Microblogging in Europe

November 1, 2008

Microblogging. Think a platform where you can publish a sentence from your PC or mobile phone in a few seconds; or think Facebook with status updates and nothing else. The use of microblogging services like Twitter for professional purposes have not taken off in Europe and yet they’re all the rage across the pond – could it be that we’re just late adopters in Europe, and that this will change once millions of people have signed up to Twitter and the like, or is it that it simply couldn’t work here?

So how is it being used in the US? I’m not going to analyse in depth, but a few of the uses are:

  • As with other forms of social media, simply to listen. Using, say, tweetscan, companies are taking note of what people are saying about them, as are politicians.
  • After having listened, interaction may be next, following the adage of open, honest, one-to-one communications which customers now expect. If people are writing stuff about them, companies are actually writing back. Or they can ask questions, or generally express an interest and be seen to engage.
  • Providing news, like updates on product releases, events, special offers, or just anything people might be interested in. JetBlue do this. As does the Obama campaign, regularly updating people on campaign events via Twitter.
  • Customer service. Some companies are actually keeping track of what’s being said about them, and when someone complains or needs some information about a product or service, the company responds on Twitter. Comcast are at the forefront of using Twitter for customer care.

But why are companies (or campaigns, as in the case of Obama) using Twitter? What’s wrong with just using email or other channels? Again, not an in-depth analysis, but the main reasons are:

  • It’s another place where people are having conversations, and knowing what people are saying may be valuable, as a company (or organisation, politician, whatever) may want to take note and even do something about it!
  • The medium as a message matters i.e. the type of conversation one can have. Messages are short and informal, obviously written by a person without scores of senior communications type people wondering whether the message fits the corporate mantra, meaning you’re personalising the way you communicate. Result? If done well, showing people you’re a decent human-being rather than a corporate puppet, that you’ve got soul, and it’ll help to build relationships.
  • It’s just handy: it being quick and easy simply means it’s suited for providing quick updates to people.

For more in-depth analyses of the uses of Twitter, I’d recommend these three posts from Ogilvy’s excellent 360° Digital Influence blog: Twitter for customer relations, Twitter for crisis communications, and Twitter for corporate reputation management.

As to the central question: will microblogging for business or other professional purposes remain limited in Europe because of inherent barriers, or is it just a question of time? Assuming Twitter and the like do take off and there’ll be millions of daily users in a couple of years, some barriers one could think of might be that the language factor makes it difficult to track conversations in multiple countries, so is it really worth it? Or that Europeans are more reserved and don’t regard their roles as consumers as seriously as Americans. Will they really complain about a product, or sing its praises, on Twitter?

I think both points can safely be dismissed. So what if a conversation is not pan-European? The quality or importance of an online conversation is not just defined by how many millions of people are following it, but by the nature of its content and engagement. A company can learn a lot from following online conversations even if there aren’t huge numbers of people involved. And engaging, or providing updates to valued customers or supporters, can be extremely precious in building relationships, even if the numbers are small. Similarly, so what if Europeans tend to be a bit more reserved when it comes to letting off steam in social media? Again, it’s not the number of people, or how vociferous they might be when discussing, say, a brand, but what they’re saying that matters. In addition, I’d say that Europeans’ obsession with mobile phones could play a part here. Being able to update ones own Twitter by mobile phone after having been to an interesting place or seeing something out of the ordinary, or simply to carry on following a conversation when away from the PC, would entice quite a few people.

Plus, moving away from marketing and into a Brussels context, I can see a viable use for a microblogging platform as a near-instant monitoring tool. Dedicated monitoring providers and consultancies are paid a fortune to follow legislative issues that impact their clients, but the monitoring reports are usually sent via email the next day. Basic updates at crucial times, say during a plenary debate at the European Parliament or a key event, can be given via a microblogging platform so that people are updated in near-real time. Via a plug-in, these updates could be made to appear on a website or blog as well as the relevant twitter page, so you would not even need to send people somewhere new, just say: “check out the live updates on our site”. Live-blogging is not far removed from this, but that implies slightly longer entries and requires a laptop, whereas microblogging/monitoring could even be done from a mobile phone.

And will any MEPs or MEP hopefuls take a leaf out of Obama’s book and try to Twitter their way into constituents’ hearts in the upcoming campaigns?! It’d probably be a waste of time to send regular updates given the low profile of European elections (no I’m not contradicting myself: updates don’t mean you’re engaging in a conversation and should only be provided with a significant number of followers). But I would advise them to follow what people are saying in social media in general, including Twitter, and the blogosphere in particular. There won’t be much, but some of it could make interesting reading. And if they really want to start an online conversation, I’d recommend they resort to traditional blogging, but I’ll save that for another post.

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6 Responses to “Microblogging in Europe”

  1. fhbrussels Says:

    Some great thoughts here Steffen as usual.

    As you may have noted, we are starting to experiment with Twitter over at FH Brussels for our own purposes. We are planning to Twitter about institutional changes as they happen into 2009.

    A couple of limitations we’ve discovered in light of your comments above:

    – The IT department and the fact that our BBerry’s are not currently enabled for applications such as Twitter or indeed Facebook. Hard to update on the move…
    – Clients – it’s a neat idea (above) in terms of the instant updates on legislative dossiers but lots of different clients mean lots of different issues, and even on the same issues, different emphasis (e.g. 1 client cares about art. 2, another art 25). I suppose individual client feeds is the answer, but this kind of makes it complex to do no? Wouldn’t a good old phone call be better? Secondly, our clients tend to pay us for intelligence and analysis (value) as much as info (commodity). Such analysis is hard to do in a twitter.

    On the other hand, our digital team here in BRU and London are having some great success in terms of the engagement you have talked about for a client on the aviation side. We are already using twitter as part of the client’s online strategy around their issue. I am told it’s already proved worth its weight in gold for connecting our client with journalists for example.

    James

  2. fhknobby Says:

    Hi Steffen, James

    Great post!

    Yes can vouch for the effectiveness of our aviation client twitter.

    If you want a gander check out
    http://twitter.com/enviroaero

    Cheers

    Rob

  3. Steffen Says:

    Thanks very much for your comments James and Rob.

    Impressed by your use of Twitter and indeed, when I write that “providing updates to valued customers or supporters can be extremely precious in building relationships, even if the numbers are small”, the “small number” should certainly include journalists.

    On that point, I wondered how established the concept of journalists using twitter was and Googled journalists+twitter. If you have a minute I’d recommend trying it – more interesting material than I’d possibly imagined!

    With regards to live updates, yes I take your point, and admittedly it is a bit gimmicky. However, I’d see it as a service to be provided in addition to traditional monitoring and analysis. An added-value service if you will: “we’ll provide you with a full report of the session, event etc. afterwards, but we’ll also keep you updated as it takes place just so you’re that one step ahead of the competition”.

    Steffen


  4. […] thoughts on the use of Twitter in a Brussels context on Steffen’s blog late last week over here. Worth a […]


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