Twitterville, by Shel Israel, is not only the first major Twitter book release to date, but it is also an important work that directly analyses how the rapid expansion of a network that is uniquely dominated by professionals and consumers has allowed the business world to tap into real-time conversations about their products and services, and react accordingly.
It’s not always good news, of course, and the near-immediacy of Twitter lends itself as an outstanding ‘damage control’ tool, with many organisations now utilising Twitter both as a way to monitor and track company support issues and complaints (via keyword searches on Twitter search) and as a means to quickly respond. Naturally, this is of major benefit to the consumer, too. After all, if you’re going to be appeased, you’d rather it happened right now, and for free.
(Thankfully, the days of spending hours and hours on expensive technical support hotlines to foreign countries may well be nearing an end.)
Following opening chapters explaining his own introduction to Twitter and a fairly in-depth (and interesting) piece about the creation of the company, Israel provides casebook examples of where big business (Dell, Jetblue, even Comcast) has utilised Twitter to radically improve their customer support, and reaped enormous benefits. Others (American Airlines, U-Haul), largely through ignorance, have been less fortunate.
This ‘conversation age’, and the ripple effect that an open public network like Twitter uniquely provides, means that (for the first time in our history) the user is actually in control. No longer do companies have the time and power to formulate creative press releases that bend potentially disastrous events in their favour. Somebody is always on the scene, and that person – through their mobile phone and a service like Twitter – can do a lot of damage.
And a lot of good. Israel writes about how the simple hashtag has revolutionised the way we approach a common cause (and fund-raise), and how intelligent use of social media has allowed small companies to raise brand awareness internationally. Big business, too, benefits from being seen to provide a more personal touch on a local level. The ‘ripple effect’ that a mechanism like the retweet provides means that you cannot just concern yourself about one guy and his fifty followers, because everybody they are following – and everybody they are following – can quickly be made aware of that really stupid thing that your company has done.
Further chapters look at how Twitter can work wonders on your personal branding, the impact (positive and negative) that social media is having on the newspaper industry, the darker side of microblogging, as well as a (brief) section covering basic Twitter tips and tricks.
The book is packed with anecdotes, many of which come via re-submissions of actual tweets, plus the tags of the tweeter. This is incredibly refreshing. Even today people are incredibly cagey about sharing their email addresses publically, but we’re encouraged to do this with a service like Twitter. If you like what somebody has said in Twitterville, you can hook up with them in just a few moments. How cool is that?
My only real criticism is that Twittercism doesn’t get a mention. Maybe in the follow-up? Despite that oversight, this is a superb read for business leaders, large and small, and is interesting and relevant enough to be appealing to anybody with more than a casual interest in Twitter and social media. It is a huge part of everybody’s future, after all.
(Disclaimer: I was fortunate enough to be sent a preview copy of the manuscript for Twitterville and an advance copy of the book. This had no bearing on my opinion and my review is an honest and unbiased account.)