Twitter is one of those all-or-nothing kinds of subjects. People love it or don't get it at all. Either way, there's no escaping the deluge of media attention the social networking platform has attracted of late, and the necessity of considering Twitter's place in the institution's social media strategy. Like much of social media these days, though, the payoff's in soft dollars or down the road. If you've purposefully ignored the buzz about Twitter, or aren't quite sure what it's about, here are the CliffsNotes: Twitter is a (currently) free online networking platform that allows users to send and receive text updates, or "tweets" from other users that they choose to "follow." Think of "tweeting" as sending a mass email to a group of people who have opted in to receive your message. The novelty is that the message can only be 140 characters long, and can be delivered to a cell phone, email account, Twitter account page or Twitter reader installed on the desktop. Twitter also functions as a rudimentary one-to-one email communication channel with its direct message (DM) tools. And though it's ranked as the third most popular social networking site - behind Facebook and MySpace - Twitter's got a lot of issues. The first is it's often unable to handle the number of users at any given time, and error messages aren't uncommon. Also pressing is that it has no business model, (yet, anyway.) and the possibility that it could be a merely a passing fad. But like a number of members of Congress, CEOs, and, of course, Shaquille O'Neill, a dozen or more U.S. banks have a presence on Twitter these days. One of the early adopters is Jacksonville, AR-based First Arkansas Bank and Trust, which uses Twitter to further its GenY acquisition efforts. "We asked, "What can we do to drive home the point to Gen Y and beyond that we can offer the same things the big bank is going to offer - a high level of technology and a high level of products and services - but still have the hometown feel?"says Roger Sundermeier, vp and marketing officer at at FAB&T. Wisconsin-based NorthShore Bank, a $1.7 billion-asset institution, sees Twitter as a tool to allow it to expand the community bank's reach beyond its local footprint to the online community. The bank doesn't really send out many Tweets related to product promotion, instead restricting its messages to news about community events. "The advice I would give is, 'Go ahead and do it. I feel we are better prepared being on Twitter and using that as a communications took than if we were standing on the sidelines and not knowing what was going on there," says Tim Gluth, Webmaster at NorthShore Bank. Some large banks are also taking a personalized approach in their Twitter strategy. BofA and Wells Fargo are utilizing Twitter as a one-to-one customer service channel. (See sidebar) But perhaps the most personalized approach comes from Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada, who personally Tweets several times a day about his life, his team, and his ideas. Aceto's posts never mentions ING's products; he says many of his 603 followers are "superfans" who want to share their love for the company. And what does a bad Twitter strategy look like? "I think really one-way communication, saying, 'How wonderful we are, we have the best rates,' to not engage people in conversation," says Gartner analyst Stessa Cohen says. Good tweets, bad tweets, what's the point? Is there a hard business case to be made for Twitter? Not just yet. Cohen says banks should use Twitter as a component of a larger social media strategy, but should also have a distinct idea of what they hope to accomplish on Twitter. "They need to know who they're trying to attract," Cohen says. "What if you Twittered and nobody noticed?" Click here to follow Information Management on twitter. This article can also be found at AmericanBanker.com.

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