Silly Twitter, Tweets are for Biz

There is a lot of noise on whether or not Twitter should be used for Business.

On one hand we have examples like ComcastCares, DellOutlet, JetBlue and many others that have been used as case studies.

On the other hand, there is me.  I wrote about not using it, about treating it as an IVR, and even getting rid of Twitter altogether.  I have had reservations about it from the beginning (can you really have a conversation in 140-characters? What happens to loads when you start to escalate all your interactions? How do you measure successfully?  How do service outages affect your delivery? And so many other questions).

Last week, my reservations moved to certainty.

I spent the past six weeks or so attending conferences.  I live-tweet them as a means to both provide a service to my followers who want to know what is going on in real time, as well as electronic note taking.  I put a hashtag to my tweets, and when I need to write a blog post about the event, simply get a transcript for the hashtag (I use WTHashTag, there are other tools) and my post is mostly written.

I was at Dreamforce 2009 this past week live-tweeting the event.  I was not keeping track of how much I was tweeting — but apparently Twitter was.  About an hour or so into my live tweeting I get an error message through my client.  It happens.  Conferences, especially large ones, bring Twitter to its knees and the famed Whale makes more than one breach.  I just go online and put a few tweets online until the volume slows down and I can use TweetDeck again.

This time was different.  Whenever I entered my tweets online and press submit, I would get an error message that said that I had exceeded the Status Update Limit and that I would have to wait several hours to resume.  I tried to look it up online to see what I had done wrong – but could not find any more information on their web site on that specific error.  I know that fellow blogger and friend Marshall Lager had the same problem.

(I found out later on that the Status Update Limit is 1,000 a day — nowhere near where I was.)

I went through frustration, anger, and resignation (cannot remember the other stages of grief — but probably went through all of them – including a “negotiation” to let me send just one more tweet).

Then started thinking. Not being able to live-tweet was detrimental to my business. Twitter is NOT a business tool.

It was not only the limits – but how Twitter handles users having problems:

  1. If this was a serious issue it should be very well documented in a easy-to-find place.  I did not go back to the original terms-of-service — but relying on a TOS as the sole documentation is a bigger failure than to lock me out.
  2. I am assuming that Twitter runs on pretty smart computers.  Could they not figure out that the status updates were all different, had the same hashtag as a lot of other traffic, and maybe – just maybe – look it up against a master calendar of events and hashtags and let it be?
  3. Similarly, could they have potentially sent me a message (oh, I don’t know something short, like 140 characters or less, in electronic form) to warn me?
  4. Once the problem occurs, the online self-service should have the answer — or support should reply rather quickly (this is a perfect example of running support with automation tools – I would have gotten my answer).

I would have been willing to consider using Twitter for business (yes, there are problems but they all have problems).  Alas, If I can be locked out for an arbitrary and undocumented reason – why would I rely on it as a business tool? If service is not where it is supposed to be – should I make a more sensible choice?

I will continue to use Twitter, but I won’t be rely on it for any critical business functions.  I guess it is true, you get what you pay for.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on them? Another chance?

21 Replies to “Silly Twitter, Tweets are for Biz”

  1. Esteban – I don’t think you’re being too harsh at all. It seems to me, actually, you’ve been quite kind. If they’re paying attention, you’ve just given them (or, perhaps, someone else who will use their API to do so) the opportunity to improve their product. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom used a tool or service exactly as the authors intended. Neither have I been able to seamlessly use one for very long before I found a way in which it “failed” me, that is it wasn’t written with the particular limitation I presented in mind. I guess that’s the nice thing about so many of the Web 2.0 offerings. They truly are in perpetual beta. I hope they’ll pick up on your suggestions. They seem eminently practical to me. I hope your “decaying, rotten, sick self” has benefited as well from a little bed rest.

    .-= Rick Ladd´s last blog ..Are We Really Communicating All That Better? =-.


    1. Rick,

      Thanks for the kind comments. I think you are right when saying that there are some implications to what I am saying for Twitter. If they were to be smart, they could probably pick some of these comments up and use them. Alas, I think that their problems go deeper than something that can be fixed quickly – I don’t think they ever expected to get to the levels of usage they are experiencing these days (which is usually noted by the hiccups under stress, and how long it takes to get anything done). It is likely that the program was never architected to be used as we are using it — which is understandable when you look at why and how it was created.

      My concern is that developers these days think that being Beta is a badge of honor, and being quick-to-market is more important than being complete and workable. I remember the old days when being Beta was something you wanted to get through quickly so you could release… now it seems it is the release version. This is bringing a fast, unsustainable pace of non-innovation for businesses, as they are aware of the product but most of them with well-established governance won’t take on a product before fully testing it. Yes, even in a Web 2.0 world the IT departments know what they are doing… can you imagine doing an enterprise-wide adoption of, for example, Twitter as a communication tool only to have it fail at a critical time?

      I am starting to feel better after spending a day and half in bed — but still recovering! Thanks for the good wishes…



  2. You are partially right; in my thinking, Twitter is not necessarily a business tool. It is a consumer tool that businesses should monitor and listen to. It is a canary in a mineshaft, it is a litmus test, it is one to one million screaming voices in the wilderness. When I tweeted about my bad experience with Comcast last night, did they care? Yes, they did; they responded to my complaint and followed up today with another DM. This is a reflection (in my mind) that Comcast is moving in the right direction, they actually care what people are saying. My complaint was pretty basic; Comcast tried to charge me for a service call when it was their own equipment problem and they charged me $40 for a defective modem that I didn’t return to them. They are hopefully on a path to remedy this for me (they already credited the service call charge to my account). But guess what? It is unlikely that Twitter will care at all about your issues. They will continue to carry on with their cute fail whale until some other company replaces them and they go the way of other arrogant companies who don’t care about customer service or think that their products require no upgrades. Twitter is in for a rude awakening as they embark on an effort to sell ad space (announced last week.) Users and advertisers will not tolerate this behavior as Twitter attempts to monetize their offering.


    1. Charlie,

      I am still sitting on the sidelines on Twitter being a business tool. I think as with everything else, there are certain uses that make sense – but others may not. The problem you mention, as well as the problem with companies embracing twitter, is that the processes are not working outside of it – and Twitter cannot fix bad processes. Sure, as in the case of comcast, it can provide band-aids for processes, but they come at a cost (in this case people that need to work this “free” channel). And, they still don’t fix the problem.

      Relying on Twitter for fixing a process is not a very smart long-term move.

      I think there is some true to Twitter being a test, I think that a better developed business tool (even a Twitter for business – who knows) will come along that should take the weak spots that Twitter has and make something happen for businesses. Then we can see about relying on twitter for business. We can do that now, but we should be aware of what we are doing as we go into it. Problems will happen, usually when you don’t need them or expect them. Caveat early adopter!

      Thanks for the read and the comment…


  3. I think you have demonstrated accurately that the point of use, compared to the assumption of use was evident… it made a realization that you can’t rely on it even if you think it’s capable to be relied upon…

    your frustration in the moment is valid.
    i think it’s not a matter of objective thinking if it’s a business tool or consumer but rather the capabiities in can offer, and thus this one incident did show that it’s functions to be a business tool, was not at par at a specific way to be used, in your case live updates…

    the question i have, is do they care to improve upon this from your feedback?


    1. Spiro,

      The answer that I have, probably not at this time as they are overwhelmed at it is… Alas, if they are moving into an enterprise model where they want to be used and adopted for business, then they should care (and revamp their feedback models, as I have never even received an acknowledgment from them in all the times I try to contact them).

      Good question for them to answer… are they listening? They are always talking about how they are enhancing their solution based on feedback and usage patterns from users… it would be interesting what they use to monitor that.

      Thanks for an interesting question… and the read!


  4. Hi Esteban,

    I’ve been following you recently, and have been looking forward to your tweets when at conferences. Is that a business tool or social tool? These days, what’s the difference?

    You ask whether anyone can have a conversation in 140 character chunks. Anyone who’s lived outside the US for the last 10-15 years and communicated via SMS (165 character chunks) would answer a resounding yes to that question. I often found it easier (and less expensive) to hold conversations via SMS rather than voice. It’s faster and more to the point. And it allows for multitasking.

    Twitter’s ability to handle the volume is apparently in question by your reporting, but they’ll grow up to handle it. Or someone else will.

    Businesses need to monitor the entire conversation on social media and participate. Note that it’s not about selling. Oftentimes it’s the fatest way to learn about service issues (temperature or volume in a conference room, for example) and resolve them.

    Have you read Socialnomics yet? I’m quickly becoming an advocate. Check out their channel and videos on Youtube ( Good stuff here.

    To summarize – twitter or someone else, this is already a very important business tool. B2B as well as B2C.

    Hope you’re well – speak soon.

    .-= Gary Schwartz´s last blog ..PMRG – Annual National Conference =-.


    1. Gary,

      I agree on SMS, even Twitter, being able to communicate on 140-165 characters (I use SMS all the time, I like it a lot) – but can a business conduct transactions at 140 characters at the time? (that was probably a better worded question). I think that they can be made aware to an issue, they can react to an alert, or they can get an idea by trending of what is going on.

      I think that Twitter can be faster than SMS and email (based on my own testing on breaking news and alerts) for notifications and that is just one of the many potential uses for it in businesses. Alas, the limits and availability issues still remain. Would you like to move your alerts to Twitter only to find out that because of a 503-error (fail whale) it was not distributed? Or how about if the alert that says that water is building up in your server room sub-flooring is denied because you twitted too much already for the hour / day /week?

      I think that the platform is interesting, but it does not have anywhere near the realibility and availability we expect to find in business tools. Mine was just an example, you can call it silly, but it shows the Achilles heel for them as they try to move deeper into the enterprise.

      Thanks for the great comment. Got me thinking and helped me re-word my proposition (I think) better.


  5. For all its flaws, and they are substantial, Twitter is a business tool until something better comes along for the purposes for which we use Twitter. It’s well past time that they offered different service levels at different prices with plenty of rugged support and customer service for those of us willing to pay. I’d be perfectly happy if that cleared out the underbrush, but lots of businesses are very interested in what the underbrush are doing.
    .-= Naomi Bloom´s last blog ..Counting My Blessings: Thanksgiving 2009 =-.


    1. Thanks,

      And I agree – for now it has to do. But we want to make sure that as we move forward we proceed with caution — we don’t want to find every single rattlesnake in that underbrush 🙂

      Alas, I am not certain that they have setup their platform sufficiently to be able to do that well. Different levels imply that the platform can take it — and I am not certain that their architecture is there yet. Of course, mostly talking from experience – not really from seeing their architecture. They may have already setup certain VIPs (not me obviously) on a super-secret double-confidential platform so they won’t fail anymore.

      I am indeed looking forward to seeing a better, more reliable architecture even if have to pay.



  6. I hear you my friend, I hear you!

    Twitter has a lot of chinks to straighten yet but we are far more better off now than those days filled with the failwhale images.

    As for using Twitter for business critical apps … well, I dont use a willy nilly still prone to failures type of software/service for business critical tasks.

    Use twitter for business? Yes. (With lots of redundancy, failovers, defined exception process, etc. taken care off)

    Use twitter for business critical tasks? NO. Nor facebook or linkedin or anything on the cloud (in general).

    BTW, twitter could have a business model in providing failsafe means to communicate as a paid service. 😉
    .-= Prem Kumar Aparanji´s last blog ..Simple strategies for Social CRM implementations =-.


    1. Prem,

      You said what I am thinking better than I can. Thanks for that, as usual. Maybe you should start writing my stuff? 🙂


      (oh yeah, agree with you 100%)


  7. Dear friend – I suggest you call customer service and ask for your money back. Oh, there is no charge you say, ah, the price is then right.

    Joking aside – I can imagine a room full of people about 3 years ago, trying to figure out what people might want to do with a platform which can send out 140 characters at a time. Going out on a limb here – 10 people sitting in an audience furiously keeping up with a keynote at a conference one tweet at a time probably did not make the top 10 – just sayin’

    The analogies between Twitter and the iPhone are rather remarkable – think about that for few minutes. Both super cool, on platforms (or networks) which have questionable reliability, yet have thousands of people building applications and businesses on top of….
    .-= mitch lieberman´s last blog ..mjayliebs: @BrentLeary – now we are talkin’ ! Happy Turkey Day … =-.


    1. Mitch,

      That is a very interesting comparison between Twitter and the iPhone… I am going to have to think about it in much more detail. I agree that Twitter is not what was originally intended (probably) when created — but that was part of my point… we cannot twist anything to fit our ideas of what it should be. Twitter is what it is, and a business tool it is not.

      Thanks for the comment (and the food for thought)


  8. Fascinating conversation –

    Here’s what I think is happening… Twitter was released in beta (really alpha if you are realistic about it) form because the only way that the twitter gang could figure out all the user stories/use cases is to get a large volume of people using the platform and watch how it evolves. The platform scales as fast as it can – and issues such as the one that Esteban encountered will occur as twitter adapts. It’s the nature of software evolution. Like it or not, we are all part of the Twitter test and product team. Use of Twitter is not free – we are contributing our user stories and test plans each time we tweet. This is the nature of commerce in the 21st century – not all value is measured in hard currency. Eventually value needs to convert to currency (we need to eat and have shelter) but much can be traded with experience and reputation.
    .-= Steve Burgess´s last blog ..House Committee to Review PPM =-.


    1. Steve,

      I like your way of thinking. I agree with you in a lot of what you said – except that I am not sure there is a progress of Twitter towards a pre-conceived notion of what it should be (what the alpha or beta status would imply), rather there was a cool app that got lucky and engender several $BB in potential revenue. Time will tell…

      Thanks for the read


  9. Hi Esteban — I just found you 🙂 and I find this is an interesting discussion. Prem already highlighted onto of the things that occurred to me — your use of Twitter presents a great business opportunity to a company that seems confused as to how to monetize their offering. Hardened business domains, like walled gardens of tweets, could be popular.

    This reminds me of the business experience with virtual worlds (like Second Life), which were never designed to be business tools. I’m pretty sure that Linden Lab was taken aback by the business interest and use, but they, too, are struggling to realize a lot of benefit from the corporate denizens (like me!) who really want to have a virtual office where we can sit down for a meeting though many timezones apart.


    1. Doug,

      Welcome – glad you found me!

      I am always interesting in the concept of a walled twitter (not like Yammer and some of the E2.0 offerings, but more like twitter is now) with different levels of permissions for people in and out of the community. I don’t think will ever end up seeing that, but it would definitely be interesting.

      I second your comment on what Twitter intended to do versus what it ended up doing. I think they have done remarkably well to grow their product into some semblance of enterprise-ready (unlike 2nd life in the past, but we still have a long ways to go).

      Thanks for the read, looking forward to hearing more from you!


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