business execs are singing the praises of Twitter, a new social networking tool that may be the best thing for employee connectivity since the BlackBerry. Since its launch in May 2007, the free service has attracted the likes of presidential hopeful Barack Obama and Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen. It’s now pretty much the only way to contact Tony Hsieh, CEO of billion-dollar shoe retailer Zappos.
Twitter aims to achieve hyper-connectivity by filling in the gaps between emails and blog posts with short snippets chronicling users’ up-to-the-minute thoughts, feelings and activities. Users compose the 140-character messages from their cellphones. They are accompanied by a photo, and transmitted to the mobile devices of their contacts, dubbed “followers.” Although it’s possible to send a reply, it’s more common for followers to simply post “tweets” of their own, creating a virtual news feed of status updates.
Virgin Mobile Canada’s chief marketing officer, Nathan Rosenberg, has been Twittering with his tight-knit team for a year. He says the constant stream of tidbits is an effective way for managers to experience the daily highs and lows of their employees, and address concerns before they become major issues. “If you’re following someone, you know what they’re up to, and the instantaneousness of that communication is fan-
tastic,” he says.
Sending a Tweet is a bit like sending a group email. But by mixing the banal (tim_ b is “jonesing for a coffee”) with the more pertinent (lilyl23 is “stressed about the big proposal!”), Rosenberg says Twitter taps into the current generation’s tendency to “blend every aspect of their lives.”
Still, if more work-
places are to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, Rosenberg says managers will have to abandon conventional notions of distance between employer and employee. Getting constant updates on the CEO’s thoughts and activities—such as Hsieh’s recent post about a nasty bout of food poisoning-can humanize the boss more than some people want. M
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