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What I’ve learned from Twitter

I’ve been playing with Twitter the past couple months, mainly out of curiosity from the buzz it’s been getting (see here and here and here). I just couldn’t understand the value of a tool that enables 140-character text-message answers to the question, What are you doing? Who cares what I’m doing? Why should I care what others are doing—I mean, in 140-character chunks? And why use Twitter to find out?

As I’ve discovered, Twitter is a very tiny form of blogging. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s how it works. Many people “tweet” in between blogs—it’s a faster, easier way to stay connected. When you tweet, your comments are readable by any other Twitter user, but most people don’t read everything that every Twitter user is writing. Instead, you set up your account to follow specific users and track different issues as you wish. Twitter can compare your email contacts to its user registry and tell you who among your contacts is already a Twitter user, so you can follow people you know. Or you can look at all Twitter posts on the website and choose to follow those who seem interesting. Or you can go to http://whoshouldIfollow.com, type in your Twitter username, and receive all sorts of suggestions for who you should follow.

Being an open development platform, Twitter’s attracted a fair number of tools to enhance its use. My favorite is TwitPic, which lets you tweet with a URL that points to a photo. Many tweets contain a link to a web page—a Tiny URL—where you can find out more information or get more context.

In my early Twitter days, I registered through Twitter’s web page but never had tweets sent to my mobile phone. In other words, I was only part of the community if I had my web browser pointed to the Twitter website. The beauty of Twitter really only comes through once it’s mobile. (For a great guide to using Twitter, see the WebGuild blog.) But be careful with that “track/untrack” feature. I set my Twitter account to “track social media” and I got so many tweets in one afternoon that I had to untrack it quickly.

From my experience, the information I receive on Twitter falls into these broad categories:

News alerts. I learned about CBS buying Cnet and Condenet buying Ars Technica on Twitter long before I read about it on my blog feeds.

Location/geography info. Where my friends are. Where parties are. Where people are doing business. Where there’s traffic or late trains or plumbing problems in a Peet’s I might visit. Where interesting conferences or meetings are taking place.

Marketing/Promotion. I follow Don Thorson (Twitter username of donthorson), VP marketing for Ribbit, and learned that Ribbit was named an InfoWorld “Top 10 Hottest Startup.” I follow Chris Shipley (cshipley) and Carla Thompson (carlat) and find out where they’re traveling to meet hot companies for Demo. Another user I follow (mikefj40) validated my hunch that the Refuge in San Carlos has better pastrami than NYC.

Typical water cooler talk. The weather, what they’re eating, how they’re feeling, what they’re doing in their personal lives, how their day was, etc. Most valuable among these types of tweets was finding out that my friend Dylan Tweney’s (dylan20) iPhone survived a dunk in a lake. Where else are you going to get that sort of information?

As a corporate marketer, you might be skeptical of Twitter’s value. My suggestion is not to assess Twitter by the information it gives you or allows you to communicate. That’s not really the point. The real value is that it’s a new information channel — another way you can connect socially and participate in the global conversation that’s happening on the Web. As a marketer, you want to know what’s being said about your company. The shift now happening in corporate marketing requires you to be a part of the conversation rather than (or perhaps, as well as) trying to direct it or push specific messaging. And Twitter gives you another way to do just that. Believe me, when you track tweets about your company and start listening in on what people are saying, you’ll be glad to be a part of the conversation.

Oh, and if you want to follow me on Twitter, my username is cziems—but I admit to reading a lot more than tweeting. Comment back and tell me your username and tales of your Twitter experience. —Charlotte Ziems, VP Client Engagement

Want to read more about Twitter? Enjoy these links:

Online Marketing Blog’s Top 10 Twitter tool uses: http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/05/top-10-twitter-uses/ and its Twitter poll: http://www.toprankblog.com/2008/06/twitter-poll-ultimate-time-waster-or-great-tool/

A cynic’s graphical perspective: http://www.gapingvoid.com/widget/viewtoon.php?id=20080519&filter=y

A blog that’s entirely focused on Twitter facts: http://twitterfacts.blogspot.com/

Doshdosh “17 Ways to use Twitter” guide: http://www.doshdosh.com/ways-you-can-use-twitter/

A Wiki for Twitter fans: http://twitter.pbwiki.com/

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June 3, 2008 - Posted by | Charlotte Ziems, Mobile Content, Social Media, Twitter | , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I don’t use Twitter, but I am on Facebook, and the Twitter-like feature is certainly a draw. I didn’t think I’d ever update mine, but I saw updates from friends and thought they were fun to read, so now I update mine a few times a week. Other people clearly read them, too. I recently referenced my upcoming trip to NYC and several people contacted me through Facebook and said they would also be in NYC at the same time. So it’s potentially a useful networking tool…

    Comment by JulieJ | June 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. Agreed — judicious and modest use of Twitter’s many interesting options is the smartest approach. And there’s PLENTY of specious apps to pick from as this article points out, tongue in cheek.

    Comment by Terry Sweeney | June 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. Terry, thanks for the great article link. Love the Mars Phoenix Lander Tweet Stream. Here’s another great Twitter list: http://www.alleyinsider.com/2008/5/ten_news_information_twitter_feeds_you_should_follow.

    Comment by CharlotteZ | June 10, 2008 | Reply


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