Twitter, often referred to as the water cooler of the Internet, teaches us the art of brevity by limiting communication to 140 characters or less. But unless you can compress instructional content in ingenious ways, you'll find Twitter limiting as a method for delivering documentation. Instead, Twitter is better used for the following:
You can eavesdrop on customer conversations by subscribing to queries that search for specific keywords in the Twitterverse. To subscribe to a Twitter search query:
Tip: While you're setting up product search queries, head over to Icerocket and set up the same keyword search across blogs and other online sites.
Why exactly would you want to eavesdrop on Twitter? Michael Arrington says Twitter provides companies "an excellent early warning system to flag possible brand implosions." In other words, when people are complaining about your product, you'll be well aware and may even head off a product crisis.
In fact, Arrington has an entire post narrating his experience of twittering negatively about Comcast. Arrington writes:
Within 20 minutes of my first Twitter message I got a call from a Comcast executive in Philadelphia who wanted to know how he could help. He said he monitors Twitter and blogs to get an understanding of what people are saying about Comcast, and so he saw the discussion break out around my messages.
(Thanks, Anne, for the link.)
In the following Commoncraft video, Lee Lefever explains the point of Twitter is to allow your friends to know what goes on in your life between the emails and blog posts. Almost no other virtual medium allows this glimpse in to the personal space of your life as Twitter does.
To put a personal face on your company, you can encourage your product evangelists to twitter. I follow Betsy Weber, a product evangelist for TechSmith (makers of SnagIt and Camtasia). Betsy travels a lot. It's interesting to see where she's going (often the latest conference) and what she's doing. I do feel a little closer to SnagIt and Camtasia by following her on Twitter.
I also follow Sharon Burton, a product manager at Madcap Flare. Her presence on Twitter makes Madcap more accessible to me. While I was beta testing Flare 4, I once expressed that it was a little discouraging. Seeing my comment, she called me to talk about my concerns.
Although using Twitter to only broadcast announcements isn't good Twitterquette, it's a good idea to include announcements about upgrades, new products, special events, etc., in your Twitter feed. A lot of people are drowning in RSS feeds, and they can easily miss a title floating through their RSS readers. Others have stopped using RSS altogether and rely solely on Twitter. Emails are problematic because they're associated with all the other spam in your inbox.
By including announcements in your Twitter feed, you increase your reach. Additionally, those who search for keywords on Twitter will more likely find you.
Are you using Twitter in your documentation? If so, I'd like to hear how.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here. You can also contact me with questions.