I’ve been asked recently what Twitter is and about its value. I answer the best I can, but I am no social media expert; my use of social media scratches the surface on what is available. I joined Twitter in November 2008 and have about 470 followers. That’s not a lot but I am definitely heavily into the micro blogging site. Put it simply, I love Twitter.
Recently, I read an article by Mark McKinnon that implied Twitter is silly and a phase. One comment was, “I’ve decided to spend that time on the handful of people I really care about. I write them real letters.” While I agree with its premise that good personal connections are better than lots of personal connections, McKinnon does not understand the point of Twitter and so can not understand that his comparison doesn’t work. Twitter isn’t about being close to people (although I have made a few friends on it). It is about community, like a digital Town Hall.
So, for lay people who use Google and maybe Facebook but probably don’t have a product to market to millions of people and who don’t have a nightly viewing audience on television, here is Why Twitter:
1. Entertainment: Reading tweets is entertaining. People often try to be funny in 140 characters, which absolutely is possible. Here is a small sample of the ridiculous, nonsensical and sublime:
Zip zip zip zip zip = walking in corduroy. Zipzipzipzipzip = running in corduroy. Zipzipnomnomzipzipnomnom = bear eating you in corduroy. (@sween)
Giving up dating supermodels for Lent has proven surprisingly easy. (@joeschmitt)
Said: “I’m balls-deep in work.” Implied: “I’m banging my secretary.” Reality: “My dick is stuck in a printer.” (@secretsquirrel)
Also, Twitterers send links to funny or interesting videos and music, things I would never find myself because I am not going to peruse the web aimlessly looking for that stuff. Twitter brings the fun of the Web to you without much effort.
2. Community: With an audience of 100 or more strangers, you have a powerful resource of information. Any question I have, from why my computer battery seems to not recharge to how to use open source software to how do I get a stain out of my favorite shirt gets answered. In comparison, if you Google a topic, you get a million or two possible sites, only a fraction of which are useful and finding out which ones answer you question is up to you. On Twitter, you ask, “If my Mac battery doesn’t seem to be charging, do I need a new one?” and you get “Nope, just calibrate the battery. http://is.gd/3rAD.” (Thanks @LisaH!) Its quick because someone else has the answer. I don’t need to become an expert on everything – all my experts are on Twitter.
3. Control: Unlike on a message board, I control exactly who I want to follow me and who I am following. I know both lists and I can unfollow someone who continues to claim Obama’s birth certificate is a fake and I can block someone from following me for the same thing. I create the community I want rather than be at the mercy of whomever joins the community.
4. Twitter vs. Facebook: I like Twitter better than Facebook because it offers high accessibility to people I don’t know (and vice versa) that I can then modify to suit my needs. Facebook begins private, making it harder to link with others. That said, the two tools aren’t used in the same way. On Facebook, I can keep friends and family up-to-date on what is happening in my life. On Twitter, I get to converse with lots of people I don’t know at one time whenever I want to. It is like going to a party that lasts 24 hours, and I am never late.
5. Information Source: By following known experts on Twitter (@JayRosen, @acmaurer, @rachelmaddow, @anamariecox, @davidgregory and thousands more in all different areas), you get information fast. And lots of it. I still visit websites for news but I can count on links to articles and opinions that I would definitely miss without Twitter. Again, I let the experts help me without having to pay for that kind of service or spend the time searching for the information. Sure, I’m trusting my exposure to world events to a narrow, hand-picked group, but that’s how I roll anyway. You want diversity, you can find it on Twitter. Also television addicts, sports enthusiasts, Green types, whatever you are into, you can connect easily and quickly.
6. Marketing in both directions: Yes, I am admitting it. Twitter is a great place to market products, services or blogs. Many people have written about how to market appropriately on Twitter, I’ll leave that up to them (read this and this and this for starters). The other side of it is being the recipient of marketing efforts. I have bought plenty of seriously cute, inexpensive things from sellers I met on Twitter. I don’t love everything I see, but I like that I can see unusual clothes and jewelry, again, without a lengthy web search. And if someone sends too many sales comments, I just unfollow.
To be balanced, here’s what isn’t great about Twitter: If you get into it, it is a total time suck; sometimes I get wrapped up in the popularity contest for who can get the most followers and who can say the funniest/most shocking thing; my need to have someone popular on twitter return a comment can get overwhelming. (I’m not saying you are going to be like that, of course.)
Getting started in Twitter is kind of tough because you have to have a good handful of followers to see its value, and that takes time. But if you know someone with a lot of followers, ask them to recommend you (thanks to @macaroniandglue for recommending me!). Once you start, watch out. It’ll be hard to stop.