Photo: Jim Jansen, associate professor of information science and technology.
Everyone, from CNN to President Obama, seems to have a Twitter account these days. Worldwide traffic to Twitter.com reached 10 million visitors by February 2009, up a whopping 700 percent from the same time last year, according to comScore.
Yet up until late last year, Twitter was still generally regarded as little more than a cool social novelty. Then in December 2008, Dell announced that it had generated $1 million online by posting e-commerce links to its Twitter feed. Everywhere, businesses suddenly became tweet enthusiasts and began to integrate Twitter into their business operations.
According to a new study, business strategies involving Twitter are now frequently paying off. Reportedly a whopping 20 percent of the tweets contain requests for product information or responses to the requests, according to Jim Jansen, associate professor of information science and technology in the College of Information Science and Technology (IST) at Penn State.
"People are using tweets to express their reaction, both positive and negative, as they engage with these products and services," said Jansen in a statement issued today. "Tweets are about as close as one can get to the customer point of purchase for products and services."
Jansen, along with IST doctoral student Mimi Zhang, undergraduate student Kate Sobel and Twitter chief scientist Abdur Chowdhury, investigated micro-communicating as an electronic word-of-mouth medium, using Twitter as the platform. Their results were published in the Journal of the American Society for Information Sciences and Technology.
To carry out their study, the researchers examined half a million tweets. Specifically they searched for tweets that mentioned a brand, then examined why the brand was mentioned and found that people were using tweets as a kind of "word-of-mouth" type communication to connect with the products.
And the definite trend they found was that Twitter's micro-communications of 140 characters or fewer had rapidly evolved into a significant business tool -- one that is starting to earn profits for business generally, as well as serving as a creative way to market their products. "Businesses use micro-communication for brand awareness, brand knowledge and customer relationship," Jansen said. "Personal use is all over the board."
Even though Twitter is still in its early stages of adoption, Jansen predicts it be around for a while. And he thinks the concept of micro-blogging as a whole can be just as influential as other social media channels. "It may be right up there with e-mail in terms of its communication impact," Jansen said.
With about 6 million active users daily on Twitter and predictions of more than 20 million users by the end of the year, he might well be right.
Based on the research, there clearly are lessons from the world of business that governments exploring the use of Twitter might learn from.
Now if only Twitter itself can figure out how to monetize its service, it too might get to share in the business success.
This report was compiled from news releases.
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