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All That Twitters


Despite some high-profile hacks, company buzz is growing.

Twitter wants to know what you're doing. For the uninitiated, the popular micro-blogging application allows users to keep in touch, providing a blow-by-blow account of each person's life through a stream of real-time short messages.

Available via a variety of platforms and devices, each message is a quick answer to the question "What are you doing?" But what began as an instant-messaging-meets-blogs way for ADD-afflicted individuals to stay connected has become a prominent medium for companies looking to keep their customers close.

Originally used as a running ticker documenting the superfluous ins and outs of its users' lives, it didn't take long for some of the country's biggest corporations to start their own Twitter pages, through which they can alert users of the latest company news. Dell (DELL), for example, offers a variety of Twitter feeds (though the company's track record on actually listening to its customers is somewhat less state-of-the-art). The feeds range from DellOutlet, which offers exclusive discounts on Dell products, to StudioDell, which alerts users of the company's latest technology.

On the other hand, JetBlue Airways (JBLU) offers only a single Twitter outlet where the company dispenses everything from travel tips to special travel discounts. That reach --coupled with the ability to interact with users -- has established the application as a growing portal for brands ranging from Ford (F) to Best Buy (BBY) to Whole Foods (WFMI) to Kodak (EK). Not bad for a privately-funded San Francisco social-networking startup that launched less than three years ago.

But the Twitter technology remains a work in progress. That was never more apparent than it was earlier this month, when someone hacked into the official Twitter page for both Britney Spears and Fox News:

The resulting humiliating exchange earned the company a great deal of publicity it didn't want. But the hacking episode did nothing to slow down corporate interest. Despite each message, or "Tweet," being limited to 140 characters, the utility's effectiveness as a marketing tool has proven incalculable, particularly in its real-time interactivity.

On Amazon's (AMZN) Twitter, for example, users can send a book title, after which the company can respond with the book's price. That constant back-and-forth has given brands the kind of infinite reach they covet.

With estimates ranging between 1 million and 3 million users, Twitter's effectiveness as both a social and marketing tool hasn't been lost on anyone. President Barack Obama, for one, got so much mileage out of Twitter during his campaign that the newly-redesigned White House website borrows certain Twitter features, particularly in its new "contact us" form.

Last year, the company even snubbed a $500 million offer from Facebook. That rejection may have left some users borrowing the company's credo and wondering what Twitter was doing (the offer was allegedly too stock-heavy) - but with an emerging role in marketing its social and financial equity could be growing.
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