Clay Shirky, twitter, and The Ultimate Question

by bledsoe on January 9, 2009

Author and social media expert Clay Shirky was on NPR recently discussing his latest book and other social/internet technologies, and while talking about changes in marketing approaches driven by new internet tools, happened to mention an idea that an author had recently put forward regarding customer satisfaction data.  Shirky couldn't remember the author's name, but he summarized his basic thesis as something like, "customer satisfaction is best measured by one simple question, 'Would you recommend this [business/product/service] to a friend?'"  Having used exactly that question on a number of customer feedback surveys which I have conducted, I was curious about the author that Shirky mentioned and to what degree his thesis was supported by research.  Shirky mentioned that someone would probably provide the author's name very soon via twitter, and sure enough, someone did.

While there are many people who don't use twitter, I suspect most people who spend at least some of their time online are by now aware of it, a so-called micro-blogging tool that allows you to broadcast short posts ("tweets") to other twitter-users (your "followers").  I have been using twitter for about a year or so (you can see my most recent tweets in the sidebar to the right), and I follow around 40 people on twitter.  Some of the people I follow are actual friends or acquaintances of mine, and some are people I've never met but who tweet about things that I find interesting.  Shirky falls into the latter category, and I've been following him on twitter for 2 or 3 months now.

Sure enough, a little later that same day, someone sent a tweet to Shirky, and he "retweeted" it to all his followers:

RT @ysyl: Researcher you were blanking on [on @ToTN] is Fred Reichheld and "The Ultimate Question" (Me: Thanks @ysyl!)

For those not fluent in twitterspeak, the "@" symbols are used in twitter to indicate another twitter user, and the RT at the beginning of the tweet indicates that Shirky is retweeting (i.e., repeating) something that was originally tweeted by another twitter user (@ysyl).

I think this is neat for a couple of reasons.  One, because of the fact that I follow Shirky on twitter, and because someone else took a few seconds to provide Shirky with the name he couldn't think of during the show, I was able to satisfy some of my curiosity about Reichheld and his book.  In particular, after seeing Shirky's tweet, I found some reviews of the book on Amazon, and discovered that the author's thesis appears to be supported more by anecdotal and rhetorical evidence than published academic research.

The other reason I think this is neat is how the tweeting (and retweeting) of this information provides an illustration of one of the things that Shirky talks a lot about.  The internet, via Twitter, Amazon, and other online tools, has changed (and continues to change) the way information is shared among consumers and businesses.  In particular, corporations and businesses no longer control the marketing of their products and services in the way they used to.  Twitter provides a platform for consumers  to supply information to others in an informal, yet valuable, way; and Amazon provides a platform for people to supply reviews and opinions about certain products.  These two tools increased the value to me of the information I heard on a radio show just a few hours earlier.  While I'm sure there are still people who use tools like twitter to tell their followers how they're feeling right now or what they just had for lunch, those aren't typically the people I follow.  There are plenty of people using twitter and other tools to provide truly valuable information about things you're interested in (even business-related things), and once you know how to make use of those tools, you can take advantage of that information.

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