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Tweet, Tweet: The New Sound of the Enterprise?

For anyone still doubting that twitter and other social media communication platforms have conquered the enterprise, attending the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco last week would eliminate the last pockets of resistance.

Social media in general and Twitter in particular were the talk of the exhibition floor and the conferences. If nothing else, the rumor that Google is in talks to buy Twitter might have been enough to open some eyes, but there was plenty more just in case.

Perhaps the most solid indication of the importance of social media was the announcement by Peter Hershberg, managing partner of Reprise Media, of a new Web analytics tool, Chartbeat. Chartbeat is designed to better harness social media activity and looks at what is happening at any given moment on a company's Web site.

The tool tracks typical metrics but also real-time measurements like how many people are on the site, how involved they are, how much of the current page they have read, and what conversations are going on elsewhere on the Web at sites like Twitter about the current page.

That's critical understanding for businesses looking to grow traffic and user interest as patterns of media consumption change. Hershberg pointed out that people are no longer reliant on the mass media for breaking news, for instance, and pointed to live coverage of US Airways Flight 1549's crash landing in the Hudson River, which relied on Twitter and cell phone photos posted online. He said that current Web analytics tools cannot deal with these real-time events.

"There are bursts of traffic around the meme of the moment and in order to take advantage of or react to these memes, you have to know about what is happening -- and this is where existing Web analytics platforms have fallen behind," he said.

Hershberg's demonstration of the tool was greeted with enthusiasm -- the next speaker, Jeffrey Veen of AdaptivePath, began his presentation by gushing, "isn't that the coolest thing you've seen?"

Aside from the sheer coolness factor, it was hard to miss the interest with which a business audience greeted a tool to capture real-time data about the effectiveness of social media -- a sure sign that social media have reached into the enterprise's business consciousness.

Google's Vic Gundotra also talked about the rapid growth of social media and how fast and easy it is for anyone to develop and deploy mashup applications across sites like Facebook using tools like Google's App Engine and APIs. He talked about Google's unexpected success with an internal tool for live online meetings, called Google Moderator, that was developed to allow live social voting on questions to be presented at company meetings, with the most popular questions floating to the top.

When the Obama administration was preparing for the first White House online town meeting, they called Google and asked to use the tool, which then was used to field 3.6 million votes and up to 700 queries per second in the days and hours before the meeting went live.

This kind of success has an obvious parallel for the enterprise, especially with the pressure on to woo new users and retain current customers during the current recession. say nothing of the growth of marketing and PR organizations that specialize in social media, who are pointing the way.

If the scene at Web 2.0 is any indication, the enterprise that neglects social media and tools like Twitter may be setting itself up to miss out, as conversations move to new online vistas and accelerate to unprecedented speeds.