Many leaders are in a quandary about Twitter. They know it is becoming increasingly popular, but they don’t know if they want their employees Twittering, especially on company time.
Some executives are outright hostile to it. In fact, a few weeks ago, someone told me that his company’s IT department had blocked employee access to Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media site. They asked if I could have a talk with their CEO.I have seen this movie before. It always has the same ending. I have watched it with personal computers, email, cell phones, fax machines, blogging, Blackberries, Facebook, and now Twitter.
In my experience, corporate executives go through five stages in adopting new communication technologies.
- Stage 1: Ridicule. The executives initially think these technologies are silly. In the 1980s when I started using email, one of the executives in my company made fun of me, because email didn’t provide (he thought) a permanent record. “Besides,” he said, “Not everyone has it. It will never catch on.”
Twitter is similar. When I first heard about it, I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of. “Why do I care what you had for lunch?” I protested.
- Stage 2: Control. The executives grow concerned about abuse of the technology and try to control it. With email, the company I worked for issued a formal “email policy.” You had to have a legitimate business reason to use email. You then had to get approval from a Vice President. Finally, you had to sign-up for your own AOL or CompuServe account and pay for it yourself. (We didn’t have a corporate email system at the time.)
This is why some companies today are developing formal Social Media Guidelines and Policies. They know it’s seeping into the workplace, and they want to control it. After all, that’s what executives do, they think.
- Stage 3: Experimentation. The executives begin experimenting with the technology themselves. Again, to use email as an example, as more and more people started using email, I saw executives begin to tip-toe into the water. I remember one executive who had his secretary print out his emails and put them in his physical inbox. He would then dictate a response.
Believe it or not, I know of a couple of executives today who are doing the exact same thing with Twitter. I don’t try to discourage them. If it gets them started, great.
- Stage 4: Adoption. The executives start using the technology themselves. Eventually, executives learn that the technology is not so scary, and they can actually be more productive if they use it themselves. I don’t know about you, but I never really learned ho to dictate a memo. I am so much faster just banging out my own messages. Besides, it gives me a chance to edit and respond more quickly.
Some executives are figuring this out with Twitter, too. They can use it as a competitive advantage to be more responsive to their customers, employees, and even vendors. Besides, it’s kind of fun.
- Stage 5: Dedication. The executives wonder how the organization could function without the technology. Can you imagine joining a company today and not being given an email address? It’s now standard operating procedure. Everyone is expected to use email. No one I know would even think about sending a paper memo any more.
Twitter is not quite ubiquitous, but I think it—or some version of it—will eventually get there. We’ll eventually wonder how we got along without it.
I see organizations at every stage in using Twitter. In my own company, I think we are somewhere between Stages 3 and 4. My guess is that we will be at Stage 5 in the next 18 months.
Though my colleagues may disagree with me, I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually replacing email altogether—just as FedEx replaced conventional letters, faxes replaced FedEx, and email replaced faxes. The trend is always toward faster, more immediate communication.