It’s okay to admit it. You’re among friends. You’ve been on Twitter for a couple of months now and you still can’t figure out what the heck all the fuss is about. It took me a while to “get” Twitter, too, but now I find it an indispensable part of my toolkit for gathering information and promoting my work. Here are some things to think about.
The 140-character limit is liberating. Writing blog entries is a time-consuming task. I’m not the type who fires off one-sentence posts, so I like to put some thought into what I say on a blog. In contrast, Twitter’s 140-character limit lends itself well to quick thoughts that I believe are worth sharing with others but that don’t justify a full-blown blog entry. Very little of what I tweet makes it into my blog and vice versa.
The 140-character limit can also be frustrating. If you have ever engaged in an e-mail exchange using Twitter direct messaging, you know it can be disjointed. At some point, you need to jump to e-mail. That said, 140 characters does force you to focus your thoughts and to write succinctly,
Public conversations. Twitter gives everyone the option of making discussions public. You can’t do this with e-mail, and it’s difficult to accomplish on a blog. If you believe that your exchange with others would benefit from public input, or if you just want to expose the discussion to others, you have that option. You can always take things private via direct messaging if you wish.
Immediacy. When you just can’t wait for information, Twitter can’t be beat for getting your question to a large group. It’s impractical to do this with e-mail. People’s inboxes are already cluttered with spam and you have no way of getting your message to people you don’t know. Also, through “retweeting,” a message can reach a large number of people who aren’t on your follower list. This brings new perspectives to the conversation and gives you the opportunity to discover people you wouldn’t have otherwise met.
Retweeting. While we’re on the subject, don’t underestimate the power of the retweet. When someone picks up your message and forwards it to their followers, it magnifies your reach and often recruits new followers in the process. Sending provocative messages that others retweet is a great way to build your following and your contact list for information-gathering and promotion.
Discovery. Twitter is the most efficient mechanism I’ve ever seen for discovering interesting information. I could literally do nothing all day but monitor the “All Friends” feed in TweetDeck and read interesting articles that others recommend. If it weren’t for Twitter, for example, I wouldn’t have known that Travelocity has hotels in Las Vegas for $22 a night. This discovery process is not unlike scanning the pages of a newspaper, but it’s much faster and more encompassing. Also, you know that comments and recommendations from certain people will be of particular interest to you, so you have the option of drilling down on individual profiles to see what they’ve been saying recently. Chaotic? Sure, but that’s part of the discovery process.
Searchable. If you want to find out what people are saying about you right now, services like Twitscoop and Monitter enable you to instantly track mentions of your company, product, industry or whatever and to save them as RSS feeds for later browsing. You can do the same with Twitter Search. Google Alerts currently doesn’t index Twitter feeds, but Filtrbox does.
Twitter is a deceptively simple idea with remarkably powerful applications. People are only beginning to tap into its potential, and I hope visitors to this blog will contribute their own thoughts on what they find most compelling.