Twitter has taken the first steps of what will no doubt be a long journey towards providing more native support for businesses using their micro-blogging platform by introducing the new (beta) Contributors feature.

Back in 2008, I posted some initial thoughts about companies using Twitter for business. This past year has shown that companies have taken hold of Twitter and are making it part of their business plan. Some have done it well, while some clearly still don’t get that Twitter is about conversation, not advertising, but more and more brands are using Twitter and that’s not about to change any time soon.

Twitter “Contributors”

Yesterday, Twitter announced the very limited beta release of a new feature they’re calling “Contributors”. From their company blog post:

The feature we are beta testing is called ‘Contributors’ – it enables users to engage in more authentic conversations with businesses by allowing those organizations to manage multiple contributors to their account. The feature appends the contributor’s username to the tweet byline, making the business to consumer communication more personal; e.g. if @Twitter invites @Biz to tweet on its behalf, then a tweet from @Twitter would include @Biz in the byline so that users know more about the real people behind organizations.

tweet

Before this feature was introduced, enterprise-level Twitter apps that focused on facilitating a team of people servicing a single account – services like CoTweet and HootSuite – encouraged team members to “sign” their tweets with an initial, such such as “^S” to indicate which team member posted.

This new API feature, in addition to the launch of Twitter’s Business site, shows that supporting and cultivating business interaction on the platform is clearly something on Twitter’s long-term agenda.

I, for one, am pleased to see Twitter going in this direction. Whether or not you agree that businesses should be on Twitter, the fact is they’re here to stay– and by adding this functionality to the API, they are encouraging something I have felt was important for as long as social media has been in the mainstream: personalizing your public face.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the companies that seem to be doing things right with regard to Twitter seem to be the ones that grok the concept of the ‘conversation’, and allow the personalities of their Twitter representatives shine through.

To put a finer point on it, several studies have been done that show that doctors who have poor beside-manner or come across as uninterested in their patients have a higher risk of being sued for malpractice, regardless of their technical skill as a physician. [more] In short, patients don’t sue the doctor’s they like.

Customers have a harder time getting angry or frustrated with companies when they get to know the employees as human beings. I felt the full impact of this myself just a week and a half ago at the Microsoft Web Developer’s Summit, and have often referenced Rackspace’s presence on Twitter as being a good example of this.

Conversely, if you have a bunch of assholes handling your Twitter account, expect to feel the backlash of “social media malpractice”.

Is it risky to let customers or potential customers get to know your company employees on a more personal level? Absolutely. But if you’re not prepared to handle that risk, you should probably rule out social media as a service, support. or pre-sales tool. Stick with your static Facebook fan page with your carefully crafted and copy-edited status updates.

Like everything else in this world, you need to evaluate the risk-to-reward ratio, and determine whether or not you’re willing to give up a little bit of the structure and control of traditional media for a chance to really connect with your customers and establish brand loyalty on a deeper level. If you’re not, that’s totally fine. But if you’re going to do it, you damn sure better do it right, because if you don’t, the spotlight will be on you, and it gets hot as Hell. I’m talking to you, Dell, HabitatUK and countless others.

Obviously, if you’re going to take advantage of this new feature, you will want to set up some corporate guidelines for what is – and is not – appropriate for a personal Twitter account that is effectively endorsed by your brand, but remember not to hold the reigns too tightly. Just as you would hire the outgoing, friendly, charming associate with the dynamite personality to be your public sales face, choose your brightest, wittiest and most interesting employees to be your Twitter face.

If your company is just starting to (or starting to consider) venturing into the Twitter depths, be sure to take a cruise through Twitter’s Business site, which features a breakdown of how Twitter works, business best practices, Twitter lingo, case studies and a slideshow for download that is tailored just for you.

Additional Links

Blog photo credit: Tom Hoffarth, InsideSocal.

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I’m a tech geek/dev/infosec-nerd/scuba diver/blacksmith/sword-fighter/crime fighter/ENTP/warcrafter/activist. I'm the CTO at Mass Mosaic and the CEO of Grokability, Inc. in San Diego, CA. Tweet at me @snipeyhead or read more...