Twitter exec calls tweets the 'ultimate business intelligence tool'

At CITE conference, Mike Brown also praises media mogul Rupert Murdoch for authentic tweets

SAN FRANCISCO -- Twitter is no longer about tweeting what you ate for breakfast, and it's poised to get more innovative in how it tracks your activity and serves up data analytics.

Mike Brown, director of corporate development at Twitter, spoke at the CITE Conference here today, expounding on how the social network is really "the ultimate business intelligence tool."

Because of Twitter's ability to offer insight into what customers and competitors are saying about each other, customizing the site to offer that data in a more targeted way can help users shape and market their products.

Brown also offered a surprising insight into one of his favorite tweeters, and how it's an example of how more companies should use Twitter.

"One of my favorite Twitter accounts, ...because he just joined recently, is Rupert Murdoch," Brown said. "Whether you subscribe to his politics or not, the guy tells it like he thinks it and you really get that sense when you read his tweets.

"I think whether you're a brand or a marketer or a small business owner, [you need] to talk with an authentic voice that feels like your own, [one] your customers know," he said. "Your customer's BS meter is pretty good. Don't hand off your Twitter to your PR agency or even an intern who's going to be with your business for a short while."

Brown, who is in charge of Twitter's mergers and acquisitions, its corporate strategy and business operations, said the company needs to take more risks to be user friendly. He admitted the move may not be welcome by "hard-core, old-school" users, but said Twitter needs to be more accessible to new users.

For example, Brown referred to Twitter's current interface as "command line" style, which he believes is in need of upgrade to a more GUI-style interface that could follow news threads all around a specific topic.

"This isn't the voice of Twitter speaking, this is my personal opinion, but we have an opportunity to up-level the chatter on Twitter to share a story in photo, in video and in narrative that helps people understand the story and if they want more detail they can dig into it and see what the conversation is behind the story," he said.

One of the ways in which Twitter plans to grow its services and revenue is through real-time data analytics about three key audience segments: advertisers; "very important tweeters" (VITs) such as celebrities; and third-party application developers.

Each of those Twitter audiences has unique analytics needs, and Twitter plans to help them grow their presence, build their brands and understand the efficacy of what they're sharing on Twitter. "I'd say we're in the second or third inning of the ball game. We've got a long ways to go to get our analytics to where it needs to be," Brown said.

Last year, Twitter acquired BackType, a data analytics software development company that created an product called Storm.

Storm, Brown explained, is a massively-scalable, real-time infrastructure for collecting and analyzing data and showing results.

Twitter is currently migrating its back-end infrastructure to Storm, among other technologies, so that it can keep up with rapid growth. "I think there are something like 350 million tweets a day ... and that number is growing very quickly," Brown said. "To keep up with that so that we can provide real-time analytics for those three constituencies is a major challenge."

Brown said the new data analytics products should be out in the next three to six months.

Twitter is growing internally like never before in its six-year history. Today, it has about 1,000 employees, and, Brown said, it's hiring "like a weed."

"We need to make enough money to be profitable to do everything we want to do," he said. "The problem is, we want to do a lot."

If you've ever wondered how Twitter makes money, it does so by learning what interests users follow in their tweets and what links they share. That information is then broken down into what's called "audience segment models."

By fine tuning those models, Twitter can do two things: Serve very targeted advertisements in the form of a promoted tweet, which basically shows up in a user's timeline, indicating, "We know you're interested in this, let us tell you more about this product or company."

Twitter also plans to use advanced sensors on smartphones, such as GPS, to target users with proactive advertisements.

"If I know you're in a certain location, and I know it's a certain time of day, and I know you have a passion for a certain cuisine or a certain business, we can proactively serve to you content we think is relevant to you. We call that discovery, and that's a really new initiative for us," Brown said.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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