Twitter is increasingly helping journalists to pick up and follow stories, but the media is not the only sector to benefit - IT professionals can get just as much out of tweeting.
The hype around the social networking tool is reaching new peaks, but Jeffrey Mann, a Gartner analyst who specialises in web collaboration, says a little over-reaction doesn't mean it isn't useful to business.
He says IT staff can use it in much the same way as other business professionals - boosting their own public profile, keeping up with recent developments in the sector, and taking part in the day’s debate.
And the medium itself means IT staff are more likely than those in other sectors to have an enthusiastic online community waiting for them.
Mann says a lot of techies and geeks use Twitter, so many discussions are technology-related.
The potentially huge audience of Twitter means your posts could reach a massive number of people. As a result, users often steer clear of posting highly personal information and instead use it as a forum to explore and develop their ideas and opinions.
“People use it to keep track of people they meet at conferences, bloggers they like, and things like that,” says Mann.
“But they are not asked to do it by their companies - it is not a part of their job, it is about getting ideas out there and getting their name talked about. A lot of people are hesitant to post personal things. It tends to be somewhere between personal and professional.”
IT workers can use Twitter in the same way journalists do: to keep up with what is going on, what is new and which companies have announced a new product or the latest batch of redundancies.
It is often used as a signalling device, so users generally have to sift through the entries, find what is relevant and may have to do more work to corroborate what is being said.
Mann says, “Things may not be discussed in depth, as it is more like chatting. Things pop up, and people start talking about it. There is a lot of volume and noise. You have to pick out what is important, then take steps to find out what is really going on.”
It can be helpful when there is little communication over a certain event or topic - as users of Salesforce.com found when the site went down recently.
And plenty of IT’s highest profile figures are on Twitter, so it is a good way of keeping up with the industry’s big thinkers. And it could even be a way of becoming one of those big thinkers, says Mann.
“It helps to build up your own profile and become known outside the boundaries of your company. It could help find you a job and it contributes to your personal brand,” he says.
It may be worth getting involved now, if you are not already. Mann predicts the hype around Twitter is about to come to a peak, before dropping off next year.
“It is reaching the top of the hype cycle. It is probably going to peak soon. It is useful and fun, and you can see some benefits, but we are already beginning to see some alternatives such as Yammer,” he says.
“It will start reappearing in other forms. Big companies and vendors are likely to introduce their own, similar sites, to use it in a more controlled way with a smaller number of users.”
Victoria Baker, an IT designer and consultant working mainly for the museum, education and social media sectors:
“Twitter is useful for me in some ways as a networking tool, but in other ways as a means of controlling my own information flow.
“Our jobs change all the time, and there are aspects of working within this industry which can be quite isolating.
“With Twitter I am able to follow people I admire. They offer an insight into areas of communication and technology which I may have missed, and in return I can pass on information or tips.”
Doug Hazleman, director of the global systems engineer group for Veeam Software, says Twitter is popular with virtualisation staff:
“I work for a vendor in the virtualisation space but I am technical and I communicate a lot with IT professionals around virtualisation.
“It seems to me that IT professionals in the virtualisation area have picked up on Twitter more than other groups. It may be because virtualisation is new technology, but there are a lot of blogs and people using Twitter to post information.”
Rik Ferguson, a senior security advisor at Trend Micro, uses the tool to keep up to date and build his profile:
“I use it to keep in touch with technology journalists and their stories, and I let them know when I have some information they might be interested in.
“I also listen to people tweeting about malware and security-related issues they may be having with their home PCs and offer advice where I can.
“I also use it to keep track of security-related research by experts in the field and to keep up to date with the constant developments in the information security/cybercrime worlds.
“Finally, I use it socially. I want to use it to raise the profile of Trend Micro, both in public perception and with the media. If that has any knock-on effects on my own profile, that is great. It is great for networking with peers in the security industry.”