Self-described as simply a real-time short messaging service and often referred to a microblogging platform, to those new to it, Twitter resembles nothing so much as a giant cocktail party where everyone talks at once and hopes others listen. You can tell who's important by how many "followers" that person has, though that's no guarantee anyone is really paying attention. People (or rather, Tweeple in the Twitter lexicon) can come and go without really being noticed, just like at a real (very, very large) gathering.
Twitter can be difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with it. Jennifer Laycock writes that Twitter is like Post-It notes; lots of them and in multiple colors. Johnny Makkar provides some helpful guidance on how to get your co-workers to start Twittering, in which he links to this long but informative video from HubSpot on how to use Twitter for marketing and PR.
Types of "Tweets"
I'm sure there's a better list somewhere, but from my observation thus far there are five primary types of messages posted to Twitter:
Evangelizing: One of the most common and valuable uses of Twitter—linking to and promoting great stuff, like articles, blog posts, videos, etc. Example from Bill Hartzer: "Ask.com Adds One-Click Election Poll Information to Search http://ff.im/5x8." It's okay to evangelize your own stuff occasionally, as long as 1) it's great stuff, and 2) you don't evangelize only your own content. That would be...Twitterbation?
Social: Arranging live meetings is another practical, common and perfectly acceptable use of Twitter. Got a long layover at the Detroit airport? Use Twitter to see who among your "followers" might also happen to be there and grab a cup of coffee together. Example from Chris Brogan: "Chicago area meetup 11/10: http://tinyurl.com/54rs7m Pass it on!"
Thoughtful: Inspiration, observation and philosophy in 140 characters or less. For example, from Jeremiah Owyang: "Be inspired this week my friends: Try something new, learn something you always wanted to --be uncomfortable."
Conversational: Using the @ symbol before someone's Twitter name lets you target a public message to them. A fine practice, though it should be used in moderation. If you never use the @ symbol, you may be perceived as anti-social, arrogant or purely self-promotional. If you use it too much, you should probably take some of these conversations offline.
Annoying: Tweets which add absolutely no value to anyone, but are written just for the sake of writing something. Among the worst are the "Off to the gym," "Going for a run," "Just got back from a workout and gosh I'm stiff!" variety. Argh. The rest of the world would care about this...why?
What's Cool About Twitter
Fans of Twitter believe it is a key social media tool for business. According to the MindValley Labs blog, Twitter is an incredibly powerful marketing tool, and they offer up three forbidden Twitter mind control tricks for marketing, stating "Twitter is currently the closest app on Earth that replicates the actual thought patterns of the human mind. You see, the human mind does not really think in blog and article form. Instead, it thinks in a stream of consciousness way, random disjointed thought layered upon random disjointed thought...After all, what’s more intimate than the whispering voices in your head?"
Ellie Mirman of HubSpot contends that tapping into the conversations happening on Twitter related to your brand, product or industry is crucial even for niche businesses. And Miguel Cancino explains why Twitter is a key tool for reputation management.
This was the first post in a two-part series. Part 2 will cover best practices for using Twitter, Twitter tools, and the future outlook for this platform.
Contact Mike Bannan: email@example.com