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Why Twitter Isn’t a Waste of Time

This post on using Twitter was submitted by Sheila Scarborough from Family Travel, Perceptive Travel and Fast Machines.

TwitterI’m Twitter-pated.

Admittedly, when I saw random user “tweets” projected onto a big screen at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive last year, it seemed like a mildly-amusing but rather silly new tech toy.

As a freelance writer/entrepreneur in her mid-forties, married with two kids, it’s hard to justify fitting one more thing into my life. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the available social media options; Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, StumbleUpon, etc.

So, why Twitter?

Think of it as a stream of mini blog posts (and we all know why blogging isn’t a waste of time.) Think of it as an interesting news feed. Don’t judge it by the continuously-updated public timeline of often pointless blather. The value is in your own micro-community of followers and who you choose to follow.

You don’t want the wisdom of any crowd; you want the wisdom of a carefully-selected crowd.

Here are some other reasons to tweet:

Widen your network – As a blogger, you know the importance of the human connection, both for personal enjoyment and professional growth. I like to meet new people, and I’ve found that my Twitter group is very different than my normal writer’s network. I don’t see many of the names that I commune with on other bulletin boards or blogs, but I get to know many early tech adopters and social media experts, and they get to know me.

Learn stuff – Would you like to read some of the daily thoughts and ideas from experts and thought leaders like Gina Trapani, Ben Yoskovitz, Duncan Riley, Connie Reece, Dwight Silverman and Chris Brogan?

Me, too.

Sure, I read their blogs, but there are nuggets on their Twitter updates as well.

Teach stuff - You have expertise in some area. You know something that would interest others. Here’s another platform where you can show your stuff to an audience that you otherwise might not reach.

Showcase your stuff - Your name, your ideas and your personal brand are already out there via your blogging work. Twitter is one more way to extend your name and brand visibility. Claim your Twitter profile as a blog on Technorati and build some link juice as well.

Become conversant in rapidly-developing technology – What better way to learn about fresh tech ideas than immersion into some of that technology, amongst the biggest brains who develop it? I love my fellow freelance writers, but not all of them are into blogging and even fewer are into the details of social media, so I must go where the action is to learn about it.

The 140-character limit also forces better, more focused Web 2.0 communication — this is a situation where you gotta think INSIDE the box.

Keep up with the buzz even when you’re on the move, with text or IM – Twitter on your mobile device means that you can read and send tweets wherever you have cell phone service. I personally do not use it this way, but I know others who like the “always on and plugged in” continuous connection.

Market your work - This comes last for a reason. We are already bombarded enough by ads and marketing plans, and I do what I can to avoid them (hurray for satellite radio — I’m literally willing to pay to avoid stupid ads on my radio.) Don’t stomp into a community like Twitter and start blatantly selling your wares; we see what you’re doing and we won’t like it. Be cool.

As with any technology, there are improper Twitter uses and habits.

Think before you tweet, Part 1 – Do not answer the Twitter question, “What are you doing?” every 2.5 minutes; you’ll just annoy your followers. I saw this today from a respected tech guru: “Sorry, a Twtr for every Flickr photo you are uploading is way, way too many. Removing you from my list now.” Ouch.

Think before you tweet, Part 2 – Twitter messages are archived and searchable. Forever. Remember that.

It’s not all about you – This is not a contest to see how many you can follow or how many sign up to follow you. A real network offers mutual help, nurturing relationships and good company; it’s not a numbers game. If you treat it that way, you’ll lose most of the major benefits.

There’s still real life out there, so live it - Maybe only someone like Robert Scoble can Twitter his kid’s birth. For the rest of us, we’d like to spend some non-tech time with air-breathers. You know, humans.

Twitter is just one more communications tool, perhaps more useful than youíd think. If you check it out and donít like it, the world will not end. You can always do something really radicalÖ.like meet someone in person.

photo via mashable

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. mgroves says:

    Still not convinced. But then, I don’t see the value of SMS either, so I guess I’m just a fogey.

  2. Thanks for the great blog on Twitter. Although I do use it at this point for random comments (along the lines of “my cat sneezed, although I am a dog person”) I think this technology has tremendous possibility. One example is in the citizen advocacy arena. Imagine being able to keep people posted on a minute-by-minute basis on what’s happening with an important issue on the House or Senate floor! Advocates and the Associations that represent them would be able to shift their strategies quickly and efficiently. I actually blogged on this idea at :http://www.advocacyassociates.com/2007/09/twitter-for-advocacy.html

    Thanks for your great ideas and resources!

  3. Marko Novak says:

    Hm…maybe it’s time for me to join some of these social media sites but I don’t really see the benefits.

  4. edBMW says:

    Well, I’m not sure how this will fit in our niche. I tried before to twitter about some latest car news and it didn’t seem to attract people. So, in my opinion, Twitter works at a more personal level

  5. Andy Merrett says:

    It’s interesting that there does seem to be a resurgence in interest in using Twitter for networking, gathering news, and marketing, amongst other things.

    It’s definitely a service I’ve started paying more attention to in the past week, after reading several articles about its benefits.

    I admit I’m hooked again, but I think for different reasons now that I’ve added some more pertinent contacts. I’m still surprised when people add me back, but there you go. Maybe I am tweeting useful things occasionally!

  6. Starfeeder says:

    I love twitter, its easy… fast to use, and I dunno why, but extremely fun :)

    I built my own Flash twitter app here: http://starfeeder.com/assets/blog/twit/

  7. In just a short time, Twitter has got my car fixed, sped up my computer, bought me two Guinnesses, brought me fresh taffy from Maine to Seattle, and more.

    How Twitter Can Drastically Improve Your Life:
    http://www.sufficientthrust.com/how-twitter-can-drastically-improve-your-life/

  8. I think its great that we can communicate as we do, but I think the future holds massive social privacy and censorship issues.

  9. How do you get in touch with someone you are following?

  10. Very very interesting this has got me interested. I had never given it a second thought before. Now it has definately made the to do list. Just surrounding your self with successful like minded people has to have merit.

  11. I, like edBMW above, feel the same as I tried Twitter too but couldn’t grab enough interest. Maybe I’ll give it another try.

  12. Thanks for all of the comments so far, and you’re actually right to be a bit skeptical. There are tons of social media apps out there and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I don’t use Facebook or MySpace simply because I don’t have time to cram in another app, and LinkedIn works for me.

    The key to the usefulness of something like Twitter is the people that you choose to follow and the ones who follow you. When it’s humming along, it’s like being in a giant chat room/IM exchange of interesting people. Just pick a few and follow them for a few days to get the hang of it.

    If you don’t know where to start, I’m at http://twitter.com/SheilaS — you can both follow me and see who I follow.

    Last night, for example, I was exchanging tweets with people about topics ranging from how the Boston Red Sox baseball game was going to the election of an Indian-American, Bobby Jindal, as the new governor of Louisiana.

    Sometimes we talk tech stuff, sometimes we just talk about whatever is on our minds.

  13. Sheila,

    How do you communicate with others in there? Just following people seems like a waste of valuable time that could be put to good use on our sites and blogs. I’m not following how you say it can be so valuable. But then again, I’m pretty slow…LOL!

    Mike

  14. Wow! Long time reader, first time caller! : ) Thanks for the kind words.

    You’ve nailed one of the big values of Twitter to me. I call it Twitter as Director’s Commentary ( blogged here: http://chrisbrogan.com/twitter-as-directors-commentary/ ) ,and I describe Twitter as being the special director’s track you get with movies. Meaning, similar to your videos, Twitter can be a way to talk “outside the core topic” and explain some of the mindset behind the person.

    Love that you’re covering Twitter, and happy to drop by the blog. : )

  15. Cameron Reilly says:

    Great overview Sheila. There was also a great podcast about the uses of witter yesterday on Stan Relihan’s show at: http://connections.thepodcastnetwork.com

  16. Jason Falls says:

    Got another post (today even) that illustrates some good Twitter uses. And it’s not even from me. Check out Todd Earwood’s Super Doppler Twitter Post here:

    http://www.toddearwood.com/2007/10/22/super-doppler-twitter/

    Good stuff, man. I’m a Twitter fan as well.

  17. Connie Reece says:

    I’m biased in favor of Twitter (and partly responsible for getting Sheila to use it), so I’ll naturally echo her opinions here. Twitter is a tool; it’s really about the people — and Twitter (or any other social network) is only as useful as the people you connect with.

    Here are a few ideas for finding people to follow and having a conversation with them.

    Twitter lets you use your e-mail contacts to see which ones are already on the service. That’s your starting point. Next, pay attention to who others are talking to — follow friends of friends that sound interesting. Take a look at their profile and if they list a blog, check it out to see if they write about things that interest you.

    Even if someone is not following you back, you can “speak” to them by starting a message with @username; that causes the message to show up in the recipient’s Replies tab. I don’t automatically add back everyone who follows me, for example, but if they send me a message, I will reply and then add them to my friends list. (I currently have about 440 followers.)

    I liken Twitter to a virtual water cooler – and my coworkers are some of the smartest people in tech, marketing, PR & social media. Sometimes we talk about sports, hobbies, family. Sometimes we talk shop, indutry news. Sometimes it’s boring, other times it’s riveting.

    It’s helped me deepen the friendship with some of the people I first met through blogging.

  18. Hi Mike Pedersen Golf,

    I try to listen to the conversation and only tweet if I really have something on my mind or if I want to say something to another Twitterer. Its value is in networking with people that you might never ordinarily meet or exchange emails with.

    You can “direct tweet” to someone who is following you, or just do a more public shoutout to them by using “@________” (their Twitter name.)

    Try not to get TOO deep into a 2-way conversation with another Twitterer with a whole string of “@_____”; it’s sort of like having a private conversation that others can’t readily join and can be seen as rather rude. At that point you could direct Tweet and perhaps exchange emails.

    I can’t imagine that some Twitterers out there wouldn’t be interested some golf tips from you! :)

  19. Ricardo M. says:

    Twitter is a great communication tool. We can use it in a good or in bad way as you great explain in your post (I just erase some people that tweets like psychos!).
    This tool have a huge potential. And I want to say that almost all the people I know that affirm that Twitter is going to be dead soon, nobody of this people use it and know how to do it!
    Yeah, I don’t like carrots, but the carrots aren’t bad.

  20. Thanks Sheila, I didn’t know you could claim your twitter profile as a blog on Technorati, I’ll be doing that now!

  21. Leon says:

    Good points, but I still don’t think Twitter will add too much to your blogging experience. Reading a full, rich post about one’s day is a lot more fulfilling to me than having to bother reading numerous little snippets every few minutes.

  22. Andy Merrett says:

    Leon, I understand that, though I have found some interesting articles and info from a number of people whose blogs (or even feeds) I wouldn’t readily have time to read.

    Yes, it can be a distraction, and it goes against the “multitask” principle many adhere to. However, some are saying it’s replacing their RSS feeds. I wouldn’t go that far, yet, but major players (such as the BBC, major newspapers) are also “tweeting” so it can keep you up to date on “real” news, too.

    One thing that annoys me a little is that it’s difficult to tell where URLs lead. Due to the 140 char limit, most are encoded as tiny URLs. Some sort of twitter client which has pop-up preview of the web page would be great (one of the few times I’d actually like that feature – hate it on regular web pages)

  23. Niamh says:

    This may seem daft but could Sheila Scarborough advise how best to get started. I don’t want to write stuff about the cat but would like to use it in a subtle way to promote my business. I think I understand twitter but feel ‘very outside’ it. Maybe I should just join and see what happens.

  24. John Hood says:

    I’ve found Twitter an invaluable networking tool!

  25. hi,
    frankly:
    i have unfortunately not really understood what twitter IS.
    can anyoune give me a short explanation on that?

    TIA

    Norbert Sczepanski

  26. Norbert:

    Twitter is very much sending an IM to a Web page. What you “tweet” is saved on that page. You can also choose to have the messages sent by others to your page. If you pick/choose those friends you follow wisely, you build a page of messages from people of like interest, and create something of value on the Web. My Twitter page is at http://www.twitter.com/dsilverman … Click the “With Friends” tab to see the updates from those I follow as well as my own.

    Niamh:

    To get started, sign up at http://www.twitter.com. Invite your friends to join (it will let you scan your Gmail address book to see if anyone’s already on the service, or will allow you to select them to receive an invitation.) Next, go out and find people who interest you. Click on the image matrix on the right side of other folks’ pages and then click the Follow button on the ones who interest you. They’ll get a notice that you’re following, and they may follow you, too.

    You have to work at Twitter at first to make it worthwhile. If you follow everyone who follows you, you’ll end up with essentially a Web-based chat room with a lot of noise. Some people like that (see http://www.twitter.com/scobleizer), but I personally prefer to be more selective. I think that adds more value.

    Hope that helps.

    Dwight

  27. Dan Schawbel says:

    It’s a great update tool and the tracking system also helps. You get the professional and personal feel of the people you follow.

  28. Mike Panic says:

    I tried to give it a go – even included the twitter cloud in my blogs sidebar – no one really cared and I just couldn’t get into using it.

  29. I’m hooked on twitter right now. It’s helped me find out about local BarCamps (which in turn helped me promote my webcomic at a panel), I’ve used it within facebook and to update a local sig image on a few forums, and I have a few other fans who follow my stuff on it.

    Right now, I’ve got Twitter hooked up through my phone and able to post to it while on the road or any other time getting to a computer is inconvenient. That’s going to be INCREDIBLY useful for conventions, where I could easily be stuck in a panel or at lunch and unable to reach a PC otherwise.

    It’s not going to make a $50,000 business into a $100,000 business, but if you’re just starting out and looking to make an impact, it’s as good a kickstart as blogging and everything else.

  30. It’s gets to a certain point, where additional communication is not useful. You asked a question about wanting to read more from certain people. The answer is no. I don’t want to spend all my time reading about what other people are doing. I want to spend most of my time doing things myself. Reading is indeed very useful and I do enjoy it both for pleasure and for learning, but listening to someone’s stream of consciousness tweets is stupid. How about they summarize it all into a once a day or once a week blog post and then I can spend a few minutes reading that?

    Gal

  31. Dwight Si of the Houston Chron is an interesting good Twitterer.

  32. Anne-Marie says:

    I’m agreeing with mosteveryone else that Twitter is a waste of time for business/marketing purposes. However, the fires in San Diego are showing that Twitter feeds can be very helpful in times of emergency. Check out Nate Ritter’s Twitter feed – http://twitter.com/nateritter

  33. Adam Snider says:

    You don’t want the wisdom of any crowd; you want the wisdom of a carefully-selected crowd.

    That may be the most valuable statement I have heard regarding Twitter. It’s definitely something that needs to be pointed out to the people who think that Twitter is nothing but people talking about what they had for lunch.

  34. Brian Auer says:

    I experienced the true power of Twitter this week.

    I live in San Diego, fairly close to the Witch fire. I don’t have TV, so I was searching on the Internet for reliable and up to date news on the fires. Yesterday afternoon, I found Nate Ritter posting a tremendous amount of information on the San Diego Fire situation. I was following a couple other news sites too, and I quickly found that Nate had faster updates and more of them on his Twitter profile.

    I heard it from him first that my home was part of a mandatory evacuation zone. I then heard the notice a few moments later on one of the other news sites. And I didn’t get a phone call from the police until an hour after that.

    Nate has been providing constant comprehensive media coverage of this disaster for the last two days straight, sometimes updating several times per minute. It’s incredible how quickly and efficiently Nate has been providing important news to a lot of people.

    THAT’s the true power of Twitter — quick easy to digest bits of news on an important story.

  35. I just started Twittering and straight away signed up a few referrals for WidgetBucks! It works! It works! :-)

  36. Melanie says:

    I love Twitter. At first I was like, what on earth is this going to do. Only 140 characters and just tell what you are doing, big deal. LOL Well, now I love it and you can learn from others and get your blog/website known. Great networking tool!

  37. Venkat says:

    Not only is twitter NOT a waste of time, it might pave the way for a medium that’s actually vastly more impactful than blogging in some ways. I didn’t appreciate the social subtleties of twitter until a friend pointed out an interesting concept behind it — twitter creates an ‘ambient connection’ between twitter-ers and followers. Normally you only learn about random facts about people if they are physically near you (within your “50 foot zone” as Tom Allen of MIT named it in his research on collaboration in the 70s).

    Twitter allows this fifty-foot noise zone to extend metaphorically to whereever your twitter buddies are. This humanizes your twitter contacts and changes the geography of collaboration.

    I wrote about this theory in my blog in The Twitter Zone and Virtual Geography and its prequel article which is linked from the post above.

    In short, even if twitter ain’t it, it points the way towards how social media will truly alter our landscape.

  38. I have 10 pounds left to lose so I started using Twitter to microblog my daily activities which are interesting, but not enough info to do posts on my regular blog. So far, the twittering has helped me stay more disciplined in my food and exercise because it’s hard to slack when you have an audience following you. It’s also a great compliment to my normal blogging.

    http://twitter.com/skinnyjeans

  39. Niamh says:

    Well I finally understood twitter and how to use it. Learned about something new through twitter. It is called Utterz.com.
    Darren I’m certain you will love Utterz.

  40. john says:

    I guess I still don’t get it. I don’t get the difference between this and a blog other than it’s quicker. I don’t do text messaging either and can’t figure out the fascination behind it either. I am a technical person and use and work on computers every day. I want to get it. I just don’t. Thanks for your article.

  41. This is the blog post I wish I read when it was published. I have been using twitter since June 2008. I have enjoyed it so far, but more importantly, I am getting good results using it. Making new connections, speeding communication with peers, and organizing events to name a few.

    Some people would think it is a waste of time. Believe me, I have actually saved time using it. What I have accomplished would have taken much more if I weren’t using it.

    But as with any other tool, you have use it properly. So I have shared three resources and three videos (the last one is “The twitter Song”, quite funny). Click on my name and will get you there.

    See you on twitter.

    http://twitter.com/katalink

  42. Jessica says:

    Thank you for this insightful presentation. I can now see the value in meaningful updates, and how this is not a waste of time for people who haven’t learned to be truly present in the moment which was the direction I thought this techonology was going (sorryn for the superfluous generalization); instead, I can see how it can be a meaningful exchange of information, and how you can truly provide quick insight into a network and share expertise/interests which might spark new connections and opportunities.

    Cheers!

  43. Owen O'Neill says:

    Over the past few weeks I’ve been studying the publicly posted pros, cons and various other opinions on Twitter’s usefulness or lack of same.

    I remain convinced that the 140 character limit restricts the propagation of truly useful, productive and thoughtful information – even when the Tweet is from a learned, erudite user who is capable of communicating with great succinctness.

  44. Andrew says:

    I summarize some interesting uses of twitter in my blog posting:

    Better Brain Surgery through Twitter
    http://andrewlewis.com/technology/better-brain-surgery-twitter