When Will Twitter Hit the Business-to-Business Mainstream?

If you scan the news headlines these days, it's pretty hard to argue with the fact that Twitter has hit a point in both its adoption curve and overall hype cycle that suggests the thing is not only here to stay -- it's changing how we interact with friends, businesses and even suppliers. Last month, I shared some thoughts on the subject in a Friday Rant that suggested why I changed my tone on Twitter from negative to positive. And earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal came out with this piece which offers up some evidence on how Twitter is changing consumer-focused responses to customer complaints and questions. But when will Twitter hit the procurement and business-to-business mainstream?

I suspect it will be faster than most of us think. And it will become a bottoms-up game changer rather than a top-down one. Even companies that forbid Twitter access for either security reasons or other concerns will find it hard to stop employees using Twitter from their own personal smart-phones in the workplace. Especially as Twitter becomes an increasingly valuable platform to share, broadcast and consume information from broader social and business networks, it will be impossible to stop. And companies (and suppliers) will need to learn how to respond to Twitter and move at a faster pace to shape how customers perceive them in the market.

Consider the following scenario from the WSJ article in terms of how Southwest chose to respond to a certain incident based on Twitter. The Journal notes that "On July 13, a Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Baltimore made an emergency landing in Charleston, W.Va. Southwest's six-person 'emerging-media team' scanned Twitter, Facebook and other Web sites for passengers' reactions -- and found mostly positive comments. The Southwest employees quickly posted Tweets praising the 'great work by crew and customers onboard' ... Linda Rutherford, Southwest's vice president, communications and strategic outreach, says she might have reacted differently if passengers had been more critical."

Not only did Southwest use Twitter to better understand how its customers perceived a certain incident -- they used it to bolster their position following the mishap by choosing their words carefully based on the community discussion that was already shaping up on Twitter and other sites. Now change tracks for a minute and apply this to more of a business-to-business setting. For example, what if I started a twitter account -- or used my existing Twitter account -- to write about the up-to-the-minute experiences I was having with a certain supplier based on quality issues from the previous day to not only share the experience but also to see if others were having the same problem? The supplier could not only monitor the Tweets in real-time to remedy the situation and gauge how widespread the problem was, but could chose to respond directly with customers versus waiting for the issue to become a legal and PR nightmare.

Jason Busch

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