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More than social networking: Don't count out Twitter as a useful support tool

Twitter is often decried as a frivolous time-waster, but Derek Schauland finds that it can also be an important support resource, if used the right way.

Twitter is often decried as a frivolous waste of time, but Derek Schauland finds that it can also be an important support resource, if used the right way.

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Twitter is all the rage lately as it seems everyone from Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) to editors and contributors at TechRepublic (@jasonhiner and @webjunkie) are all over this thing. We use it mostly to share ideas as well as the implied, "What are you doing?" update, but what if Twitter was used to solve a real support issue?

At my day job recently, I ran into a problem with a client application failing to install because Internet Explorer 5.5 or later is required. This was quite perplexing because the computer is indeed running IE 7.

After doing more than a fair amount of digging, I found that Internet Explorer was missing its version information.

Missing version information causes problems

When I opened the Help menu in Internet Explorer 7 and chose About, the version information was, in fact, missing. Sure the splash screen shows Internet Explorer 7, but without the version number, there is apparently no other way for Windows and other applications to identify and confirm that it's a compatible browser.

I went scouring the Internet for some kind of solution to try. I posted in the MVP newsgroups and the TechNet forums and looked all over Google, but nothing immediately presented itself as a solution.

Twitter to the rescue

I thought I should tweet about the issue and see if anyone else had encountered this problem. I sent it to two contacts and was pleasantly surprised to see that there was indeed some documentation on this issue. In no time, @mpkassner (Michael Kassner is also a TechRepublic contributor for the IT Security blog) came back with a document from Symantec.

The document mentioned that scrauth.dll and jscript.dll may need to be reregistered after an install or uninstall of Norton Internet Security. The document also suggested that in the event these steps do not work, reinstalling Windows Script Host should remedy the issue.

After a couple attempts to register the dll files with no luck, I downloaded and installed the Windows Script Host on the machine. As soon as this completed, and following the required restart, the client application installed right away.

Don't underestimate a resource

Twitter and @mpkassner provided a great support shortcut to a nagging little problem. Just because a service is tagged as a "social" network -- which some say has no place in business -- doesn't mean it's always frivolous. Sometimes it's a resource that can offer the best way to get to the bottom of a problem.

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

13 comments
CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

And probably have been done easier without having to enter the problem description and the responses within the 140-character limit. Twitter may be useful, but I still don't see any advantages over other communication methods.

Histrion2
Histrion2

Email isn't broadcast, and it was the broadcast nature of Twitter that got the answer so quickly.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm not sure how you're using the word 'broadcast' in this case, particularly with regard to e-mail. In both cases, don't you key in the text and hit 'Send'? There are many aspects of Twitter I still don't get, despite having tried it a couple of times. This 'broadcast' ability may be one of them.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I can't figure out how to follow a discussion. Links seem to lead back to another poster's page, but if that poster has been prolific then the comment being responded to may be already gone. The conversations seem disjoint to me, scrambled and undecipherable. I can't figure out how to connect responses into a conversation.

Tink!
Tink!

I guess the key difference (advantage) of Twitter from email is that the post is available in more of a forum type of style. Email you have to address specifically to your broadcast group, and only those people addressed would receive the email. Plus only people addressed in the replies would receive the replies. With Twitter you can tag the question and its replies allowing anyone to see all posts related to that tag. In this way you can get further answers, questions and discussions on the one question. Like a forum. Plus people who aren't even within your broadcast group can also join the discussion. (You never know who has valuable input out there.)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"So if you have a Follower-base of 50 techs, and you post a question, then all 50 techs will see your question." How does checking for my posts differ from checking for my incoming e-mail; or receiving longer content, say a web log post, via RSS? (This overlooks my previous experience with Twitter, which showed I had nothing to say and therefore no chance of acquiring any followers.) "This increases the probability of getting an answer as well as increasing the chance of the answer coming quickly (possibly even immediately!)." How is this going to be quicker than an e-mail? I guess I'm not following the model at all. The more I look at it, the less I understand about it. My previous use of it was highly disappointing; I have nothing to say and can't find anyone I'm interested in following.

Tink!
Tink!

a post at Twitter is available to be seen by anyone and everyone (who belongs to Twitter). So literally every post is a broadcast in this sense. Plus your followers see all of your posts. So if you have a Follower-base of 50 techs, and you post a question, then all 50 techs will see your question. This increases the probability of getting an answer as well as increasing the chance of the answer coming quickly (possibly even immediately!). This is especially helpful when you have a following of techs that are NOT within your work circle (and who would therefore not be within internal messaging). As well, you might get an answer from someone who isn't even in your Follower-base. Hope this helps Palmie. Tink :)

JKambiri
JKambiri

Palmetto, your right that it could have been done with email too... however the primary challenges that I have repeatedly with email is that people try to explain the whole issue in detail and the busy human on the receiving end is simply too busy to read and comprehend it all (as much as you try to explain it). In my experience it just ends up being a huge waste of time. I have documented in full step by step keystroke by keystroke detail an issue and emailed it to system admins who then immediately pick up the phone and have me describe the whole thing again as if I hadn't typed it out. Or find myself replying to their email questions with things like "as I described below" or "yes we did try that see below". In our environment we use Microsoft Communicator firm wide and Message Labs POD to maintain an all day chat within just the 10 person End User Support group. We use IM for exactly the reason that Derek did Twitter with a wider community. There is no need to send a hugely descriptive email to ask "is anyone else suddenly getting calls that Outlook is down?" or "Has anyone else ever seen this error ..." some times the response is a quick link back or more questions from multiple participants. It really builds collaboration and helps you to start to see other sides of an issue you may not have thought of. In addition if you are in an environment that has limited email storage, clogging up the exchange server with IT questions isn't really prudent. Better yet, in our environment (Legal), I'm keenly aware that emails are discoverable. So unless it is critical there is just no need to document issues that can be used in a court of law.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I have a hard time expressing myself coherently within the 140-character limit. During my few attempts, it often took me longer to edited myself down than it took to conduct the activity I was describing. I don't see what Twitter does that a blog with RSS doesn't do, other than limit my expression. Someone post something, and the people subscribed to it get the content. What am I missing???

pdr5407
pdr5407

I think that yahoo answers is better for tech support than twitter. Answers does not have the 140 limit and the topics are organized by subject for quick resolution.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

Have you or would you consider using Twitter as a support tool?

ramonabeth
ramonabeth

I work for a software consulting firm (reseller) for non for profit software. Most of our staff telecommute. We are currently exploring twitter for our internal uses as well as how it can benefit our customers, as we assist them with their web presence. All staff were recently required to sign up for twitter and start following each other. Actual usuage has been voluntary and only leaders on the project have really used it. We already use IM as the internal tool. The biggest argument they give us is that it is yet another tool to keep track of. To some extent they are right, as one of the folks actually using it, it is one more thing to update in addition to other tools. What we hope to gain is a place where everyone can see from the 10,000 feet view what everyone is doing. But its not happening yet. I'd like to hear more about how others are using Twitter to support customers.

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