Twitter is the stupidest thing anyone could ever imagine inventing. If I said to you, “I’ve got an application that I want you to install that is addictive, time consuming, cross-platform accessible, and otherwise as sprawling as kudzu,” would you say yes? No. Of course not.
And yet, Twitter has single-handedly changed my 2007. It added tons more connectivity to my universe. It’s given me experiences I didn’t have the year before. It’s brought me new relationships of value with people who matter to my business life as well as personally.
There are tons of folks who have mixed opinions of Twitter, and how to use it, and why to use it, and what not. Here’s my take on how I use Twitter, and/or how you might find some use out of it, as well as some simple Twitter etiquette.
Twitter is a Build-it-Yourself Community
You show up with no friends, and the first thing you have to do is look around and see who you should add. Or you can dump your inbox into their machine and see if you know anyone. I recommend this a great deal (adding your inbox), but NOT necessarily inviting everyone in your box to join if they haven’t already. (Folks are starting to frown on that experience).
But there are some considerations before you jump in and add everyone. Here’s something to consider from a guy with 2500 or so people in my stream:
- Adding everyone to your Twitter stream means there’s more energy, more breadth of interest, but also less ability to focus on a smaller group of people who matter more to you than the others.
- Twitter is a conversation not a broadcast. If you add lots of people, expect to try and talk back and forth with them, or lose steam fast.
- There’s a lot of “noise” to go with most Twitter peoples “signal.” Choose people who talk about things that matter to you.
- Abandon all thoughts of Twitter being a professional marketing tool. It will have the occasional sway, but not as often as you need to make that worth it. (Not meant for that purpose).
- If all else fails, look for people you know and like, and see who THEY have as friends and add them.
Twitter is a Great Place to Share Ideas
It’s a virtual watercooler, for sure. You can stand around, blather about the news, about your dinner, about the movie you saw last night, or something that matters more to you. The “content” is yours. And you can work out quickly what your friends on the service choose to talk about more often than not.
But it’s not exactly the right place for a conversation. There are plenty better resources for that, such as IM, or taking the conversation onto a blog, or even into the real world. Don’t look at Twitter as a great conversation place, especially once you have a lot of friends. Look at it as an idea bank, a place to gather information or think of new things, or see what your friends are doing.
Twitter is a Gate Jumper
In the early 90s, email was a gate jumper. People would answer email, even if they had no idea who you were. Then, somewhere in the late 90s, blogs became the gate jumpers. People would interact with you if you commented on their blogs. Now? Twitter. Tomorrow? Not sure. It’s getting really thin.
But Twitter has brought me into meaningful conversations offline based on some reason or another with people I knew only through Twitter. It really redefined my 2007, my experience on Twitter, because it allowed me to communicate with some really great people, most of which I’d not yet met in person, but knew by way of their media.
I’m fond of saying that Twitter is the “director’s commentary” for our media. It’s in that form that I find Twitter to be a great gate jumper.
Twitter is the Matrix Stream
There’s a scene in the movie The Matrix where Tank (or one of those Matrix types) explains that he can watch the patterns of data and see something fairly clearly. I use Twitter like that a lot. I use it like a big smart computer. I ask Twitter questions (meaning all several thousand of you), and I get back answers. Sometimes, I share those on my tumbleblog, but other times, it’s just something I need, like driving directions, or an opinion.
If you choose to accumulate a whole lot of Twitter friends, expect to use Twitter more like a flowing stream than a one-on-one catch-up-on-your-friends tool. I rarely see my close friends rush by in the stream. Instead, I have to set up little ways to watch them (usually in Netvibes), and interact that way.
Twitter Isn’t for Everyone
If you’re a small business, and are looking at Twitter as a way to grow your business, I’m not convinced that it’ll be the right tool for the job. If you’re a big business trying to build relationships, you’d better really consider your Twitter strategy. Don’t be the business; be the human. We interact with humans. Yes, we know you want to talk about your business, but talk to us as humans. Here’s a weird one. Ask US what WE’RE up to, and mean it. And then, if we like you, we’ll probably want to talk with you.
Think that’s wasteful? Think how much money and time you’re wasting in the fast-forwarding wars.
There are whole swathes of the world that Twitter isn’t really meant to cover. That’s okay. There are other tools. Remember, being a “me too” and joining just because some people use it is like deciding you have to learn how to throw a 95 mile an hour fastball because you like watching baseball.
Try it out if you want. See if it works for you, and then decide what to do with it.
Some Twitter Tips
Here are some specific ways to use Twitter that you might not have considered, or that you might want to reconsider:
- If you want to promote your blog or podcast, at least try to do it conversationally. Ask people what they think about global warming as it applies to methane release on farms, and share the link. Don’t just blurt out your podcast url.
- If you want to follow a specific space, consider finding the right people twittering about that space, and building a blended RSS feed in Yahoo Pipes, and adding that to your RSS reader, instead of using the Twitter interface itself. Why build a persona and add people if you’re just using Twitter to scrape data?
- If you want to build real friends in Twitter, pay attention to who uses lots of @ replies, and see how they interact with others. Some folks use Twitter like a bullhorn, and others use it like a walkie-talkie.
- If you want to use Twitter to meet new business colleagues, do what you’d do in other social media spaces: learn more about the person. Follow their links. Read their blogs. Get to know them. Don’t just pounce all over them. It’s easy to unfollow people in this space.
- Try this. Instead of answering “what are you doing?,” try answering “What has your attention?” I find the answer is often more useful to others.
- Do your best to promote other people on Twitter, instead of talking only about you and your things. If you find the good stuff, share the good stuff.
Jeremiah Owyang has an interesting post on how to be “popular” on Twitter. There are some interesting gems in there, actually.
- Why I Use Twitter- Dave Winer.
- 5 Ways to Use Twitter for Good – an old thing I wrote for Lifehack.org
So, what do you think? How do YOU use Twitter? Has it changed your life any?
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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