The Trouble With Using Twitter for Business

I genuinely feel quite bad about writing this post. I like Twitter a lot, I think it’s a great little service and as Dave alludes to it’s the kind of software that can be used for multiple reasons. Some people use it, as Twitter suggests, to tell their friends ‘what they are doing’ some use it update people about their blogs, others use it to find out problems on the Jubilee line. The fact it has lots of uses encouraged us to think about using it for the Sonys.

Myself, Helen and Sam work on the Sony Radio Academy Awards each year, mainly to operate the webcast. You see, the awards are always over-subscribed and quite often not many people from the radio stations that are nominated can come along, so for them, and anyone else interested we run a webcast of it. Now, whilst it would be easy to just plug in a feed of the ceremony, why just do that? Instead we create a special programme that includes a sort of pre-match show, commentary of the night live as people accept their awards, and then during the 40minute dinner bit we have lots of guests to talk to webcast-host Kevin Greening. It’s a bit stressful, but quite fun.

Each year we try and do new things to add value to the event for our viewers. This might be simple things like dynamically showing slides alongside the stream, having live polls or text-in’s so the station’s can wish their colleagues well as we interview them. This year we’ve got two nominees mob-blogging their day leading up to the event and we wanted to use Twitter to give people text updates of the winners as they’re announced.

We always have to be careful with what we do with the webcast as the people involved in the radio industry are aged from 12 to 90 and aren’t always as technically-savvy as we’d like. We therefore have to make everything very very easy. We felt using Twitter would be good on two levels – firstly it provided a valuable service to people who were already Twitter users, and secondly, in theory it seemed relatively simple for new users to subscribe using their phone. They should just have to text ‘follow sonys’ to the special number and away we’d go. Sadly it hasn’t really been that easy.

We decided to do a test with a mixture of existing Twitter users and people new to the system. Initially our main aim was to check whether our instructions were clear enough to test on the general public. With existing Twitter users it was fine, they were added quite easily. Those who were new to the system had lots of problems. Firstly the texts back from Twitter aren’t that easy to understand if you haven’t been briefed that the sender is using a system called Twitter first. This is because when you send a ‘follow sonys’ text and you’re a new user you get back – “Awesome! Please reply with your preferred Twitter username”. Then, once you’ve done this you get a text back saying “Welcome username! Have your friends send “FOLLOW username” to 40404 to get your updates. Send HELP to learn more.” Which, again is a bit odd to a new user, as they don’t know what Twitter really is, or why they should invite their friends. Additionally the number they’re getting back from Twitter isn’t neccessarily the number they texted to originally. Here in the UK we have a long dial number, rather than the 40404 shortcode.

However, the biggest problem was that most of the people who reigstered especially, whilst becoming Twitter users, were never added to the ‘sonys’ list. Which basically meant that whilst we were delivering new users Twitter, they weren’t delivering them to our list. The idea of getting them to text ‘follow sonys’ again seemed quite complex.

We’ve logged these faults with Twitter (eventually, their form kept timing out) last week, but they haven’t acknowledged them.

There is, of course, the argument that we should just put our hands in our pocket and use a proper SMS system rather than freeloading off someone else’s. This is something we could easily do, we’d just jump on one of the radio group’s existing systems, however we did like the idea of connecting to a more community-based SMS service rather than a flat traditional tool.

Whilst I’m sure Twitter will eventually sort themselves out when they get over these scaling problems, it does highlight the problem of using third parties for anything that you need an element of control over. For Twitter and other web properties it also highlights the fact that users (or potential users) might be using your system in alternative ways that are still as valuable (ie generates new users), but can they natively support their needs.

We will however be testing SMS updates, well, for existing Twitter users at least, at

3 thoughts on “The Trouble With Using Twitter for Business”

  1. I am, finally, old. I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about. It all sounds lovely, though, and I hope you enjoy it, whatever it is.

  2. I am having this exact same problem. Did you ever get to the bottom of it? It’s doubly frustrating because there’s no easy way to “test” the sign up process unless you have a huge pile of phones to work through.

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