To tweet or not to tweet…

I think most of us have a pretty firm grasp on Facebook by now. However, when I ask people in the business community if they have a Twitter account, I'm continually met with shrugs and/or blank stares.

If you aren't familiar with Twitter, don't worry because you are certainly not alone.

Twitter defines itself as "an information network made up of 140-character messages called Tweets. It's a new and easy way to discover the latest news related to subjects you care about."

In other words, it works much like your Facebook news feed or "wall," except each entry is limited to roughly a sentence and a half.

But what exactly do people "tweet" about?

Let me use the Vancouver Business Journal's Twitter account as an example.

Because the VBJ is connected to an array of local businesses, organizations, elected officials and residents via Twitter, our news feed is pretty diverse. Right now, I see a tweet from Washington State University Vancouver on the restoration of Mill Creek. I see Portland Mayor Sam Adams congratulating Portland Seed Fund recipients. I see Vancouver-based Muller Design Studio sharing a number of useful Photoshop tips. I even see the Fort Vancouver National Park Service promoting its new mobile app (see News Briefs on page 3).

Good for business?

So should your business have a presence on Twitter? I believe so. It's a great way to promote your brand/product/service/business and can be a valuable networking tool. Twitter also gives businesses the opportunity to interact with customers & clients on a human level. This type of personable interaction can be extremely valuable, especially for large corporations who might be seen as "unreachable" in the eyes of an individual customer.

Crisis mode

Increasingly, Twitter is paying off for companies during times of crisis. Microsoft and Psychster Inc. recently published a report that looked into the effects of a company informing people of an outage via Twitter, and the varying effectiveness of different approaches to doing so.

Among the results were some pretty interesting tidbits:

• All tweets tended to reduce negative feelings about an outage and increase the perception that the responsible company cares.

• Acknowledging the outage and giving an explanation in the tweet reduced users' likelihood to contact the company's support center compared to not tweeting about it. This improves the experience of the user who obtains immediate information without further effort, and it also saves the company operational costs. In smaller companies, it may even reduce the duration of the crises by preventing people who could be fixing the problem from being called away to "man the phones."

Cat got your tongue?

Perhaps you have a Twitter account but you're not quite sure how to apply it to your business. To these folks I ask, are you (or your business) an expert in something? If so, why not tweet about it? Connect with others who tweet about it. Share things you read about. Get involved in a professional discussion just like you would at an industry or networking event.

I encourage all business owners across our region to start a conversation, get involved in a discussion and market to your full potential. The possibilities are truly endless.

Would you like to read columns like this before they hit the print? Just sign up for our free e-mail newsletter Just Business at You’ll get exclusive content delivered right to your inbox.