Social media geeks know that Twitter’s great for keeping up with news and pop culture, but what about connecting with some the brightest entrepreneurial minds in business? According to DePaul’s Patrick J. Murphy, it’s great for that, too.
An assistant professor of management, Murphy first became interested in social media during an MBA student consulting / university outreach competition in New Orleans, in which an all natural pizzeria called Naked Pizza in New Orleans used Twitter to grow their business. Twitter figured in the MBA students’ recommendations, and as a result, Murphy recently urged students in his undergraduate entrepreneurship strategy class to launch a Twitter feed [@ics394] this summer.
Students used the feed to not only “tweet” what’s being discussed in the class as it happens but also to share course information with one another and Murphy outside the classroom.
The class’s Twitter feed also has attracted a growing number “followers” from around the world. “We discuss specific companies, their strategic decisions and use examples of real inventions in our class,” he says. “That also makes it easier for entrepreneurs to find our Twitter feed [through search engines] and it’s a great way for our students to engage the business community and find opportunities on a larger scale”
Small businesses in Singapore, Europe, and across the globe started following the class on Twitter and some even started contributing to the class’s conversations.
“The students find this really exciting,” Murphy says. “At the end of the day, I think the biggest value we’ve gotten got out of it [social media] is the opportunity to engage with entrepreneurs who are out there doing the very things our students are learning about doing.”
Murphy plans to continue integrating social media in the social entrepreneurship class he is teaching this fall, and ICS 394, which starts up again in January 2010. “Even though we’re still learning about it ourselves, one of things we hope to do is help entrepreneurial ventures grow by getting them clued into social media,” he says, adding that “There’s a lot of potential to expand this idea into MBA coursework.”
Murphy estimates that 10 percent of his undergraduate class was already using Twitter before the project began. “Typical [undergraduate] students are much more into Facebook and other social media outlets. Lots of people in their 30s and 40s–especially businesspeople–see Twitter as a way to engage a market or a constituency. I don’t think most of our undergraduates are thinking that way; they are more concerned with class and connecting with their friends, which lends itself more to Facebook and other social media.”
Although Murphy is mostly focused on how entrepreneurial students in the College of Commerce can use online social media to support their education, he does have words of encouragement for entrepreneurs interested in getting connected through Twitter but perhaps intimidated by the technology:
“Heavy users of Twitter start to forget the technology, kind of like when you read a book, you forget about the book that you’re holding in your hand (or with Amazon’s Kindle, you forget the device that you’re holding is not a book at all). I think Twitter is simple enough that you can forget about the interface. There’s a small learning curve with the technology. There’s more of a learning curve with the value one can get from it and the time it takes in developing relationships.”
Murphy has three tips for entrepreneurs getting their feet wet with Twitter:
1.) Learn by doing
Jump in and do it, says Murphy. Don’t spend too much time researching or waiting for the “right” time. Participate and start to feel your way around the medium and the communities you want to connect with.
2.) Don’t be afraid of potential conflict
“In my experience, Twitter is a friendly medium,” Murphy says, adding that after 2,000 tweets, “I’ve never received a flame or any negative comments. I think a lot of people hesitate about potential bad publicity, but they shouldn’t let that hold them back.”
3.) Follow your competitors
“There’s a special kind of antagonistic cooperation that takes place in social media. Embrace it,” Murphy says. He notes that Naked Pizza and competitors Dominos and Pizza Hut follow each other on Twitter. “Open up the conversation; don’t close yourself off, there is a lot of value you can get from the interaction.”