Companies are always looking for better ways to communicate. Whether it is to disseminate information, collaborate internally, or communicate with customers, Twitter has a place. Reaching out to customers has been done, and now in-house legal offices in businesses around the world are wondering if Twitter should be used internally. At the same time, people are already doing it, leveraging Twitter in many creative ways.
Saying Twitter is insecure and unfit for enterprise use is like saying e-mail is not compliant with the regulation-of-the-day. It is not meant to be, and you should not be using Twitter for dissemination of sensitive information. The e-mail comparison implies that there are secure alternatives, since many companies implement their own “secure messaging” systems to allow e-mail-like communications. With Twitter, the point of contention is that privacy functionality exists—your updates do not have to be public—but given recent security issues at Twitter, you’d better not rely on Twitter. Regardless of functionality, the security level in Twitland is low. You don’t have to use SSL when logged into the Web site, and updates can be sent via text message.
In short, think of Twitter as a public service and use it accordingly.
We use e-mail and chat to communicate, so why would we want to use Twitter at all?
Twitter has a few distinct advantages. First, it allows all participants (or the world) to see the complete history of communications. Below, where we mention a few Twitter use cases, you will see why this is helpful. Second, all followers of a Twitter account can enable device updates, which will send updates via SMS directly to their cellular phones. This is useful for alerting, as well as status updates for even trivial things, such as meetings, think: “almost there, stuck in traffic.”
Finally, Twitter is great for learning. This blurs the line between personal and work Twittering, but think of what you might like to follow with your work Twitter account. You can follow industry leaders, companies, and even competitors that are directly related to your job function. Many people just use Twitter to share interesting articles they read, and you should definitely follow those people with interests related to your work.
The Twitter API makes it extremely easy to automate tweeting. Some of the suggestions below are obvious candidates for automation, if you choose.
Outage Alerts for Customers
Instead of manually posting a notice to a Web site, you can use Twitter to communicate with internal customers about service-related outages. This is a potential place for automation, but be careful with divulging too much information. Care needs to be taken on two fronts: First, you may not wish to make public the names of servers of services you run; and second you often don’t want to advertise too much about outages to customers. Internal systems monitoring often alerts sysadmins liberally, but that does not mean an actual outage has occurred. Just be aware of the message you’re sending internal customers. That being said, having a place customers can visit to get up-to-date information about outages can be extremely useful and lessen the burden on helpdesk staff.
Alerting IT Staff
Remember, Twitter users can configure a followed person’s tweets (in this case an “alert user”) to send SMS messages. You probably have a monitoring solution in place to alert IT staff in the event of an outage, but what happens if the entire site goes down at 2:00 in the morning? An external monitoring server can be configured to send alerts via Twitter, and bypass the need to rely on company resources (that are down) to send alerts.
Change Management Reporting
This falls into the category of communicating with internal IT customers, but it also facilitates cross-department communication within IT. A Twitter account can be created to hold information about system changes, and the status of those changes. Again, remember this is public, so you probably want to keep it simple and reference internal tracking numbers, “change #12345 completed; nobody died.”
Group Communication and Collaboration
Twitter is described as a microblog, so in some regards it is as useful a tool for group collaboration as blogs. The QA team, for example, can use a Twitter account to post status updates, issues, announcements, lunch plans, and anything else. The usefulness of archived communication again comes to light when thinking about how a group of employees might user Twitter to communicate—much like a blog or wiki, but much easier and faster to use.
Personal Information and Industry Alerts
Finally, we also mentioned that Twitter in IT is useful for educational purposes. More than that, it is also handy for following product announcements. Many companies and open source projects tweet about important security updates as well as exciting news and new features. Just look around; you should find tons of industry luminaries, software products, companies and like-minded individuals on Twitter.
While you don’t get the network effects (millions of users) that Twitter has, Yammer is certainly an alternative, which is targeted at companies. Yammer focuses a bit more on security, allowing companies to have Yammer accounts with some assurance that the general public will not be able to access their posts. It’s a great social networking site for companies, and it includes most features of Twitter as well.
Charlie Schluting is the author of Network Ninja, a must-read for every network engineer.