Imagine if Twitter had been invented over a hundred years ago and the telephone within the past decade. We’d all be going on about this great new telephone invention – it requires no screen or keyboard, understands ordinary speech in any language, comes in many colours and models, instant-on, private and secure, no viruses, etc. etc.
And of course Alex Bell’s tweet would now be legend: “OMG Watson, cm here I want 2 C U.”
But alas the reverse is true, and everybody is talking about communicating via Twitter. Yet, many people have little idea what Twitter is all about, and it is for those people that this article is intended.
Four Main Components
In essence, Twitter is a web site that allows you to sign up for free, and has four main components:
1. A way to identify people you want to “follow”.
2. A place to see who is following you.
3. A place to read messages from people you follow.
4. A place to send messages to people who follow you.
That’s about it. You sign in once or twice a day, see what the people you follow have to say, and post a message or messages that your followers will read the next time they sign in. Messages, called tweets, have to be 140 characters or less.
In this way, Twitter allows you to easily connect with people with whom you have things in common – multiple people of your choosing, all at once.
Growing Your Network
Chances are the people you are connected with are also connected with people who have something in common with you; you can see who these people are and you can start following any of them as well.
In this way, your network keeps on growing. People on Twitter may represent individuals or they may represent organizations. Once you are connected to a large group of like-minded individuals or groups, you can very quickly broadcast a message, like an announcement or a web link to something of interest, or you can ask a question.
With Twitter, followers and senders are not necessarily the exact same group of people. You get to choose who you follow but you can’t pick your followers. Also, a message can be sent to single individual, as our modern-day Alex Bell’s tweet would have been.
Why use Twitter?
So why would you use Twitter? Simply because you have something to say and you are interested in what others are saying. Many entertainers use Twitter and have a huge following. Twitter is also gaining appeal with business people, because they like to exchange business ideas, get feedback as to what their customers are saying, and reach out to their customers. Hearing what is being said about your company or product is easy to do – all you do is do a search on the Twitter web site.
But there is a downside as well. You may become overloaded with information that’s only marginally relevant and that takes up too much of your time to sift through. I’ve stopped following some organizations because they just tweet too much. These sounded more like spring peepers than tweeters to me.
Luckily there are ways to filter out your messages and organize them into topics and categories. For example, Tweetdeck is a popular application that you can freely download, and it will organize other social media besides Twitter, such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
A Nest not a Swamp
Think of Twitter sort of like a hangout; it’s good to drop in once in a while to connect with people, but you shouldn’t be there all the time. (Along the spring peeper analogy, it’s a nest not a swamp.)
There is also a real danger of imposters. It is not at all difficult for people to go on Twitter and pretend to be someone they are not and this could have serious ramifications. For example, it is possible to anonymously slander someone or some organization, or to attribute a quote to someone who never said it. Twitter recognizes this as a threat and has introduced an account verification feature, although it is not universally available yet.
Should you be on Twitter? If you are a business person, you should just so you know what’s being said. The discussion might be going on already about you or your organization, so you might as well participate in it and have it go the way you want.
Also, if you pick the right people to follow, you can quickly get plugged into the things that matter to you. You can follow groups, and you can access Twitter via your smart phone. (But as I’ve already explained, phones were smart over a hundred years ago.)
More and more, organizations use Twitter as part of their Internet Marketing strategy, to position people in their companies as “thought leaders”, to gain some visibility, and to enhance their brand.
Twitter can be found at www.twitter.com. Once there you can click on the Twitter 101 button to see how they suggest you use it for business.