Twitter: What’s All the Fuss?

This entry was posted Tuesday, 16 June, 2009 at 2:18 pm

birdI’m sure a lot of people are beyond sick of hearing about Twitter (although it makes a welcome distraction from talking about the recession ūüôā )¬†When people ask me about it, their first¬†comment always seem to be “I don’t get it. Isn’t totally boring and pointless?”. I’ve also participated in discussions about this very topic on LinkedIn with other professionals and even on Twitter itself and there definitely seems to be mixed reactions.

So, should you jump on the bandwagon?

Well first the basics:

What is Twitter?

Good question. Twitter is a social networking site, but unlike Facebook, LinkedIn etc, you are only allowed 140 character posts (answering the question: “What are you doing?”). Your profile consists of¬†a¬†thumbnail pic, short description, location and¬†web address.¬†Your posts appear in a stream form¬†and to see other people’s posts, you need to follow them. Unless you have your privacy settings set to approve, you can follow anyone and they don’t have to follow you back (this includes popular celebrity tweeters like Ellen Degeneres, Ashton Kutcher and Oprah).

Each user gets a username that starts with an @, so if anyone wants to direct their message to you, they merely start their post with, for example, @geraldineeliot (my Twitter username). This will still appear in the stream so everyone can read it, but I will know it is for me. You can also send private (direct)¬†messages to someone that won’t appear on the stream, but again these are limited to 140 characters. There are lots of different conventions and terms that have sprung up, and of course people have developed plenty of different applications so you can post pictures, songs, add backgrounds, manage multiple accounts¬†etc. (For a more in-depth look at Common Twitter Terms, please feel free to take a look at a recent article I wrote on the topic for Suite101.com) but in general it is a lot more simplified than other networking sites.

SO What’s The Point?

This is where I get a bit vague with people, precisely because Twitter is one of those things that really isn’t for everyone. Personally, I find it a great networking and marketing tool for my business, for making connections with other Vancouverites in the tech/media scene, and also for gathering news, interesting articles and insights,¬†and keeping up with any new trends in the market. I am selective, however, in who I choose to follow and unlike many users, go for QUALITY not QUANTITY. I don’t want to sift through thousands of updates – I just don’t have the time.

I un-follow anyone who I feel does not add value – especially if they fill my page with meaningless posts about what they had for breakfast.¬†I¬†always¬†look at¬†someone’s updates and their follow to follower ratio before I follow them to ensure they will add something of¬†value to me. Even then, I often find the volume of information overwhelming and sometimes have to take a break. But I have made valuable work connections, gathered information, got the word out about my articles and services,¬†and have been recommended by a follower to a third party, so I would absolutely say it has its benefits.

There are also plenty of job opportunities advertised, chances to meet up with people you follow at Tweet-Ups (real life meet ups), and to share interesting information. There are already some famous Twitter stories including Lance Armstrong getting his stolen bike back through tweeting about it and Ashton Kutcher taking on CNN for the first to reach a million followers. On a more serious note, currently the Iranian Election crisis has stirred up a storm of tweets. As media is silenced in the country, Tweeters are spreading news to the outside world as well as urging other users to change their location to Tehran to confuse censors. The US Government has also convinced Twitter to delay maintenance downtime so that election news can get through via Twitter.  Perhaps this illustrates the power of Twitter is growing?

Should I bother?

I would say that Twitter is essential for anyone:

1. Running their own business

2. Trying to gain exposure

3. Looking to network with people in the same industry

4. Interested in connecting to people all over the world

5. Into instant gratification ūüėČ

6. Looking for jobs

7. Selling a product

8. Promoting their work

BUT it is not for you if you merely want to keep in touch with friends – rather use Facebook (or here’s a novel idea, pick up the phone!). And if you can’t express yourself in 140 characters, don’t go there!

Like any trend, there will always be those who hop on and proclaim it as the next best thing, but the trick always is how smart a user you are, not necessarily how smart the tool is. You have to decide how you are going to use social networking sites to your advantage, no matter the format, but bear in mind they also take a lot of time and effort to maintain and to really add value to your life.

Ready to take the plunge?

Follow me!

8 Comments to Twitter: What’s All the Fuss?

  1. Dan Schick says:

    June 16th, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    At dinner with some friends the other night we had a typically great conversation. I had a few bits of news relevant to our topic of discussion that no one had heard yet. When the topic turned to Twitter there was universal disdain towards the online tool. But, most of the news i had mentioned that night was gleaned from Twitter. So, people like the message but not the messenger. Maybe time for a New York Times Twitter skin?

  2. Geraldine Eliot says:

    June 16th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Dan. So true – though as Marshall Mcluhan would say, “The medium is the message”…

  3. Jan Kozlowski says:

    June 17th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I agree with your assessment of Twitter, especially when you say if you want to keep in touch with friends, use Facebook. It took me a long time to figure out an actual use for my Twitter account. Thanks to the brilliantly fun idea of another writer friend, a group of us have gotten together and started a Twitter based Murder Mystery called Tweet Mystery of Death. The story is a live, six week experiment told only through character tweets. We started up on Monday, June 15 and we’re having a blast with it. Check out @Tweet_Mystery or http://www.tweetmystery.com for more info.

  4. Geraldine Eliot says:

    June 17th, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Jan

    That sounds like a great idea – I’ll definitely be following that! I think it’s all about finding your use for it and there is definitely use for it. I’m following someone (can’t remember his name now) who writes 140-character stories and actually had a competition for best story by other tweeple – very interesting!

  5. Harry van Beuningen says:

    June 18th, 2009 at 4:34 am

    I get the greatest benefit out of Twitter by following BNO, which is breaking news. They are way ahead of traditional news. Necessary for my line of work.

  6. Lisa Cunningham says:

    June 18th, 2009 at 7:39 am

    I am addicted to Twitter. Not only can I get breaking news faster than from cable news, I can connect with other cancer survivors, writers and editors and local people — all for free!

    Every journalist should have a Twitter account to ask people for opinions about the news and what the organization can do to improve. It’s a free focus group.

    If you don’t want to follow someone, you just stop and you don’t have to insult that person. I un-follow spammers and people talking about their coffee or repeating famous quotes very quickly.

    Twitter’s also very easy to learn and navigate, so people of all ages and learning curves can participate.

  7. Geraldine Eliot says:

    June 18th, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Thanks, Lisa and Harry, for the comments. I totally agree that it is a wonderful news source, and as you say – FREE! I lov econnecting with people and sharing stories, humour, insights, so I really enjoy it – though sometimes it can become too absorbing and I have to remind myself to get back to work (then I justify it by saying that it IS work because I am promoting my business and marketing my services etc ūüôā

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