Twitter whining or shared experiences?

Recently, one of the new-media gurus characterised Twitter as a place where people whine about the annoying or unexpected things that happen to them, in microblogs of 140 characters or less. Here are some examples:

  • davidcrow tweeted “You can’t blame a guy for trying.” Ugh, you wasted 90 minutes of my day dude, and for trying to waste my time I blame YOU!
  • scottallen tweeted: RT @Mike_Wesely “Twitter has their heads up their butts” @replies still not fixed.
  • feather tweeted: To the girl on my left as I turned to swim back: you weren’t supposed to be there—your fault my hand went into your bathing suit, not mine.
  • sladner tweeted: Omnigraffle, what was life like before I met you? Did people really have to nudge objects using CTRL-Arrow?
  • dezign999 tweeted: Plastic container opener fail?
  • TheDaveCarlson tweeted: sony email fail… i only need to send one. come on server!
  • jessmcmullin tweeted: I’ve never heard of a customer happy with Vaio support

The people I pay attention to on Twitter usually post positive or informative messages. But there’s nothing wrong with a little griping. We can all relate to a situation that’s gone wrong. Twitter is about shared experiences through a social network.

It’s often also about products, services, user experience, and design. In order, the above tweets say things about salespeople, Twitter, lifeguarding oversight, Omnigraffe, OpenIt scissors, and Sony’s site. Two thirds of these name or link to the company or the product in the message. And they do so via a social network.

Social networking is the equivalent of a reception. It’s a roomful of people, some of whom you know, some of whom you don’t. At this reception, the chatting happens asynchronously and it’s entirely free of geography. This is important to understand, because it’s the kind of world in which and for which we’re designing and building software and websites. Anyone, anytime, can comment on our products and sites, and others can search for—and be influenced by—those opinions. Consumers can get opinions from people they don’t know about a product or service, before they buy. For example, you can find opinions about a phone company by using these keywords in a Twitter search

or by visualizing the keywords or tags that people type in their Twitter messages about the phone company. Check this tag cloud for tweets that contain the words “Telus” and “phone”. Are the tags positive? negative? neutral?

A tag cloud of words that appeared in tweets from 2009 that contained the words “Telus” and “phone”. The tag cloud was generated by the service

Would any of this influence my decision to purchase a mobile-phone contract from Telus?

Finally, just to show there’s nothing new under the sun, here’s a blog post that has already said a few of the things that I just thought of.

Design can change the culture

I was reading a comment by Creative Sage CIO and CEO, Cathryn Hrudicka, about corporations that want to use social media to reach their market:

The process of trying to become a more “transparent” organization, so they can use social media tools, pushes many organizations—companies, nonprofits, trade associations—into change, especially if they have had a very bureaucratic and non-transparent culture before. That can mean many levels of changes, which usually bring up issues between executives or managers and their teams, and it can affect relationships between staff or team members. Individuals often need to be coached to adapt to the new practices or even to drive them more effectively. Some leadership and teamwork issues come up, too.

It reminded me of a company that changed after I was asked to introduce an ideation-design method. The management team wanted the method to do double duty—a way to empower and encourage the development team.

Prior to this, it seemed team members had been discouraged from taking design initiative. Half the team was disheartened or miserable, the other half of the team was disengaged to the point where they wouldn’t offer a design suggestion even when asked by their boss. Initially, some team members took a wait-and-see approach, but after training and several successful project experiences, the majority of developers became increasingly comfortable with involvement in product design.

It took commitment from key managers to invigorate the team, and it took considerable time. They still use Five Sketches™ today.

If you liked this post, check out a recent post about Google’s corporate culture.