Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Twitter is Changing Community Dynamics

It seems the mirco-blogging platform is being used for a lot more than just posting links and banal commentary on the days events.

I am an avid user of TripIt for organizing my frequent travel schedules. TripIt works by allowing users to forward their travel arrangement emails to TripIt, which will then parse the emails and create a travel schedule for you. Genius. A couple of weeks ago I booked a flight from Malta to London, moments later I received my confirmation email and dutifully forwarded to TripIt. I know from previous attempts that TripIt does not parse emails from AirMalta, I raised this as an issue with TripIt a while back (I do between 10-20 flights out of Malta each year) and I still forward the confirmations just in case they added support in the meantime. As usual my confirmation email was rejected, so I tweeted my minor annoyance. Then something interesting happened, TripIt tweeted me back saying they’d like to fix the issue. Within the hour they had added support for AirMalta confirmations.

It occurred to me that the model of community support was changing. I had tried the normal channel support channel with TripIt but got no response, but now they had found me.

About a day later I tweeted that GMail IMAP support should expose an “Archive” folder so that clients such as the iPhone could archive mail. Within a few minutes I had a friend from Google raise the issue with the Gmail team and a couple of other responses from my, erm, Twuniverse tell me about a work around. There was definitely a pattern emerging. Rather than me having to sign up to a community and ask for help, I was being offered help.

I am usually a good community member, I join, I ask questions, I leave comments, I raise issues. However, these days I do not have the time to be actively involved with any more than two communities. With the shift of social media and the plethora of communities out there it has become impossible to be part of the 10 percent that actually contribute in some way to more than a couple of communities. The Twitter community model says that I don’t need to join a community to get assistance; I can write a 140 character cry for help and post it to Twitter. Forward thinking services such as TripIt will be trawling the sea of Tweets and can reach out to me. I’d call it the ‘message in a bottle’ community model.

The question is whether this model will scale if Twitter goes mainstream. Given the possible influx of requests it may become difficult to service those requests. However, large companies are having success with this approach. ComCast employee Famous Frank aka @comcastcares has demonstrated that it is possible to support a large user base one tweet at a time (there is a good article about ComCast in Wired this month). Famous Frank set out to help change the tarnished image of ComCast support and now has a team of people offering support via Twitter.

One reason communities are the way they are is so that users can talk with other users and self-serve by trawling the archives. The Twitter model doesn’t make it easy to view a useful history of the resolution. Also, with the restriction of 140 characters it will sometimes be necessary to switch to email or phone to resolve an issue. Finally, offering support like this means that a support issue is not created and tracked, which may be problem for some companies.

It seems there is an opportunity here to integrate Twitter into more traditional forms of support and community. Twitter can still be used as the communication channel, but the conversation can be logged and tracked in other tools to provide a ticket and searchable history. Surely this a job for Atlassian?

You can follow me on Twitter @rossmason


Robert Castaneda said...

Hi Ross,

I posted a similar support experience from the "other" side last month - http://tinyurl.com/ctw847



Ross Mason said...

Hi Rob,

This is why we enjoy working with you guys. You are all about service. I totally agree with your post.

Benson said...

I've noticed positive reactions when tweeting about Mule from the MuleSource folks. :-)