One point I took from the event was what twitter is becoming for businesses. Not only are they using it for broadcasting information (sales, new products, etc), but they are also using it to communicate directly with customers. Just like many users, they find themselves “chatting” through the social network. Some businesses have really taken to using twitter as a real-time communications tool.
Using twitter in this manner seems to be successful for many companies. Some use it to answer questions, concerns, and some for even troubleshooting problems (@eastlink technical support is a good example of this). One of my friends recently used twitter to change a restaurant reservation.
I believe this is the start of a large shift in the way businesses communicate with their customers. For many of us in the “social network generation” (or whatever you want to call it) twitter is starting replace some of our previously established communication tools. Not just the obvious, like email, but even more prevalent real-time two-way communication tools, like the telephone.
One distinct advantage is the ability to answer concerns of many customers at once; cutting down on repetition. Another is is the ability to queue questions so that you can answer when time allows or you’ve had time to research. Maybe this is the way we get to the dream of a world without waiting on hold listening to sweet sweet muzak.
However, there are some very specific questions a business has to ask itself when deciding to use twitter in this capacity. Who will be doing the tweeting? Is this the job of the business owner? Manger? Since we’re going to be using twitter to replace functions that front-line employees do anyway, wouldn’t it make sense for them to using twitter?
How can we delegate this task to a front-line employee without causing too much of a distraction? Can this be done in a cost effective manner? Just giving an employee a laptop or an iPad seems expensive, and, frankly, overkill. Being the hardware junkie that I am, I see the potential in building a device for the task. A service for businesses new to twitter could be incorporated as well, but I want to concentrate on the device itself, for now.
Such a device should be simple. Practically anything can post to twitter (laptops, cell phones, tablets, alarm clocks, TVs, potted plants… you get the idea). The problem is that most of these devices do so much more. This could become a real distraction for front-line employees and a real headache for the business owner/manager. The real trick is acquiring a device that can ONLY post to twitter and doesn’t cost more than it is worth.
Here is what I think would work. First, you take a cheap Android tablet. This is starting to become an easy to come by commodity. High-end Android tablets are failing in the market all over the place and many budget manufactures are trying to build cheaper and cheaper tablets. It’s a race to the bottom that I plan on taking full advantage of. Many Android devices are easily hackable due to the operating system’s open source nature. Using this hackability, we could “lock down” the device to only be able to run the apps we want. This allows for control of what the user can do while still allowing for a great user experience. They could use the same great tools and apps available on regular Android phones and tablets. So creating a device that only does twitter is relatively simple for someone like me.
Having said all that, I think the real appeal here is to actually build Android devices for specialized purposes for businesses. I would really like to try the twitter device I have described as a pilot to this idea. So, if anyone has any ideas for a business (preferably in downtown Halifax) that would like to try using a “twitter only” device for their employees, I would like to know. I see it purely as a test and I will gladly provide the hardware, setup, mounting, and any other help the business needs.
I am currently experimenting with the Viewsonic gTablet. It’s a considerably powerful Android tablet with a 10” screen, Nvidia Tegra2 SoC, and it is a dream for hacking. It currently retails for less than $270. I basically have it already doing what I am proposing, but I will try to tweet and google+ about developments and things that I discover.