When I made the transition in 1999 from direct marketing to internet marketing, web usability guru Jakob Nielsen was a huge influence on my thinking, along with Seth Godin, Robert Scoble, Doc Searls, and Cluetrain Manifesto. Having said that, I think Nielsen is totally misguided when it comes to Twitter.
Jakob Nielsen is a great source of good information on web usability. He is a very poor source of good information on social media, being dismissive of blogging from the get go, and continuing his bizarre tirade in a Special Report in Business Week in May of 2009.
What I find astonishing is Nielsen's utter lack of comprehension of SEO power in Twitter tweets, the urgency of CEOs to step down from their ivory towers and be transparent (Nielsen justifies CEO paranoia about public statements), and the whole purpose of social media.
Twitter is micro blogging. Nielsen, a website-oriented specialist, has disdain for blogging in general, and micro blogging even more so. Nielsen simply embodies an old fashioned corporate philosophy that is now counter-productive, to say the least.
I will use my old running commentary method in my debunking of Jakob Nielsen's remarks in Business Week on CEO usage of Twitter: my comments are in red bold type.
Here is my quick critique of the "Jakob Nielsen Critiques Twitter" article in Business Week, an interview with the Great One conducted by Rebecca Reisner.
Are you surprised to see so many CEOs tweeting?
Well, there are always people who jump on the latest bandwagon, no matter what it is, but I do think it's surprising that CEOs would have the time to tweet, since they can't just toss off a sentence without repercussions the same way a normal user can. One of my former bosses once said that he had to be very careful what he said because tens of thousands of people in his organization would actually take it seriously and act on it. So if he said something that was easily misinterpreted, it could steer the company in the wrong direction.
Streight says: Nielsen right off the bat seems desperate to condemn Twitter, as evidenced by his combining the time factor with the paranoid angle: CEOs have no time to tweet and must be super cautious about what they say.
This only perpetuates the myth that social media has to necessarily be time-consuming and that CEOs should be opaque, unapproachable, distant from the customer base.
How ridiculous to say that an employee might pay attention to what the CEO says, and actually act on it! Like that's a bad thing. Why worry about misinterpretation of a CEO tweet? Can't the CEO be explicit and word things precisely, so there can be no rampant misinterpretation?
One tweet is going to "steer the company in the wrong direction"??? LOL
Do you think it's a good idea for CEOs to tweet to their customers?
Mostly no. Posting on the Web is the modern PR, and the CEO's job is to articulate the company's vision and direction, which requires more than 140 characters. Being perceived as a wise guy or a shallow thinker is not going to do your stock price much good. We have just completed a usability study of investor relations info on corporate Web sites, and one of the big reasons individual investors turn to companies' Web sites is to find the CEO's vision and take on the company's and industry's direction.
Because users don't want to read very much online, this information should be addressed concisely, but not as concisely as in a tweet. Better to write something deeper (or post a video clip, since investors also want to assess the CEO's personality by watching him or her speak), and then announce that, with a link, from the company's general Twitter update, as opposed to in the CEO's personal tweet.
Streight says: Wake up and smell the coffee Jakob! Twitter is obviously not a tool for droning on and on with mission statements and corporate philosophy. Twitter is a tool for interacting with customers on a regular guy basis, joking around, giving advice, providing tips, proving your expertise by sharing relevant links and opinions.
Nielsen is correct in saying you should use Twitter to disseminate links to your videos and other online material -- but nobody wants to interact with an anonymous "Corporate Presence" in social networks. They want to interact with a real individual person, warts and all.
CEOs can provide a lot of good information in 140 character tweets, or a series of them, to meet customer needs for clarification and to respond to complaints, using Twitter as a resolution tool.
Is Twitter is a fad or here to stay?
Something like Twitter is certainly here to stay, even if that specific company could go the way of Excite and Geocities. Being early doesn't guarantee success if a better implementation of the same idea comes along. But fundamentally, this micro-announcement service does serve two needs: to post updates with low overhead and to follow a concise stream of updates.
Streight says: Nielsen seems to be complimenting Twitter in a begrudging, semi-reluctant manner, while still taking a cynical swipe at it by warning of better tools that might come along someday.
Do you think the growth of Twitter is a threat to individuals' ability to concentrate?
If you care about productivity, don't check your Twitter feed while you're trying to get work done. Disruptions are deadly for productivity because it takes several minutes to reorient the brain every time you go off track looking at something else. Stick to checking updates once per day—for example, during lunch. All the tweets will still be there.
Streight says: Check your Twitter feed as often as you want, frequently in fact, so you can respond quickly to customer questions, complaints, and praise. You can always postpone your reply if you deem it not urgent to respond, but it is a good idea to monitor, or have your staff monitor, Twitter and Facebook feeds.
I don't think companies should ban Twitter use during business hours because it does have its business uses, as previously discussed. But companies could cash in major productivity gains if they advised employees on how to minimize disruptions. The growth in social media can become a major drain on the economy unless people learn how to be in control of their time instead of allowing external updates to be in the driver's seat.
Streight says: Wrong. Companies should ban Twitter use during business hours, except for the staff who are in charge of the company's social media work. Tweeting for personal reasons is similar to using the telephone or email for personal reasons at work. Except in real emergencies, employees should stick to their jobs while at work and leave their online socializing for their private time, when they're not on the job.
Are you a fan of any particular organizations' tweets?
One example of good business use of Twitter is the CDC's stream of updates on the H1N1 influenza. I have two recommendations for improved usability of this account: (a) Spell out the full name (Centers for Disease Control) in the bio, because not everybody knows the acronym CDC; and (b) link the "Web" field directly to a specific page about H1N1 instead of a generic page about all possible health emergencies, including many that are not of current interest.
Streight says: Of all things for Nielsen to praise: the Big Pharma Bail Out Flu hoax perpetuated by the corrupt Centers for Disease Control! Nice going...
Rebecca Reisner is an editor at BusinessWeek.com
Having said all this, I still maintain that you don't know zilch about website design if you haven't read Jakob Nielsen's books on web usability. Just ignore what he says about blogging and social media, and you'll be fine.
Click image below to visit Amazon page for his Designing Web Usability masterpiece.
Here's another wonderful book: Homepage Usability. Click image below to visit Amazon page.