By helping staff get answers to questions, keep informed, and build cohesive team culture, microblogging provides a big communications impact in a few characters.
Microblogging may provide the most intriguing evidence of the value of social tools in companies. If Twitter-like functionality is little more than "wasting time on social media," as skeptics might claim, one has to wonder why microblogging has already found a home enhancing communications and productivity in thousands of companies. Here at Igloo we're no exception. Microblogging is an invaluable tool for us for real-time communication and information sharing. And we always know when there are treats in the kitchen.
What is microblogging?
So how is microblogging different from blogging, instant messaging, or email? The most basic difference from blogging is length. Twitter's 140-character message length is well known, but that's not an absolute requirement. Igloo's microblogging app, for example, doesn't enforce a hard character limit, so you needn't worry about that 141st character, but training and the norms of online culture help encourage microblog posts to be short and to the point.
Microblogging has three core values for organizations:
- Sharing timely (and often time-limited) information: "There are doughnuts in the kitchen!" or "Our town hall meeting starts in 30 minutes. Please post your questions."
- Sharing small amounts of information: "Check out this really interesting article on applying content strategy to enterprise social tools."
- Facilitating conversations among multiple people: Stephen posts a question about an upcoming product launch. Kelly replies with as much information as she has, and Christine to invite her to the conversation to contribute what she knows as well. Afterward, when Taylor searches the intranet for info on the product launch, that microblog conversation comes up and answers his questions, too.
While instant messaging can be done among groups, messages are most commonly sent between two people, and the content isn't accessible to anyone else. Depending on the tool used and the settings, the conversation may not be recorded at all. With microblogs, two people can be included, or a team, or the entire company can see the messages. Valuable information shared in those conversations can be found later, and posts will be in order so it's easy to follow what was discussed. For example, on Twitter retweeting helps share insightful information from someone you follow to those who follow you. Similar concepts exist in corporate microblogging, allowing you to repost something from the Marketing channel to Corporate or Sales channels. You can also turn this feature off per-post for sensitive information.
We don't need to explore all the reasons people use email. But we will highlight that cutting way down on inbox clutter is one of the most useful aspects of microblogging. So much of what we email about could be handled with a quick chat, and microblog posts won't get accidentally buried and forgotten at the bottom of the inbox.
Multi-person conversations are threaded in microblogs, so are also much tidier and easier to follow, especially for those who are brought in partway through. (No need to search for the beginning or read "bottom up".) Even images or attachments can be included inline in the conversation, so you can find everything you need where you expect it.
What is microblogging useful for?
We've touched on other tools for which microblogging can be a viable replacement, but when you start typing that quick message, what can you really accomplish?
Ask questions. It's amazing how much more productive we can be when we have the ability to just ask a question when it comes up. Now, if you need to ask the person who sits next to you, fantastic, but if you need to ask someone on the other side of the country, or the world, that's trickier. Or maybe you have a question and don't know who the right person to ask is. Microblog it, including the relevant channels, and your odds of getting the information you need quickly go way up. And it's easy to add in another person to the conversation as required, without the dreaded "Reply All" effect. This is just as effective when asking for help, too.
Quick status updates. Information that's timely and relevant now, whether it's "Doughnuts in the kitchen!" or "Please review this latest version of the Marketing budget before the meeting at 2pm." You can also announce good news, like a deal that closed, a great article your company is featured in, or the results of your office food bank drive.
Social interactions. Easy and open socializing is an important part of developing and maintaining company culture. It helps to cement a collaborative attitude among teams, and leads to serendipitously surfacing important information in casual conversations. Whether these interactions take place between colleagues walking to the coffee machine or on the intranet doesn't really matter. The important thing is that they happen, and microblogging enables that, regardless of where people are or what they have going on. (Igloo's mobile experience is great, too, so you can easily dash off a thought even while on the go.)
Sharing content. There's too much information out there: on the internet and on your intranet. One way of managing this is a network of curators. Having a bunch of people sifting information and sharing the good stuff enables more people to have access to the interesting, the educational, or just the fun stuff. Microblogging enables you to share everything from informative article links and cute photos to presentation decks and updated policy documents.
Request attention. As noted, there's too much information out there, and emails get buried. By microblogging we can draw attention to content that's important or interesting now. We can request feedback or solicit comments on newly published content, and as we've previously discussed, the sooner content gets engagement activity after it's published, the more likely it is to grow and maintain the conversation.
Strategic sharing. We've all been victims of email trails where the instigator added everyone and their dog "just in case." With microblogging, you can vanquish this behaviour. Igloo's microblogging apps enables you to fully customize to which channels you broadcast, including a single person, a cross-functional selection of people, your team, or "Global Sales." And as the conversation progresses, new people (and channels) can be added to contribute relevant information, and those who are no longer involved can stop following the post.
What makes microblogging extra useful?
Like all great tools, microblogging can have some uses and benefits that may not be immediately obvious. As we hinted at earlier re. being able to post from your phone, it's easy to microblog on the go. But it's better than that. You can actual create a microblog from anywhere in your Igloo. There's a handy button in your personal bar, so as soon as you've added that report, let your team know. Got a question about some numbers in a spreadsheet, ask for clarification. And the ability to "reference current page" adds a handy dynamic link to the page/document you're currently viewing.
As much as microblogging can limit the need for other, less efficient, forms of communication, it can also work the other way. For example, if a lot of questions come up in a microblog thread, someone can start a wiki to record the answers to them. Or if you've microblogged teaser photos from the holiday party, you can then write up a full blog post so everyone can relive the magic. And then of course you can microblog the URLs to that content to let everyone know.
One of the most powerful benefits of social tools in organizations is how they can shift cultural thinking. By encouraging people to communicate and collaborate more, silos break down and people don't labour under the assumption that they have to figure everything out or do all the work themselves. Microblogging helps demonstrate just how easy it is to reach out and get information you need quickly and seamlessly. Not to mention the "discovery" value when you learn of a colleague who happens to be a great resource, or receive a link to an entire wiki full of just the information you need.
Because of the casual and social nature of microblog conversations, they can also be a great way to get a feel for the zeitgeist of the company at a given time. Insofar as management or the community manager can see ongoing conversations and report on them, it's possible to get a feel for what people are talking about and sharing, their tone and mood, and how much of the interaction is social as opposed to purely functional. When people are willing to ask questions or for help it's a strong indication of team cohesion.
On the opposite side, if there's not much microblogging going on, or it's all purely functional, e.g. little but a news feed or weekly notices of "this report has been updated" with little social aspect to it, it may bear investigating how internal communications are doing. Are people using channels other than microblogging, or not communicating at all? Do people need coaching to get away from interminable email threads? Does the tone of posts or the lack of them imply silos or tension among teams? A great deal can be learned from casual conversations in organizations beyond just the explicit topics.
Keeping it professional
Now, because microblogging can be such a frictionless and social mode of communication, it can require a bit of guidance to keep conversations work-appropriate. Much of this can be handled in orientation and having clear usage guidelines. There are basic things, like keeping microblogs... well, micro. If you find the post you're drafting turning into a paragraph or four, perhaps a microblog post isn't the ideal format for it.
While many people resort to slang, "textspeak," and other language shortcuts in their personal communications, for message clarity and future searchability it's important to keep the language of posts reasonably standardized. On occasion if conversations veer entirely off into purely social territory or get heated, a friendly nudge from the community manager can help to get things back on track. While you want people to speak freely, it is reality that microblog conversations are part of a company's knowledge record.
Like any tool rolled out within organizations, with a little guidance microblogging can be incredibly useful in making communications faster, more efficient, and even more fun. Far from wasting time on social media, microblogging can help people discover needed resources, cut down on unnecessary organizational "noise," and truly help teams work better together.