter feed that I left thinking, could this actually be of value in a corporate setting?

After all, I’ve been to plenty of all-staff meetings, or large team meetings, where people are already bringing their laptops. The larger and longer the meeting, the more likely people are trying to at least keep an eye on their email. So, the technology is already in place in many offices to try adopting a twitter feed. And what is the value of twitter here?

A second, quiet, channel of information.

The bigger the room, the less anyone wants to interrupt the presenter’s flow to ask a question. The more likely the group is to simply go with the flow. If information they need isn’t provided, they might (if they are lucky) get a chance to ask a question afterwards, or they have to spend extra time cornering the presenter. Having a quiet alternate channel of communication is incredibly helpful. In particular, here are a few of the things that you might use twitter for:

  1. Request a resource: “Can someone tell me where to find the .pdf that Michael is talking about?”
  2. Expand on the content: “In addition to the companies listed, Arlene and I have started talking to Widget Co about this”
  3. Gauge interest: “I was hoping to hear more about the bonus program. Anyone else?”
  4. Brief side conversations: “Alan, should we be using this tool for Project Z? Looks like it might be helpful.”

In this way, having a second, quiet channel of information might increase the usefulness of a large meeting, or even help positively shape the direction of conversation without grinding things to a halt.

What do you think?

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