Bringing the Twitter-like Experience to the Enterprise

Learning from the success people have had on Twitter, the short messaging service, a public affairs firm has begun using enterprise microblogging technology from Socialtext. It mirrors the Twitter experience, but for the purposes of internal, enterprise collaboration.

By C.G. Lynch
Fri, March 13, 2009

CIO — Many companies have utilized the power of Twitter — the short messaging service that enables discussions about current events, products and industry topics — for the purposes of marketing and customer service. But examples of bringing this technology, known as microblogging, into the enterprise for the purposes of collaboration remain nascent.

But Lisa Bertero Palmer, senior vice president of Davies, a public affairs firm, is in the process of rolling out an internal, Twitter-like experience for approximately 50 employees in geographically dispersed locations throughtout the country. The goal, so far, has been pretty simple.

"We've been using it as a way to vastly increase efficiency while cutting down on e-mail," Palmer says. "People will share pieces of knowledge or key actions they've taken throughout the day."

There are a few vendors that have tried to bring the Twitter-like experience into the enterprise, and Davies settled on Enterprise 2.0 vendor Socialtext — a company that takes Web 2.0 technologies and tailors them for business use.

The Palo Alto-based vendor recently released Socialtext Signals, a product that allows employees to share short messages and keep each other updated on business activities such editing a document, heading out for a business trip or meeting with a client.

Signals was not first to market in microblogging for the enterprise. Yammer, for instance, replicated the Twitter experience for the enterprise. But according to Ross Mayfield, president of Socialtext, Signals integrates with existing social technologies.

"There's a lot of standalone Twitter clones out there," Mayfield says. "The difference with what we've done is bring an integrated experience across social collaboration tools. The other ones are their own silo."

Signals works with Socialtext's flagship wiki product, an application that allows employees to jointly edit and read documents, as well as Socialtext People, which builds Facebook-like profiles for the enterprise. Other social software vendors, such as Six Apart and Automattic, have also added microblogging to their existing products.

Socialtext Signals
Socialtext Signals allows people to share information internally with a Twitter-like user interface.

Davies has been a customer of those core Socialtext apps, making the company a good candidate for the new technology.

An example of how it's being used?

Because Davies must track news that gets written about its clients, the company created pages within Socialtext to keep its employees updated on key stories. With Signals, employees can link to these articles if one seems particularly important. If they edit a wiki page on a document being composed for a client, that information is linked to in a "signal" as well.

As Palmer rolls out Signals, she says she has learned some key strategies. While social technologies in the consumer space often start at the fringes and work their way upward, enterprise offerings need immediate buy-in and endorsement from managers. If they start to use it, others will follow.

"It has to be a 'follow me' endeavor to integrate it into people's routine," she says. "We did orientations and training for leadership first."

Secondly, she says it's important to seed social tools with existing enterprise content so people have a baseline for sharing. If there aren't web pages to link to, there isn't anything to "signal" or reference.

Business technology leaders concerned with collaboration will be watching case studies like Davies' closely. A November Forrester report by Oliver Young, an analyst who researches Enterprise 2.0 technologies, cast doubt on the viability of enterprise microblogging just yet.

The size of microblogging messages (generally 140 characters or less) could be an issue.

"Due to message size constraints, microblogs provide very limited contextual information, and thus have limited use in business environments," the report noted. "Microblogs may become suitable for alerting, but less so for informing or gathering information."

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