Is Twittering a Hobby?

A few weeks ago in the Channel Social Media Empowerment session, we were talking about Twitter and how it can be used in B2B communications. During the broadcast, one of the resellers texted me this question: “Since Twitter is still in its infancy, wouldn’t current Twitter use be considered more hobby-like than professional?” The message just sat there on the side of my screen without an answer, as I continued to talk about Twitter search capabilities.

The question annoyed me at first. It was frustrating that we had not successfully demonstrated that Twitter is already an important business tool for individuals and companies. The concept of Twittering as a hobby did not set well with me at all. It seemed to trivialized the impact of Twitter and all social media activity for that matter. What was this reseller thinking?

Last year, Twitter super-stars like @Padmasree and @RichardBranson started out not knowing exactly how important Twitter would become for them and their companies. They took a chance, worked it a little, realized the potential, and worked it some more. They must have enjoyed Twittering because they kept doing it, even before they began to realize the business benefits. Still, both would have been more comfortable with the label “early adopter” than “hobbyists.” But Twittering in 2009 certainly wasn’t a traditional business activity for most executives.

Maybe the reseller has a point. The distinction between hobbies and business activities is one of degree. If you enjoy doing something during your downtime, and it starts providing you with substantial business benefits, then you start to figure out ways to provide even more benefits. Then it changers from being a hobby to being a business. And everyone wants to get the same benefits by doing the same thing. So for many people, Twittering is something like a hobby when they first start using it. (Some lucky people actually make a lot of money from their “hobbies.”)

After a while though, about the time you a sufficient number of followers, Twitter becomes a business opportunity. Today, more than 18 million people visit Twitter at least once a month for personal and business reasons. In fact, there are very few large American companies that do not have a significant investment in the Twitter machine. For example, Comcast employs 15 people just to monitor Tweets about their products and services. Qwest has dedicated eight people to do the same thing. Why? It’s an economic decision. Twitter increases upward pressure on revenue and downward pressure on costs.

Sites like Twitter provide more unlimited access to customers than any other medium today. It is an inexpensive way to gather information about products, identify customer problems, communicate solutions and follow market trends. It can also be used to broadcast messages about products, pricing, events, and services. (Email 2.0!) Using Twitter improves customer satisfaction AND demonstrates to the market that the supplier can meet the evolving needs of their customers. That’s not a hobby. It’s what companies do for a living.

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