Microblogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief texts (usually up to 140 characters) and publish them by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, digital audio or the web. Messages can be viewed either by the public or by a specific group which can be chosen by the user. Twitter is a microblogging platform which enables it’s users to send, read, reply or repost messages. Swabr allows the creation of a closed microblogging system which can only be joined by people authorised by the owner. Yammer is a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook and is designed for company collaboration and file sharing.
Food Organisations on Twitter
FoodrisC has been active on Twitter since 2010. Tweets are regularly sent out to update twitter users on food safety news and new information on the FoodrisC website.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a series of Twitter feeds for their specific services. In total they have 29 Twitter pages and each one has a specific function. This case study highlights their use of Twitter to communicate about product recalls.
Advantages of Microblogs
- Good for sending fast, topic-related alerts (maximum 140 characters) to interested subscribers.
- Good for driving subscribers via shortened URLs to online content where they can find more information with greater context (e.g. latest news, updates and publications).
- Despite the medium’s character limitation (140 characters), it offers the opportunity to engage immediately with a very diverse audience and share information flexibly.
- Use of the hash tag (#) helps to situate an individual piece of information within a broader conversation and allows this piece of information to be easily found by browsers searching for information on the topic of interest (i.e. the ‘tag’), e.g. during the German EHEC crisis, ‘#EO104’ was commonly used.
- Domain experts, journalists and the general public are likely to use microblogs both to communicate their views and to source information.
- Twitter is a hub of information that spreads across networks.
- Research has shown that Twitter is one of the main channels used to communicate about food risks/crises.
- Useful channel for monitoring sentiment, testing concepts and assessing people’s perceptions and responses to events.
Disadvantages of Microblogs
- Characters are limited and fragmented conversations might not facilitate meaningful dialogue.
- Never know how far a tweet can go (or not).
- Twitter presumes a lot of responsiveness.
- Tweets cannot be easily retrieved a long time after posting.
- Easy to attract criticism on Twitter (which in the right context can turn into an opportunity).
- Inappropriate for obtaining in-depth feedback on issues.
- Individuals can be faced with information overload on Twitter during crises because of the ease of onward transmission.