36 : Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution
Micro-Messaging for Internal
Communications
Micro-messaging started out primarily as a way for
people to share tiny status updates about themselves,
which isn’t a class of information traditionally traded
at work. But as people found ambient awareness very
powerful in their personal lives, they started to look for
similar connections in their professional lives.
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh had been using Twitter for
about a year with a group of friends when he decided to
introduce it to his company in the spring of 2008. Today,
about 460 Zappos employees use Twitter (approximately
a quarter of its workforce). The company lists them on
a public website: http://twitter.zappos.com/employees;
and it aggregates their posts to Twitter: http://twitter.
zappos.com/employee_tweets. It even offers classes to
help employees get started with the service.
Hsieh has been a prominent proponent of Twitter,
widely covered by the media, and interviewers usually
assume Zappos was drawn to Twitter primarily for mar-
keting purposes. But Hsieh says that’s not a motivating
factor, and his marketing department wasn’t in on his
plan to encourage employees to Twitter. Instead, he
was interested in the internal connections it could sup-
port. “It helps us build our culture, and it makes working
together better, he says. Trust is higher. Communication
is better. Employees are more aware of each other inside
and outside work, he adds.
For Zappos, helping employees connect and simulta-
neously becoming more transparent is part of a bigger
strategy. “Branding used to be, This is what my brand is
going to be, Hsieh says. “But now that everyone is con-
nected, and customers expect things to be two-way, a
lot of companies are struggling because their internal
culture doesn’t support that. We’re not just saying we
care [about connection]. We actually do.
With its relatively large employee base, Zappos
appears to be in a good position to promote use of
Twitter internally. But much smaller companies have
found it helpful, too. ICO, an Australian web hosting
firm with 17 employees recently began using Twitter to
help employees connect with each other. Rachel Holden,
the company’s marketing manager, set up accounts
for her co-workers and has encouraged them to use
it 10 minutes a day.
She cites the resulting ambient awareness as the
first benefit. Twitter has been great for improving com-
munication, Holden says. “Even if the comments posted
are not directly about work, it’s good to know what
other people are doing. It’s definitely added a buzz to
the team. She adds that Twitter has also been excellent
for getting quick feedback on ideas and for prompting
brainstorming sessions.
Of course, Twitter is a largely public medium,
but a lot of companies interested in micro-messaging
internally need a private system. In September 2008,
several software companies released micro-messaging
systems for enterprise customers—Yammer, Present.ly,
and Socialcast—two more, SocialText and Harvest
announced they were adding micro-messaging to their
business-collaboration platforms.
Present.ly sprung up at Intridea, a 19-person distrib-
uted company that makes several kinds of social soft-
ware. The team had been using Campfire, a group chat
system, and found it good for discussions where all the
participants were present and engaged. And they were
big fans of Twitter, too. But they needed an asynchro-
nous group communication tool that would let them
compartmentalize their work discussions. In spring 2008,
they built Present.ly for their own use and immediately
began using it to keep each other apprised of their
projects and ideas.
They’ve been surprised to find that it’s replaced
the need for a lot of meetings and group emails. We
normally have status meetings, and it’s done away with
a lot of those because now we’re constantly updated.

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