Twitter Revisited

twitter 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.

Further Reading

Jeremiah Owyang has an interesting post on how to be “popular” on Twitter. There are some interesting gems in there, actually.

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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  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Elizabeth- it’s neat as a resource for learning. I feel that it helps me see things faster than when I was simple reading lots of blog RSS feeds.

    @TrueJerseyGirl – see? That’s what @ViceQueenMaria said, too, and I like that. Nice when it can be used in a more personal way.

    @David – glad you like it. Twitter can certainly give us things to consider that we hadn’t before.

    @Jason- see? You’ve even made business from Twitter. That’s what’s really cool. It’s a tool set that can be used different ways. None of us have a definitive way to use it, because that’s like saying computers are for calculating math.

    @Dr Mani- if there were a way to filter out airline tweets, I’d do it in a heartbeat, and yet, folks like to commiserate. Twitter was definitely a great place to share my frustration when I got stuck in traffic for over 6 3/4 hours last week.

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Susan- deep dives is a great way to dig back in. I use a separate Netvibes page to do that, so I don’t forget to dive on certain people.

    @David P- I don’t use an auto-poster because I like to follow my tip of turning the post into a conversation point, instead of just feeding a URL into the void. But your mileage may vary. Your point about forced brevity, however, rocks. I agree totally.

    @Guarav – thanks for the link!

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Susan- deep dives is a great way to dig back in. I use a separate Netvibes page to do that, so I don’t forget to dive on certain people.

    @David P- I don’t use an auto-poster because I like to follow my tip of turning the post into a conversation point, instead of just feeding a URL into the void. But your mileage may vary. Your point about forced brevity, however, rocks. I agree totally.

    @Guarav – thanks for the link!

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Sam. Well hi, Sam. Long time no demeaning comment telling me that I’m rambly and short-sighted and wrong. : )

    Oddly, I wasn’t talking about marketing while talking about Twitter. I understand that people use it for marketing, but I went so far as to tell people to abandon it as a tool for marketing.

    Further, I didn’t ask marketers to understand me in this post. Never entered the conversation.

    But I love your thoughts, enjoyed your blog a great deal, and encourage you to come back when I tell you marketers are poopy heads again so you can slap some sense back into me (and I mean that with all sincerity).

    Oh, and I took your advice about the AttentionUPGRADE widget. Thanks for the constructive feedback.

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Sam. Well hi, Sam. Long time no demeaning comment telling me that I’m rambly and short-sighted and wrong. : )

    Oddly, I wasn’t talking about marketing while talking about Twitter. I understand that people use it for marketing, but I went so far as to tell people to abandon it as a tool for marketing.

    Further, I didn’t ask marketers to understand me in this post. Never entered the conversation.

    But I love your thoughts, enjoyed your blog a great deal, and encourage you to come back when I tell you marketers are poopy heads again so you can slap some sense back into me (and I mean that with all sincerity).

    Oh, and I took your advice about the AttentionUPGRADE widget. Thanks for the constructive feedback.

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  • http://www.echoditto.com/blog/64 Meaghan

    Chris, you captured it much better than I did in my twitter epiphany, but I was getting at the same idea of twitter as an idea bank. I got an iPhone today and PocketTweets was the first app I installed :)

  • http://www.echoditto.com/blog/64 Meaghan

    Chris, you captured it much better than I did in my twitter epiphany, but I was getting at the same idea of twitter as an idea bank. I got an iPhone today and PocketTweets was the first app I installed :)

  • http://www.echoditto.com/blog/64 Meaghan

    Chris, you captured it much better than I did in my twitter epiphany, but I was getting at the same idea of twitter as an idea bank.

  • http://www.echoditto.com/blog/64 Meaghan

    Chris, you captured it much better than I did in my twitter epiphany, but I was getting at the same idea of twitter as an idea bank.

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @DavidBinkowski – Thanks for pointing out that my blog ate your homework. Sorry for the delay.

    First, a clarification: I’m not in PR or Marketing. I’m a tech dude who talks about social media. Technically, I guess I help people with some of that kind of stuff, but I’m not paid to help people relate or market.

    I don’t say it’s the next big thing. I just say that I like it more than other tools. Frankly, whatever works for you, is my mantra. I like it. It works well for me. Facebook? Not so much.

    As far as other tools, how’s Pownce doing? How about Jaiku? Where’s the energy? Here.

    Thanks for your comments. What were those other tools you mentioned at the end? (I was too lazy to google).

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @DavidBinkowski – Thanks for pointing out that my blog ate your homework. Sorry for the delay.

    First, a clarification: I’m not in PR or Marketing. I’m a tech dude who talks about social media. Technically, I guess I help people with some of that kind of stuff, but I’m not paid to help people relate or market.

    I don’t say it’s the next big thing. I just say that I like it more than other tools. Frankly, whatever works for you, is my mantra. I like it. It works well for me. Facebook? Not so much.

    As far as other tools, how’s Pownce doing? How about Jaiku? Where’s the energy? Here.

    Thanks for your comments. What were those other tools you mentioned at the end? (I was too lazy to google).

  • http://www.mrbaconpants.com Mosley

    I just got in to twitter… I agree with you about it being a good tool. I asked a question and got awnswers in seconds. Oh and its really is a hot bed of ideas for blog posts.

  • http://www.mrbaconpants.com Mosley

    I just got in to twitter… I agree with you about it being a good tool. I asked a question and got awnswers in seconds. Oh and its really is a hot bed of ideas for blog posts.

  • http://blog.wonderwebby.com Jasmin Tragas

    When I first saw Twitter being used by two friends earlier this year I totally didn’t get it. Huh? What IS this thing?
    Then as I saw the way work colleagues were using it and created my own account (jazzydee) I started to see the benefits of Twitter. Made my 1000th tweet yesterday. The people I have met, the knowledge shared, the immediate access to information..it’s been such a great way way to communicate ad hoc.
    Thanks for the great post

  • http://blog.wonderwebby.com Jasmin Tragas

    When I first saw Twitter being used by two friends earlier this year I totally didn’t get it. Huh? What IS this thing?
    Then as I saw the way work colleagues were using it and created my own account (jazzydee) I started to see the benefits of Twitter. Made my 1000th tweet yesterday. The people I have met, the knowledge shared, the immediate access to information..it’s been such a great way way to communicate ad hoc.
    Thanks for the great post

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  • http://www.mousewords.net Christine Taylor

    Not to “pounce” all over this, but wow! What a great post!! :-):-)

    I discovered Twitter through one of my brothers, and quickly thought it would be great to spread the word about a charity art auction I was organizing. I had no idea how different it is from other social networks. When one of my brothers finally messaged me saying, “You DO know you’re only sending these messages to me and J and like 2 other people, don’t you?” …I guessed it was time to rethink my options.

    So then I had to decide if Twitter was right for me…because no one of my friends, outside of my bros, was there. I was prattling to myself and “like 2 other people.” It was lonely. I allllmost left…then I saw a familiar blogger’s ID, and said hi. Then someone I don’t know invited me to participate in his idea ‘TwittyTales,’ writing a short story through one Twitter post a day. And then and then…

    :-):-) Now I can’t wait to explore and meet new faces!

  • http://www.mousewords.net Christine Taylor

    Not to “pounce” all over this, but wow! What a great post!! :-):-)

    I discovered Twitter through one of my brothers, and quickly thought it would be great to spread the word about a charity art auction I was organizing. I had no idea how different it is from other social networks. When one of my brothers finally messaged me saying, “You DO know you’re only sending these messages to me and J and like 2 other people, don’t you?” …I guessed it was time to rethink my options.

    So then I had to decide if Twitter was right for me…because no one of my friends, outside of my bros, was there. I was prattling to myself and “like 2 other people.” It was lonely. I allllmost left…then I saw a familiar blogger’s ID, and said hi. Then someone I don’t know invited me to participate in his idea ‘TwittyTales,’ writing a short story through one Twitter post a day. And then and then…

    :-):-) Now I can’t wait to explore and meet new faces!

  • http://www.VivaVisibility.com Nancy Marmolejo

    I’m trying so hard to want to love Twitter, but it’s a huge investment of time and energy. I’m wondering if everyone posting great experiences also find themselves constantly plugged into their blackberries?

    It’s like the alcoholic who justifies drinking because the AMA said wine is good for you…

    I’ll still try, but waiting for the big “ah-ha!”

  • http://www.VivaVisibility.com Nancy Marmolejo

    I’m trying so hard to want to love Twitter, but it’s a huge investment of time and energy. I’m wondering if everyone posting great experiences also find themselves constantly plugged into their blackberries?

    It’s like the alcoholic who justifies drinking because the AMA said wine is good for you…

    I’ll still try, but waiting for the big “ah-ha!”

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  • http://karenjcardoza.com Karen (aka MrsB)

    Twitter is my “home base” these days. It’s the first thing I open in the morning and with Tweetscan, I can search mrsb to see if there were any @replies that I’ve missed. I also use the DM feature every day.

    I don’t go back in the stream, just jump in and keep it running on my sidebar all day. I never “just Twitter”. It’s an open app that I glance at while doing other things. I’ve also used it to make new connections by clicking on others’ @reply recipients.

    Honestly, Twitter has become my main source of items to click on and read throughout the day. Even if I never get to open my Google Reader or email because I’m so busy, I still have a finger on the pulse of what’s happening by clicking on the links provided by friends.

    I love Twitter! :-)

  • http://karenjcardoza.com Karen (aka MrsB)

    Twitter is my “home base” these days. It’s the first thing I open in the morning and with Tweetscan, I can search mrsb to see if there were any @replies that I’ve missed. I also use the DM feature every day.

    I don’t go back in the stream, just jump in and keep it running on my sidebar all day. I never “just Twitter”. It’s an open app that I glance at while doing other things. I’ve also used it to make new connections by clicking on others’ @reply recipients.

    Honestly, Twitter has become my main source of items to click on and read throughout the day. Even if I never get to open my Google Reader or email because I’m so busy, I still have a finger on the pulse of what’s happening by clicking on the links provided by friends.

    I love Twitter! :-)

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  • http://thelmabowlen.blogspot.com Thelma Bowlen

    I’m nearing my first Twitter anniversary this March and have been thinking about how big a part of my days Twitter has been. From my life in the Philippines to moving back to the US after 27 years, Twitter has kept me company and has served as my means of cyber-journaling.

    It came into my life when I was on the threshold of making a huge change so at this point, all the friends I’ve made through and because of it, have provided me with an odd sense of stability in this challenging season of my life.

    Now that I’m half a world away from friends, Twitter’s a great way for us to keep tabs on each other in real time.

    Oh! Happy New Year, Chris!

  • http://thelmabowlen.blogspot.com Thelma Bowlen

    I’m nearing my first Twitter anniversary this March and have been thinking about how big a part of my days Twitter has been. From my life in the Philippines to moving back to the US after 27 years, Twitter has kept me company and has served as my means of cyber-journaling.

    It came into my life when I was on the threshold of making a huge change so at this point, all the friends I’ve made through and because of it, have provided me with an odd sense of stability in this challenging season of my life.

    Now that I’m half a world away from friends, Twitter’s a great way for us to keep tabs on each other in real time.

    Oh! Happy New Year, Chris!

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Happy New Year to you, Thelma. I wish you the very best.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re using Twitter to keep tab with friends. I agree that it’s a great way to use it.

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Happy New Year to you, Thelma. I wish you the very best.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re using Twitter to keep tab with friends. I agree that it’s a great way to use it.

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  • seejayjames

    From the point of view of Ed Tech, Twitter has a fair amount of potential. I could certainly see some creative uses within schools, where groups of students could keep in synchronous communication about a current project, especially if several separate classes wanted to work together or be in some kind of competition — they would be able to track the progress of other groups as they researched or brainstormed ideas about a subject or assignment. The trick would be to design the assignment so that using the application would be beneficial and not distracting. If it was some kind of “treasure hunt” of resources, that could be appropriate, or during a field trip students could utilize it for coordination of activities or to let others know about something they’ve seen (like telling the group to go see a particular exhibit at a museum). The usage would ideally be on school computers or school-provided texting devices, rather than on personal cell phones, so that it would be separated from students’ other networks.

    Along those lines, using Twitter in a confined network has a lot of possibilities. I think at a large conference, each attendee could be given a rental BlackBerry or other wireless device that texts easily (keeping their own cell phones free for other usage). This would create a temporary network of a manageable size which allows people easy access to up-to-the-minute information and ideas. Perhaps refining the message threads to several categories: General chatter / ideas / thoughts; Logistics (what’s happening where and when, and who’s going); Reactions to specific events like major speakers; Need Help / Advice (Where is? Did anyone find my wallet?); and a Broadcast channel from event supervisors (Talk cancelled / Reception moved here) which would go to everyone’s threads. Again, there could be issues related to the “signal-to-noise ratio” of information, but hopefully as people get used to how the tool works, they would generally use it effectively. If the threads were well-defined and obvious as to their intent, this would help people filter and focus.

    Once you have a good-sized network that’s manageable, I can definitely see the possibilities for getting ideas and answers to questions. In this usage Twitter certainly rivals forums or discussion boards, since the response is generally so much faster and more easily received. Since the messages are short, good ones get to the point fast; and since it’s so well-integrated into other communication tools, it can add a layer of interaction which could be quite useful. Again, it’s like any other new tool — people use it for a variety of purposes, and it takes a little while before “best practices” (which vary between tools) are established. The interconnectivity and immediacy of it is appealing, but this is balanced by the amount of information there. Filtering out the noise is essential for most uses and of course will take some practice.

  • seejayjames

    From the point of view of Ed Tech, Twitter has a fair amount of potential. I could certainly see some creative uses within schools, where groups of students could keep in synchronous communication about a current project, especially if several separate classes wanted to work together or be in some kind of competition — they would be able to track the progress of other groups as they researched or brainstormed ideas about a subject or assignment. The trick would be to design the assignment so that using the application would be beneficial and not distracting. If it was some kind of “treasure hunt” of resources, that could be appropriate, or during a field trip students could utilize it for coordination of activities or to let others know about something they’ve seen (like telling the group to go see a particular exhibit at a museum). The usage would ideally be on school computers or school-provided texting devices, rather than on personal cell phones, so that it would be separated from students’ other networks.

    Along those lines, using Twitter in a confined network has a lot of possibilities. I think at a large conference, each attendee could be given a rental BlackBerry or other wireless device that texts easily (keeping their own cell phones free for other usage). This would create a temporary network of a manageable size which allows people easy access to up-to-the-minute information and ideas. Perhaps refining the message threads to several categories: General chatter / ideas / thoughts; Logistics (what’s happening where and when, and who’s going); Reactions to specific events like major speakers; Need Help / Advice (Where is? Did anyone find my wallet?); and a Broadcast channel from event supervisors (Talk cancelled / Reception moved here) which would go to everyone’s threads. Again, there could be issues related to the “signal-to-noise ratio” of information, but hopefully as people get used to how the tool works, they would generally use it effectively. If the threads were well-defined and obvious as to their intent, this would help people filter and focus.

    Once you have a good-sized network that’s manageable, I can definitely see the possibilities for getting ideas and answers to questions. In this usage Twitter certainly rivals forums or discussion boards, since the response is generally so much faster and more easily received. Since the messages are short, good ones get to the point fast; and since it’s so well-integrated into other communication tools, it can add a layer of interaction which could be quite useful. Again, it’s like any other new tool — people use it for a variety of purposes, and it takes a little while before “best practices” (which vary between tools) are established. The interconnectivity and immediacy of it is appealing, but this is balanced by the amount of information there. Filtering out the noise is essential for most uses and of course will take some practice.

  • http://timetorockyou.blogspot.com Rokchic

    Okey dokey, have joined, looked round, have a couple of ‘followers’ and I am ‘following’ a few people. But … I’m still trying to ‘get’ it. Oh well.. will carry on and see what becomes of it. Must say, I like the Twitterfeed feature. That’s pretty cool. Thanks for the article – interesting read and pretty helpful too! Cheers :)

  • http://timetorockyou.blogspot.com Rokchic

    Okey dokey, have joined, looked round, have a couple of ‘followers’ and I am ‘following’ a few people. But … I’m still trying to ‘get’ it. Oh well.. will carry on and see what becomes of it. Must say, I like the Twitterfeed feature. That’s pretty cool. Thanks for the article – interesting read and pretty helpful too! Cheers :)

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