A Conversation (and Experiment) With Author Shel Israel

'Twitterville' Scribe Joined Me for Chance to Use the Microblogging Tool as Communication Device

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Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
Shel Israel has written a great book, "Twitterville," that really shows how businesses large and small can use Twitter as a communications tool. I loved it because of the richness of the stories. Worth your time.

We conducted an experiment -- we did an interview via Twitter last week. As one of our spectators, rrupinski, commented: "Interesting experiment -- but like watching conversation by telegraph." I found the content interesting, but the delay between when tweets are entered and when they appear made this challenging. Twitter has the reputation of being real-time, and it is a very immediate medium, but measured in minutes, not in seconds.

Anyway, as a Groundswell blog reader you get to see the results neatly packaged up for your reading pleasure, below. (This is basically a transcript, but I've made edits to assemble sentences together, fixed spelling, and removed irrelevant comments. But you can still see the abbreviated Twitter style showing through.)

jbernoff: Good morning and good afternoon. Welcome to our Twinterview with @shelisrael, the author of Twitterville. If you want to follow the conversation, I recommend this search on Twitter.

jbernoff: Let's get started. First Q: There are already lots and lots of books on social media. Why write another?

shelisrael: The stories of the business & people who have thrived in the community. Hopefully it will give readers some ideas.

jbernoff: I found the stories in the book great and insightful. But is Twitter, one tool, worth a whole book? Why?

shelisrael: Great question Josh. Last I checked there were 24 books on Twitter at AMZN. I regret to say that most of them are damned good. What makes mine different from the other 23 is I try to tell you the stories mostly of business folk who have succeeded on twitter. What make my book unique is the story-telling approach

jbernoff: So, sum it up for us. What would you say are the three to five biggest takeaways from the book?

shelisrael: 1. Twitter more closely emulates real life behavior online than anything that preceded it. 2. It's a tool of communications not marketing 3. It works best in many cases w/other SM [social media] tools. 4. It's as diverse in application as the telephone or email. 5. In a few years a biz without twitter will be like a biz without phone.

jbernoff: Interesting what you say about Twitter being a comm tool. Is Twitter really best for marketing, or for customer service?

shelisrael: Comcast shows a killer app for support. CarlsJr feels it is succeeding with marketing to young males with attitude. Narrowing Twitterville to just 1 biz function is like the blind men describing an elephant.

jbernoff: As writers, you and I know that big thoughts need concentration. But Twitter is conversational. What would you say to the argument that online conversation is destroying our ability to concentrate?

shelisrael: I think those studies should be taken with a grain of salt. Through history "experts" have produced studies about cars, cellphones, email, the web. Last week a study said SM is like cigarettes. All have some truth to them; none are THE truth. All innovation carries unfortunate consequences; not enough to stop progress.

jbernoff: My next book is on the power that technology gives individuals, both employees and customers. How do you think Twitter contributes to empowering individuals? What changes will this cause?

shelisrael: Great book idea Josh. I see the power of the individual in SM enhanced by the network. We are all network nodes. It's a human application of Metcalfe's Law. We are all exponentially empowered as individuals.

jbernoff: What happens with Twitter when employers don't trust their employees?

shelisrael: Compaies that have not learned to hire & maintain employees they CAN trust are likely to lose best to wiser employers in better economic times.

jbernoff: What's the #socialnetiquette of using Twitter both professionally and personally? It can be confusing.

shelisrael: I think netiquette & ethics remain constant regardless of the venue. Rudeness at a social gathering looks the same in SM.

jbernoff: I agree in general about #socialnetiquette. But professionals are talking about personal stuff. Can get a bit dicey.

jbernoff: Twitter makes you egotistical. Twitter makes you humble. Which is it?

shelisrael: I don't think Twitter makes you anything that you aren't already. You just have more witnesses for better or worse.

jbernoff: My short review: Read Twitterville. This little book will change the way you think about 140 characters, marketing, and yourself.

Josh Bernoff is co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at blogs.forrester.com/groundswell.
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