Trick or Tweet for CNN

CNN anchor Rick Sanchez is an early adopter of harnessing the power of the social graph. Recognizing the huge potential of micro-blogging, Sanchez has become an avid user of the leading technology of the time: Twitter.

Twitter’s main function allows users via various interfaces (Twitter Web site, Twitter modules for iGoogle, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.) to update people who are “following” them on what they’re doing in 140 characters or less. People’s usage ranges from business (“Great article on Southwestern Airlines earnings release can be found here”) to the inane (“Just had my 5th Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Venti!”).

By far the most popular way in the beginning for those updating their “tweets” was via their mobile phones. Sanchez decided to test out the new medium.

Obviously some of his activities — “Briefing about Colin Powell interview tonight, just learned that he may announce support for Barack Obama” — are much more interesting than a friend informing you that they’re hopped up on pumpkin-flavored Starbucks. Sanchez was probably pleasantly surprised when, within a few weeks, more than 30,000 people were following what he was “tweeting.”

It’s Not About Me, It’s About Them

He then discovered it was more important to talk less about him and more about them (his followers). From there he started to leverage the Twitter platform to ask thought provoking questions like: “I’m interviewing Colin Powell tonight, what would you like to know most about Iraq or Iran?” Here’s a string of tweets from a debate between McCain and Obama:

…if they twittered they’d know how to make the words fit right? 8:17 PM Oct 15th from web

…like this… put it on joe the plummer, personalize it. way to go mccain 8:11 PM Oct 15th from web

…mccain plan, do you rescue everybody, even guy who paid for house he couldn’t afford. even …flippers? 8:10 PM Oct 15th from web

…ok, i can’t dance. my mother is so ashamed, she can. 3:05 PM Oct 15th from web

…many blaming palin for Mc-palin slide in polls? is that fair? what u think? 12:43 PM Oct 15th from web

…mccain: “doesn’t think i have guts to bring up bill ayers” should he? how should obama respond? this could be fun, showdown ok corral.

The above examples greatly illustrates why social media is so revolutionary. Sanchez is able to have a relationship with 30,000 people — they feel more connected with Sanchez than they did before he started to leverage the Twitter platform. They also feel in responding to Sanchez’s questions that they’re helping to produce the show, which in many ways they are.

Is it Rude Not to Return the Favor?

Sanchez also started following a large percentage (roughly 20,000) of the people following him. How can he follow so many people? He isn’t actually keeping tabs on their tweets unless they related directly to his questions.

He’s following these people as a courtesy. The community etiquette at the time is that if someone is following you then you should probably follow them (they’ll never know if you didn’t read one of their tweets!).

The next progression for Sanchez was to get them on the show. Well, obviously you can’t have 30,000 firemen, carpenters, teachers, and the like on the show. Or can you?

So Sanchez and his producer started asking for their 30,000 followers about what their thoughts were on various subjects and put it up on the general scrolling byline. This was brilliant as it added content to the show and also encouraged the 30,000 to see if their comment made the show!

Companies need to relinquish the total control they’ve had and allow users, consumers, viewers, etc. to take their rightful ownership. Sanchez’s experiment, which turned into an overnight success, can be summed up in the following tweet from his producers.

“just finished editorial meeting with my group, may have great new video today. will share more shortly. like i say, it’s your show.” 9:31 AM Oct 21st from web

The key line in the phrase being, “like i say, it’s your show.” The great thing about technologies like micro-blogging (Twitter, Pownce) for businesses is that tools enable you to type in your brand name like “Hershey” or “Prada” and see what millions are talking about. Good companies do this, but savvy companies take it one step further and act upon it. Which one are you?

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