Organizational tweeting

Craig Newmark points to Gene Weingarten’s predictable “I’m old and don’t understand the point of this Twitter thing all the kids are doing” column from earlier this month in The Washington Post. Weingarten complains that’s it’s hard to write anything profound in 140 characters or less, which of course misses the point. We’ve talked here before about how Twitter helps create a social sixth sense; I feel far more in touch with the friends I left behind in DC than I would without it. In just the past few weeks I’ve used the service to find a good barbecue joint in Kansas City (thanks, Tim!), locate sources for a paper I’m writing, express things I’d like to say but not write a full blog entry about, join my DC friends at a “virtual bar” as we watched the conventions and debate together, and possibly line up a regular writing gig.

Weingarten does bring up one thing that bugs me too, though:

My problem with Twitter is that it has become so big and so popular that some newspapers, including this one, are stuffing their latest headlines into Twitter alerts. Even the presidential candidates are kowtowing to it, sending out 140-character campaign news updates. (Some of these sound as though they were composed by the authors of product-assembly manuals from Taiwan. Here’s an actual McCain alert: “Hillary turned McCain bloggers shut down by blogger? . . . Doesn’t add up.”)

Lots of organizations are jumping onto the Twitter bandwagon, but I don’t think they really get the medium. I’m bombarded with Twitter accounts from think tanks and magazines whose updates just duplicate information that I’d rather get from RSS feeds, email subscriptions, or by visiting their websites.

The Cato Institute writes one of the better feeds. It includes some information I might not otherwise catch, like scholars’ upcoming media appearances and interesting news stories. Most of it, however, I’d rather get (and probably already do) via more traditional routes. Because the links are shortened to TinyURLs, I don’t know if I’m clicking on an op/ed, a paper, a podcast, a blog post, or a news site. And most of these items, though interesting, are just clutter when they show up on my mobile phone rather than on my computer. So as much as I like Cato, I don’t follow the feed. (All of this goes double for you bloggers who link every single one of your posts to your Twitter feed. An occasional highlight is fine, but let’s have some perspective here: If I’m on Twitter, I’ve probably mastered RSS.)

298 people do follow the feed, so their strategy is certainly working. Even so, I’d like see a better use of the medium. How about more spontaneous, timely tweets alerting me to events or TV and radio appearances? Cato has some witty people in the building; how about 140 word commentaries from them? Snarky remarks from Jerry Taylor or Jim Harper I would tune in for.

The company I’ve seen use Twitter best is Bell’s Beer. I visited their cafe in Kalamazoo, MI last month and updated my feed to say that I was there. Bell’s was following me before I finished dinner. They search for anyone mentioning their beer and add them as a friend, then update their own feed with the latest news about their beers, events, an inside look at what the staff is up to, and answers to questions from their fans. As a result they’ve brought in more than 400 followers in just over two months. (It helps that their beer is awesome too).

A newspaper column isn’t a blog post isn’t a Twitter update. As more organizations are tempted by this new medium, I hope they’ll put in the effort to make their updates truly worthwhile.

Update 9/28/08: Twitter fun fact: “In Dell’s case, the company says it’s made ‘well over’ $500,000 in sales from sending special offers from its Dell Outlet store to its Twitter group, which it began in June 2007. The group has almost 1,500 ‘followers’ who receive its messages on a regular basis.”

Previously:
Faking it
These kids and their Facebook

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Sweating the hops shortage

Sighted at Bell's

Hops in deodorant? They’re an essential ingredient in Tom’s of Maine’s products:

Unpleasant odor is caused by skin bacteria when we sweat. The “bitter principles” that help hops to preserve beer also, it turns out, fight odor. Hops inhibits the growth of bacteria by causing leakage in the bacterial cell membrane, which impairs bacterial function and therefore prevents odor.

I wonder if they’ve been hit by the hops shortage too, and how beer could be made instead with all the hops people are rubbing into their armpits.

[Via Rob Kasper. Photo from the hops case at the Bell’s Brewery General Store and Eccentric Cafe, which you should definitely visit if you’re ever in Kalamazoo.]

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The fast and the… ?

I’m in Chicago, catching up from a long drive down from the UP yesterday that included stops at Grand Traverse Distillery and the Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Cafe, so no morning links yet. As I move further west the “morning” part of those links is going to become less and less relevant to this blog’s primarily East Coast readership, so I’ll probably be dropping the AM part of the headline anyway.

I need to get out of Chicago before this happens:

Fast and the Furriest

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