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Twitter Twaddle, Part 2: Best Practices, Tools and The Future of Twitter

Twitter-LogoThis is the second of a two-part series. Part one covered what Twitter is and why it's cool; this post discusses Twitter etiquette, tools, and speculation about its future.

How to Twitter Properly

Like any other social setting, Twitter has its own etiquette. This can be confusing to new users. (And, as you can see by spending more than a few minutes on Twitter, it's apparently elusive to many long-time users as well.) Margaret Mason has written an outstanding primer on Twitter etiquette, offering advice such as watch your ratio ("If only a few people follow you, but you follow a thousand or more, many people will assume you’re a spammer. That’s because you probably are. Go away, spammer."); never Twitter if you're drunk or high; and most importantly, "remember that everyone can hear you."

The brilliant Mike Volpe of HubSpot takes a different approach to offering his advice in 5 Things On Twitter That Annoy the Crap Out of Me. His practices-to-avoid include always broadcasting and never conversing (again, some @ posts are good, too many are bad); insisting that everyone you follow return the gesture ("Just because you follow me does not mean I want to follow you. In fact, I only follow back about half the people that follow me. I look at your profile, check your recent tweets and bio, and decide if what you are saying is useful to me. Not useful, no follow. Sorry. Stop harassing me! You can unfollow me if you like."); and providing too much information ("I like how Twitter is a combination of some business and some personal info so I can get to know people on both levels. But there are limits." Like your morning run.).

MarketingSherpa has also produced and excellent case study on How to Target Twitter: 8 Ways to Build a New Audience in this Niche Community (fee-based, but non-members can access it through a free trial).

Noting that "Major media outlets (and) smaller regional publications...have generated thousands of followers for their Twitter feeds. By reaching out to that community, these publishers are developing new content strategies that are driving traffic, brand awareness and healthy online discussion about the topics they cover," the MarketingSherpa case study advises content publishers (including bloggers) on how to find the right community to target, make tweets relevant to the community, use proper timing and volume, and grow your audience: "Don’t follow every Twitter user in your coverage area or everyone who shares interest in your publication’s topics. Users receive an email notification whenever a new member follows their updates; simultaneously adding dozens or more followers looks like spamming to the Twitter community."

Twitter Tools

Similar in concept to Facebook applications—but different—Twitter has spawned an industry in clever little tools. Want to know how you rank as a Twitter user (or check out anyone else's rank)? Get your "score" from Hubspot's TwitterGrader. Forrester guru Jeremiah Owyang recommends desktop client Twhirl and search tool Tweetscan among his list of essential Twitter tools.

There are lots, lots more. Use Twitscoop to find out what topics of conversation are hot on Twittter; Tweet Later to set up automated Tweets or schedule messages to display in the future; TwitDir to search for users by name, location, description or other attribute; and Twubble, which helps you find new friends based on the attributes of your current followers and followees. Find even more tools on Jon Clark's list of the top 75 Twitter tools, applications and plugins.

And there's no shortage of new ideas, as evidence, for example, by Lee Odden's wish list for Twitter.

The Future of Twitter?

Obviously, Twitter has inspired a large and enthusiastic following. Its business potential, not just for marketing and PR, but for applications like customer relations and crowd-sourced product development is only beginning to be tapped.

Yet there are significant concerns about the future viability of the platform. Marios Alexandrou of All Things SEM believes Twitter will die because there are too many worthless posts, one-way conversations, and a focus on quantity over quality of followers among other reasons. Dave Winer takes a different tack, arguring that Twitter is like to become the next Netscape, as "they've definitely staked out too much territory, they're spread too thin" and are vulnerable to being overtaken by a better, more open alternative. MG Siegler disagrees, however, noting that "Certainly a big player, maybe even Microsoft again, could move in to try and make a new version of Twitter that is fully open. But if Twitter hasn’t died by now, I’m not convinced that it’s ever going to die."

One problem is increasing competition. In Building a Better Twitter, Douglas MacMillan list several microblogging platform competitors that offer Twitter-like capabilities but with unique twists, such as video (Seesmic) or music integration (Blip.fm). These sites pose a potential threat to Twitter not like a shark able to kill with one big bite, but more like a school of pirahna, nibbling around the edges of Twitter's dominion and taking away share bit by bit. Still, MacMillan is bullish on Twitter, noting that "Soon after Twitter raised $15 million in funding, Silicon Alley Insider blogger Henry Blodget speculated that the site may be worth as much as $1 billion." After all, alternative search engines have been trying to take the death-by-a-thousand-small-bites approach to knocking off Google for years without diminishing the search giant's dominance.

The biggest concern, however, is Twitter's revenue model—or lack thereof. As CNet's Caroline McCarthy points out, "Twitter remains Silicon Valley's poster child for hyped companies without revenue models. With the financial crisis continuing to unfold daily, that simply isn't acceptable." Popularity alone won't sustain Twitter (a lot of popular sites disappeared in 2001). But Twitter is a product of insight and creativity, and one has to conclude there is at least a good probability that those attributes will enable Twitter to continue offering a platform for news, links, wisdom and commerce mixed among a sea of trivial but very human chatter.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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