There is one area where IT might use Twitter and its competitors to advantage: as an evaluation tool. Not unlike Salesforce.com, IT could use Twitter as an evaluation tool to monitor customer/employee reaction to a new product, application, or service.
IT might also initiate the conversation by asking employees in a tweet's 140 characters or less to give them an unfiltered expression of their experience with the new product.
However, Twitter's use in other areas of IT is more problematic. You might think that Twitter could serve well as an alerting tool for IT, sending tweets to IT staffs' PCs and mobile devices. But perhaps not: "For an IT department looking for an [internal] communications tool, Twitter is not the most appropriate tool," says Oliver Young, a senior analyst with Forrester Research.
As IT people already know, scale changes everything. If a service like Twitter is going to be used as an alert tool, IT had best be sure everyone in the company is on board, Young says. That's easy for a 10-person company, but not as simple for a company with 10,000 or 100,000 employees worldwide.
Young also believes for internal use -- such as for IT alerts to its users or as part of the IT infrastructure for IT staffers to talk to one another -- instant messaging is the better service. Young points out that Twitter is not necessarily as fast in reaching its destination as IM.
If using Twitter as a microblogging tool to carry on conversations within the company, everyone had better be sure that he or she has turned off their public face, keeping tweets within the four walls -- or ultimately something that shouldn't be shared will be in a public forum, Young warns.
A company must also consider the latest in e-discovery regulations from the feds, aka the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure. If you archive your internal tweets, for whatever reason, they are subject to searches in the future in case of a litigation. And if you cannot produce the tweet the litigant is asking for, you can probably count on a hefty fine from the presiding judge, if history is any indication.
Twitter has competition more suited to business use
But Twitter isn't the only social networking tool on the block, and there are many others that might be more appropriate for business use, such as Yammer or Socialtext's Signals.
Consider two of Twitter's shortcomings: the inconsistent delivery ties and the ease in which information leaks to employees' public-facing Twitter connections. Yammer integrates its social networking conversations with its own IM service, and both Yammer and Socialtext keep conversations behind the firewall by default.
And both companies' products honor business needs that a pure Web 2.0 offering may see as uncool. For example, because e-mail is still an integral part of how employees communicate, especially the older generation, Yammer lets users send and receive messages through the corporate e-mail server, and users must be in the company-approved e-mail directory.
Yammer users can also post questions or search for discussion topics or through profiles -- for example, to look for in-house company experts. And it functions as a company discussion board, letting users create groups within the organization and target discussions to that group alone.
When an employee leaves the company, their messages can be archived with the ability to expunge the conversations according to a time frame set by company policy, notes Yammer CEO David Sacks.
At Socialtext, the company has announced the beta release of Socialtext Desktop, which displays the "signals" posted by colleagues and groups. Employees can use it to send "signals" or to view the messaging stream for anyone in the company. It also includes a pop-up notification alert to keep users aware of the latest news.
Don't expect Twitter, Socialtext, or Yammer to create world peace, no matter how many people across the globe start talking with one another. But there is no doubt that this social networking technology is becoming an important tool to keep personal and business relationships going.