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10/15/2010 | 4 MINUTE READ

Try Tweeting for a Tool?

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Here is how Twitter will serve the metalworking industry.

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Imaging just “tweeting” when you face an unusual machining challenge and don’t know what tool, technique or equipment might provide the solution. Rather than searching websites or sifting search engine results, imagine just sending a message on Twitter and getting helpful responses back in return.

Jennifer Altimore of Kennametal has seen this happen. She manages social media for the cutting tool company, and also for the sister brand Widia. At IMTS this year, an attendee to the show was looking for a particular type of tooling product, and he tweeted to see if anyone had ideas. Ms. Altimore saw the tweet, knew that Widia could help, and encouraged him to stop by the booth—which he did. She says she knows of two other occasions when equally promising connections related to cutting-tool needs have come to Kennametal or Widia as a result of Twitter.

To be sure, three successes is not much. She is the first to concede this point. But it’s a start. And these successes may illustrate the way that Twitter will be used by industry in the future.

Perception Check

People who imagine Twitter tend to miss an important aspect of this medium. Most impressions of the medium focus on the tweeting—that is, the way Twitter allows anyone to broadcast a message of 140 characters or fewer into twitterspace. What these impressions overlook is the listening.

In addition to tweeting, Twitter also allows anyone to see and search through tweeted messages. A user might benefit from Twitter in this way without ever sending a tweet. In fact, Twitter users who become comfortable with the medium often graduate to a higher-level utility such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite (among others) for the purposes of this monitoring. These utilities make it easy to create a customized environment for tracking certain users and—more importantly—for tracking certain keywords across the Twitter universe.

That IMTS encounter for Widia was a result of Ms. Altimore monitoring all tweets with the word “IMTS.” The tool-related tweet that the attendee sent up like a flare had included this term. Today, probably few other suppliers of metalworking technology have someone monitoring Twitter keywords the way Ms. Altimore does. As a result, a shop tweeting its own metalworking need today is unlikely to get helpful results (though it takes just a minute to try). But in the future, more business-to-business companies are likely to task staff with looking at Twitter and responding to relevant tweets—including more metalworking-related companies. Once enough suppliers to the metalworking industry are doing this, Twitter will become a valuable industry resource.

Better Than Googling

Searching could actually become more easy and more “social” than we expect it to be today. Consider that today we are still apt to view Googling and searching through websites as convenient ways to obtain information. Just imagine how much more convenient it would be if the information came right to us instead—and came in the form of concise, targeted, telegram-like missives that we could quickly scan to size up their value. The term “tweeting” may sound excessively cute (and I think this is a real impediment to its adoption), but tweeting in fact represents a potentially powerful mechanism for marshalling on-the-spot individual knowledge and expertise.

In fact, once industry does use Twitter this way, I can even see how MMSOnline might help. This website could post and maintain a current listing of the industry keywords that are known to be monitored on Twitter. Shops seeking answers could then choose among these keywords to increase the visibility of their tweets.

Is Time the Issue?

Ms. Altimore says the monitoring she performs does take time, but not as much time as the reader might think. When people claim to bristle against the time commitment of social media, it is more likely that they are bristling against their own discomfort. And that’s OK—discomfort with social media is rampant, even warranted.

But she says this discomfort should not stand in the way of a company’s making use of these media. “Why not hire an intern?” she says.

Really. At least in the beginning, a part-time facilitator could give the company a basic level of engagement with social media. Good intern prospects to fill this role likely would not be hard to find, and (this is perhaps too well-known a point even to state) the members of the younger generation generally do not feel discomfort with social media. Those of “Generation Y” age tend to exhibit far more fluency with social media than people of either the Baby Boom or Generation X.

Support Stream

Ms. Altimore sees one other promising use for Twitter in industry. Namely: technical support. Use of the chat function on Widia’s website already is almost entirely devoted to this purpose. She thinks Twitter could take up the role that some of this chatting fills today.

One mechanism for this might be “lists.” In Twitter, user profiles sometimes appear in “lists,” which are collections of feeds that can be followed together as a single stream. Any user can create a list of Twitter feeds around any particular theme. For tech support, a list might group together the users of one particular product type or product family from a given supplier company. Every question tweeted could then be seen and addressed not just by the supplier’s tech support, but also by other users of the same product. Additionally, following this list would open a window into the ways that other people are experiencing the product. Imagine what a revealing and informative view of the product that such a stream of messages could provide.
 

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