Brian Madden’s guide to using Twitter for real work (with VDI and VMworld real-world examples)

After a year or two not "getting" the point of twitter, I decided to start exploring and using it last September for actual work-related purposes.

[UPDATE: I've written a "Part 2" to this article based on using twitter for a few more months.]

After a year or two not “getting” the point of twitter, I decided to start exploring and using it last September for actual work-related purposes. Now that six months have passed, I’m happy to say that I’m one of the few remaining people with a 100% work oriented twitter feed, with no posts about what movie I’m watching or what kind of food I’m craving. (You can view that feed at

A lot of people have asked “What’s the point?” of twitter, and while so far I’ve only mentioned that I now understand how to make twitter “not lame,” I think I do actually “get” where twitter can be useful and how to make the most of it.

To that end, even though this blog post is slightly off topic, I’d like to use it to consolidate my thoughts about twitter in the workplace.

Let’s begin with three reasons about “why twitter.”

“Why twitter” reason #1 - ‘no effort’ posting

First, twitter is a “no effort” blogging platform. I’m not talking “no effort” in the context of being able to post via a phone, a text message, or a desktop widget. I mean “no effort” in the sense that because each entry is limited to 140 characters, I don’t have to save my good ideas now to blog about later. I have the idea, I blog instantly. Done.

Contrast that to the blog entries on I have about 150 article ideas in an “ideas.txt” file sitting on my desktop. And even though being part of TechTarget allows me to write now more than ever before, I still can’t get around to writing full blog posts about everything. But with twitter, my article ideas ARE the posts. (In fact one could argue that I should stop using the ideas.txt file and instead look through old twitter posts when I’m looking for content.)

“Why twitter?” reason #2 – sharing the ‘ah hah’ moments

Second, there are a lot of “ah hah!” work-related moments throughout the day. And if I see or hear something that makes me go “ah hah!,” there’s a pretty good chance that others will think the same thing. A recent example: I was having lunch with triCerat’s Steve Walman who was explaining that triCerat’s products are licensed based on instances of Windows server. “Isn’t that crap?” I asked, “because now the pricing changes based on whether a customer decides to make a few large VMs or many smaller VMs.”

“No, not at all,” Steve clarified. “Remember that how we price our products and how we license are products are two different things."

Ah hah!

“Why twitter” reason #3 – more freedom than the ‘mainstream’ blog

Let’s be honest. Even though started out as the opinions of just me, it’s grown and become quite mainstream in a lot of ways. And even though I can still post snarky stuff on, (I even used the phrase “Suck it” in the title of a post last week), I still find that twitter can be even more stream-of-consciousness. You want the most raw uncensored thoughts? Look to twitter.

How to ‘find and follow’ work-related twitter content

Posting content to twitter is just half the battle. To really get something out of the service, you need to find and read content that others post. With twitter, this can be tricky, because even if you choose to only post work-related content, you might “follow” people who don’t. (For those who aren’t familiar, “following” someone is twitter-speak for subscribing to their feed. But unfortunately, your options for following someone are basically “you follow them” or “you don’t.” So if someone you follow starts posting about the traffic jam they’re stuck in, then you’re going to be reading about it.)

To that end, even though over 600 people follow me on twitter, I only follow a small handful.

But how can you find great all this great “unfiltered, cutting-edge” content that’s supposedly out there if you’re not following anyone? Simple. Use a search engine with a twitter-specific search such as Ice Rocket. So if you want to know what the real and instant “pulse” of the world is about, say, Citrix announcing that XenServer will be free, then pop over to Ice Rocket, click the “twitter” tab, and search for “XenServer.” Seriously, this is something I do about twenty times a day about all different topics.

If there are topics that you’d like to know what people are thinking about on a regular basis, Ice Rocket even creates an RSS feed from search results. So now as part of my daily RSS feeds, I have global twitter mentions of VDI, VMworld, and even me.

By the way, twitter has this sort of user-to-user thing where you can publically reply to another user by making a new post with the @username in it. Personally I just completely ignore these. I’ve configured my twitter settings so that I don’t see them in my timeline, and I never go to the page that lists all my replies. Between IM, email, and a telephone, I have enough ways to communicate with those I need to speak with, and I think ignoring these is okay.

And perhaps the best feature of twitter, for those who don’t get it / hate it / don’t care, is that it can be ignored.

[UPDATE: Continue reading "Part 2" of this article which I wrote after using twitter for a few more months.]

Case study: my twitter stream from VMworld Europe 2009

Now that we’ve looked at a few different ways twitter can be used, let’s see it in action. Of course you can always visit my twitter page at to see my latest content, but here’s the stream of twitter posts I made from VMworld Europe 2009, which took place last week in Cannes, France:

Paul Maritz: "distributed computing was a juvenile disease. A software mainframe is the way to go." Speaking of juvi diseases... VDI anyone?

How important are desktops to VMware? In the VMworld keynote, the desktop conversation is after 3 boring cloud demos. People are walking out

VMware's Paul Maritz: "We will complete the VMware View roll-out in 2009." So Teradici, client hypervisor, offline VDI, etc.

VMware listed just about every company in existence on their partner slide. Everyone except Citrix, that is.

"I attened the VDI vs TS presentation this afternoon presented by the quite possibly mental Brian Madden."

#vmworld Day 2 keynote.. Lots of desktop coverage, half the size audience as yesterday. No worries. We'll sneak up on all those server folks

#vmworld Day 2 keynote.. Lots of desktop coverage, half the size audience as yesterday. No worries. We'll sneak up on all those server folks

#vmworld haha.. "if you proactively know a hurricane is coming, you can move your entire datacenter." So maybe Citrix should use VMware?

#vmworld Jerry Chen on stage demo of 3D experience. But it's with hardware PC-over-IP. So it's a demo for Teradici, not VMware. :(

#vmworld Jerry Chen stole the show with the mobile phone hypervisor showing Windows CE and Google Android running on the same phone at once! - Who says I don't love VDI? Thanks to Liz van Dijk for snapping this photo at my VMworld session yesterday!

#vmworld party: VMware and Citrix fight and go tit-for-tat on lots of stuff. But VMware is the clear leader in one area... the parties!

#vmworld party, seriously... Liquor shots poured through a custom ice sculpture by a young woman into the mouths of attendees.

#vmworld party, seriously... Liquor shots poured through a custom ice sculpture by a young woman into the mouths of attendees.

#vmworld party, oh jeez... There's an upstairs too?!? Wha?? Is that a tree with dessert hanging from the branches? I need to go lie down

Exclusive! Warren Ponder demonstrated an alpha build of VMware's software-only PC-over-IP implementation. Watch for it tomorrow on BMTV.

Now I know why I agreed with VMware's VDI ROI numbers so much... It's because they were for TS, not VDI.

New Brian Madden TV episode - #vmworld news & wrap up, with analysis & interviews from the floor.

Anne Plancius: After you standardize your desktops, you get the boring horrible tasks: automation, maint, admin, integration, provisioning

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Thanks for sharing this, Brian! That's two great explanations of using Twitter for work in as many days; Marshall Kirkpatrick reminded me yesterday how ReadWriteWeb uses Twitter for journalism last night. I highly recommend this to everyone:

The way you're using Twitter makes tons of sense to this editor. Sharing "ah-hah" moments using the lightweight tool is a natural fit, especially since everyone looks to you to be well-informed on developments.

I don't talk about movies at @ITcompliance either, which I've been maintaining for since it launched. It's all compliance, all the time, though with plenty of humanity and maybe some humor injected as well.

I do have a couple of quibbles. There's no "right" way to Twitter but I don't think it truly offers more freedom than a mainstream blog. It may be a microblog but the posts are no less permanent -- and they can go viral much more quickly. If you're blogging for work, cursing or getting involved in a flame war can go bad quickly, as can offhand comments. Here are two examples of what can go wrong:

I also question ignoring @replies. One to one conversations are a major part of the medium and quite useful if you want to use it for Q&A, reader feedback or simply to talk about a given topic. By ignoring them, you're essentially treating Twitter as a broadcast medium. Many power users would argue against that; much of the value is derived in conversation and information sharing. It's easy to see the conversation around your account by using; there are plenty of folks talking to or about you:

As you point out, phone, email and IM offer plenty of channels. That said, you risk appearing rude or, perhaps worse, deaf to what others might be saying if you don't address them. As I noted, everyone will find their own ways of using it, so I defer to what works for you. Both @jtroyer & @docsmooth would apppear to agree with me on @replies.

FWIW, I highly recommend not ignoring @replies. If they're overwhelming, you can subscribe to a persistent search of your Twitter account name with RSS, as you describe for a given targeted term. That will allow you to skip the @replies tab and focus on the mentions you want to address. Your mileage may vary; there certainly isn't one right way to use Twitter.

That said, @replies are akin to email to the editorial inbox. Asking questions and answering them is one of the most helpful use cases of Twitter for editors and reporters. You can view answers to your questions or receive feedback on a story you tweeted or commented upon.

Viewing and answering @replies equates to holding up your end of the conversation in a highly conversational medium. If you're Twittering at a conference for the benefit of the Web, for instance, seeing and responding to @replies is particularly key. You can find other people in attendance or see questions from remote listeners.

One caveat to @replies is that if you're not adding value and context to everyone in your stream with them, replying using a direct message privately is often a better idea. Of course, you can only do that if another user is following you; often, that won't be the case.

Anyway, thanks again for sharing your experience. I'm sure everyone will find it valuable.


The Korean Taco truck is great example of using Twitter for business. Nice story...


Thanks for sharing Brian. It's always interesting to see how others perceive Twitter.

I have to agree with Alexander about the @replies though, to me the ability to engage with others is a crucial part of the medium. Ignoring the replies directed at you, means you're missing out on the way other people are perceiving/communicating about your "tweets".

A quick search for replies sent to @brianmadden during VMworld, shows that many people were engaging you in conversation in response to your live tweets - give it a try, it might grow on you. ;)


This actually popped up on Twitter today...

The Consequences of Social Media Silence

"What does it say to your customers when you refuse to acknowledge them in social media? What does it say when you still don’t have a Twitter account, Facebook page, blog, or any other mechanism for humanizing your brand? Your social media active customers could interpret your silence as lethargy, ignorance, disinterest in their opinions, or a general Amish-ness. None of which are sentiments you want associated with your brand."


Check out

This is a mindblowing example of pulling in a wide range of pre-existing information and presenting it!

Give yourself some time to work it all out!!!