Part of the Plumbing

A tweet from @scilib alerted me to a New Year’s day post entitled “Why Twitter Will Endure” published in the New York Times. David Carr described how his first reaction on encountering Twitter, less than a year ago, was a feeling that “the last thing I wanted was one more Web-borne intrusion into my life“. But now he is convinced Twitter is here to stay.

David went on to cite Steven Johnson’s (the author and technology observer who “wrote a seminal piece about Twitter for Time“) comment that “The history of the Internet suggests that there have been cool Web sites that go in and out of fashion and then there have been open standards that become plumbing“.

The Implications

I feel that Twitter is rapidly becoming a key part of an organisation’s  information infrastructure – and a good example of this can be seen from the way in which the University of bath used Twitter (alongside email and its Web site) to provide an alert that the University was closed due to the bad weather last week.

But if Twitter is becoming part of the institutional informational infrastructure (and no longer is it a case that the “The person is the [only] point“) what are the implications for the institution? For me there will be a need to address the following areas

Twitter Policies: There will be a need for policies on the purpose of the Twitter account and its scope, as well as policies on following other Twitter users, responding to messages (public and private), etc. Although I am aware of a number of local authorities and museums that have developed policies on their use of Twitter (sometimes based on the Template Twitter strategy for Government Department) the only policy I can easily found online was produced by Mosman Municipal Council in Australia.

Information Policies: As well as the policies on use of Twitter itself, there will also be a need for policies on how Twitter will relate to other information channels. Is Twitter intended, for example, as a replacement for email for alerts or will it provide a complementary delivery channel?

Responsibilities and Procedures: As well as polices there will also be a need to clarify responsibilities and for documented procedures.

Workflow: Will an institution’s Twitter posts be published manually through use of the Twitter Web site or Twitter client or will it be integrated with other systems (e.g. linked to an automated RSS feed)? And if the latter how will the differences between the channels (e.g. Twitter’s 140 character limit) be addressed?

Trust: How can the followers of an institutional Twitter account be assured that the information is being provided by a trusted source? What would happen if, for example, a @universityofpoppleton account was set up as a joke to announce that the University was closed? Is there a need for a verified Twitter account for institutions?

User feedback: There will be a need to obtain feedback from the users – do they, for example, actually use the Twitter feed?

ROI: In today’s economic climate there will be a need to ensure that an institutional Twitter account provides a return on the investment.

Does anyone feel that their institution is using Twitter as part of the plumbing and is addressing these issues? And does anyone have any examples of best practices to share?