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    Do You Tweet?

    Tweets are good for more than simple vanity and, taken collectively, the stream of messages can turn Twitter into a surprisingly useful tool for solving problems and providing insights into the digital mood

    By Marshall Marcovitz

    Tweets are good for more than simple vanity and, taken collectively, the stream of messages can turn Twitter into a surprisingly useful tool for solving problems and providing insights into the digital mood

    Do you want to put Twitter’s world to use for you in growing your business?

    Do you want to peer into the minds of your customers?

    Do you want to read their immediate reactions to a new product?

    Many large companies and smaller entrepreneurial firms are acquiring new customers by being part of social networking sites like Twitter.

    At Starbucks, customers used to complain by leaving notes in suggestion boxes. Now, they can also post their complaints or suggestions on Twitter. Starbucks, which has assigned a person to write the company’s Twitter updates, tracks what people are saying about Starbucks online. Corporations often use Twitter for sales pitches. Even small businesses find Twitter useful. For example, a Massage and Wellness Center in San Francisco twitters when masseuses have same-day openings in their schedules and offers discounts. The spa is often fully booked within several hours. However, for Twitter to be truly useful as a research tool, more people will have to start using it. To make that easier, Twitter will soon add a search box to the home page so users can search for new terms and get tweets about those topics in their Twitter feeds.

    What is Twitter?
    Twitter is a free service that lets you keep in touch with people through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: “What are you doing?”

    I’m constantly testing the newest Internet technology to help businesses grow profitably. Increasingly, I’ve discovered that Tweets are good for more than simple vanity. I strongly suggest putting Twitter’s world to use for your business. You may ask, “Is the Twitter audience too young? Are they even interested in gourmet housewares?” My experience has been that, taken collectively, the stream of messages can turn Twitter into a surprisingly useful tool for solving problems and providing insights into the digital mood.

    How can Twitter work for you? Companies like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Dell can see what their customers are thinking as they use a product, and they can adapt their marketing accordingly. Your first reaction to using Twitter might be, “What good will it do my company? Why would anybody want to read short messages about what someone ate for breakfast?” Those are reasonable questions, but Twitter has about 14 million users who visited its site 99 million times last month (approximately) to read posts tapped out on cellphones and computers. Test it and evaluate the results (a six-month test is an effective time frame).

    Leadership Lessons
    Moving on from the world of Twitter, right now is an opportune time to analyze how you are running your business. What is the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past two difficult years?

    My leadership lesson was the ability to listen, and to make people understand that you are listening to them. Make them feel that they are making a contribution, and then you make a decision. You’ve got to have a sense of inclusiveness. The other most important thing is making people understand the strategy and the message. The troops have to understand where they are going. I’ve also learned to be patient and not lose my temper. It’s important because people look at everything you do and take a signal from it. When you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run.

    How simple should the message be?
    I use the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep it simple stupid! I use three slides and three points. I’ve discovered that people can’t manage more than three or four things at the most, but I like to see it in three slides. I dislike Power Point presentations. People can submit their presentations, and I can read them.

    What are the most important things to communicate to your managers?
    I believe the most important thing is mentoring. People ignore their responsibility to mentor. Was there a mentor who helped you get to where you are today? It could be just one, it could have been several along the way, but you have a responsibility to mentor other people. People tend to get caught up in themselves. So, my usual message to young leaders is: “What are you doing to develop the next generation of leaders?” Young people today look at Facebook. They look at YouTube. They are in a totally different communication realm. Test putting something on YouTube, and tell your people it’s on YouTube. Let them know you want them to use YouTube to communicate with a younger audience of potential customers.

    What are the most effective ways to run meetings?
    First, get the materials out ahead of time and make sure they are succinct and to the point. Second, start the meeting on time. Third, I tend to be serious-minded with a touch of light humor going into a meeting. I want the debate. I want to hear everybody’s perspective, so I ask lots of open-ended questions: “What’s the biggest problem in operations? What has the customers’ feedback been on our new products?” I try to ask more questions than make statements. I also think it’s inappropriate to use BlackBerrys in meetings. Let’s stay focused on what we’re doing. Let’s have a really intense debate, but it can’t get uncollegial. If it gets uncollegial, we actually have a bell you can ring in the conference room.

    Marshall’s Quick Quotes
    “I think we are in the fifth inning of a nine-inning consolidation game.”

    - William T. Coleman, Former Sun Microsystems Executive

    “The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions.”

    - Mike Krzyewski, Duke Basketball Coach

    “Indecision may or may not be my problem.”

    - Jimmy Buffett, Entertainer

    “The first step to getting things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.”

    - Ben Stein, Business Guru

    Books for Brainstorming
    •    “Peaks and Valleys” by Spencer Johnson. Making both good and bad times work for you, personally and professionally.
    •    “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. The importance of instinct to the workings of the mind.
    •    “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. Thoughts on “seizing every moment” from Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 47. A true inspiration.

    Marshall Marcovitz is the founder and former CEO of the CHEF’S CATALOG, a leading Internet shopping site. Currently, he is a lecturer, a university professor and a marketing consultant. He may be contacted at [email protected].

    By Marshall Marcovitz
    • About Marshall Marcovitz

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