Patrick Kershaw: A word of advice to small business: All that Twitters is not gold

Patrick Kershaw is operations manager for Horizon Pacific, a nationwide technology support provider specialising in assisting SMEs.

It is interesting to note the development of social media and the stream-of-consciousness style that seems to pervade new ways of communicating.

To me, it seems to be a form of voyeurism that has manifested in Twitter, which, while touted as an exciting new business tool, seems more like a mechanism for people to ramble monotonously.

The fact that one of the most followed items on Twitter is a cat who does such wacky things as visit his litter box does not do much to promote its business legitimacy. In fact, as hard as I try, I can see very little use for Twitter for most small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in New Zealand. Corporates yes, SMEs no.

For those unaware of it, Twitter is a messaging platform where a company or individual can update their status for all to see. For example: "Patrick has had three coffees this morning."

I can understand how celebrities can use this tool to feed their fans and "personalise" themselves. But seriously, does anyone care that I had two crumpets with Vegemite for breakfast? I believe Twitter is a fad.

Corporates, however, can and do use Twitter effectively for communicating, giving their otherwise impersonal brands a personal feeling or identity. There is validity in using Twitter to this end, as well as promoting or holding competitions, giving out clues for promotions, conveying the benefits of products and services and so on.

However, I believe that the target base that uses Twitter is so narrow that even the corporates will need to be specifically seeking the attention of the 15-to-35-year-old crowd to succeed. Adding the fact that the retention rate of Twitter is only around 40 per cent and the potential active users could be as low as 250,000 internationally, and you have some very good reasons why this may be a passing phenomenon.

The SME sector really is looking for resource-effective ways means of reaching its target base and I believe the time spent in actually using Twitter as a business tool will be a loss-making venture.

Social media as a whole has been an interesting development in the past five years. To really get market penetration in this field, a supplier seemingly has to offer significant value for free. This creates usage, which in turn creates advertising dollars, which in turn creates more company value.

Take Facebook, for example. There has never been a better networking tool for keeping in touch with friends, family and business contacts. I prefer to use it with a few basic ground rules - having criteria for who I invite to be my Facebook friends and cutting back on what personal information is publicly available. I am also unreachable by the outside world.

Facebook has created significant value for me as a free-of-charge social networking platform, allowing me to have a self-maintaining network of instantly contactable people. What a tool!

But if I consider Twitter in the same light, I am unable to see the benefit on even a personal level. I am not a celebrity-watcher, nor do I care what others are doing every minute of their lives. So is any value added at all? I don't think so.

Taking this a step further, I believe it will become a science to manage your online presence, so that what people can find online is exactly what you want them to see. This goes for businesses as much as it does for individuals. And as Twitter is a very public forum, it goes directly against the rules I have for controlling my online presence.

My advice in general would be to identify the social media platforms that can give you both significant business and personal benefits and set yourself some rules for your online presence.

Imagine you are your customer and structure your presence to pre-qualify yourself and/or your business. If you cannot see a benefit, don't follow the hype.

Patrick Kershaw is operations manager for Horizon Pacific, a nationwide technology support provider specialising in assisting SMEs. patrick.kershaw@horizonpacific.com

- NZ Herald

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