Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Twitter 101, Part 2: Why You (May) Want to Use Twitter

This is part two of a four-part series on Twitter. If you already use Twitter, this post may not be of much interest, but as more people are drawn to the service, I find I am getting more questions about what it is, what value it provides, and how to be successful on Twitter.

Yesterday, we discussed What Twitter is. Of course, understanding what it is and recognizing why you’d want to use it are two entirely different things. Today, we’ll attempt to address why you may, or may not, care to use Twitter.

Assuming you’re a sane individual, you probably need a new communication channel like a hole in the head. Like everyone else, you can barely keep up with your email (multiple accounts, I’m sure), LinkedIn requests, text messages, voice mails, phone calls, Facebook wall posts, instant messages, and the RSS feeds for the blogs to which you subscribe.

The communication clutter of modern life should beg a question to those who have yet to try Twitter: What do Twitter’s 3.2 million users know that I don’t know? (For the sake of honesty and thoroughness, I should point out that only a quarter million of these users post on any given day, but many more check their Twitter accounts and follow others regularly.)

There are several sources of value that Twitter (and other microblog tools) provides that other communication tools do not (or may not do as easily):
  • Replacement for other communication channels: Most Twitter users will tell you that as they built their Twitter networks, their communication in other channels decreased. How much Twitter can replace an individual’s volume of email, text messages, or blogging depends upon how many of his or her current friends, family members, and associates are already using Twitter or can be encouraged to join.
  • Gain access to news and the insights of smart people: Many Twitter users follow existing family and friends, or at least that’s where they start. After linking up with the people they already know, most Twitter users begin to find others who share a common interest—perhaps they live in the same city, work in the same field, or share the same hobbies. For many Twitter users, the service becomes as much a source of thought and news as it is a way to stay in touch.

    Those who seek out interesting and pertinent Twitter users to follow can be rewarded with a stream of useful news, insights, and links. Each user’s interests are different, so the people they follow will be different. For the purposes of illustration, here are people I follow and why:
  • Access a social human computer: Once you gain a set of followers, you can tap into the power of your human network. Some months ago, I needed a recommendation for a presenter who could speak on the topic of social media and the law. I might have spent hours searching, but instead I posted a question to my Twitter network; within a half hour I had four recommendations, all of whom were very qualified to do the job.

    I’ve seen Twitter users ask for restaurant recommendations, seek out referrals for a good wedding band, request links to relevant research data, appeal for assistance in finding a qualified Search Engine Marketing vendor, and inquire about day care facilities. Create the proper network, and more information can be more immediately and easily available on Twitter than through Google.
  • Know where your friends are (if they want you to know): Since many Twitter users receive updates and post Tweets via their cell phones (using text messaging or mobile applications), Twitter is a wonderful tool for keeping friends informed of where you are. Either by texting or utilizing a host of geolocation tools that integrate with Twitter, you can keep your friends aware of when you’re at a restaurant, seeing a game, or visiting a festival. This permits Twitter users to get together when they discover they are in proximity to each other.

    Locally, I’m known for posting my whereabouts frequently, as well as for eating out a lot. Via Twitter I’ve had the opportunity to hook up with nearby friends, to receive menu recommendations, and to answer questions for people interested in new restaurants.
  • Maintain soft relationships: One of the most important benefits of Twitter is also the hardest to explain. Humans have always been limited as to the number of relationships they can maintain by factors such as physical proximity, communication tools, time, and our mental ability to store, classify, and utilize data about numerous individuals. Maintaining “hard relationships” with people with whom we share time, location, and intimate associations has always been easy, but “soft relationships”—ones characterized by limited contact and modest shared interest—have been much more difficult to maintain and usually dissolve with the passage of time and the indifference of both parties.

    Twitter creates a means for maintaining “soft relationships” with large numbers of people. Currently, I am following over 400 people on Twitter. For perhaps 100 to 150 of these people—all of whom began as strangers—I am able to stay in touch easily and with no special effort. More than that, I’ve also gotten to know these people—perhaps not deeply—but I’ve nevertheless become familiar with their political beliefs, their professional skills, their family situations, and their hobbies as a result of scanning my Tweets and engaging in occasional Twitter discussions.
  • Make new friends and associates: Sometimes, those soft relationships can become hard. Whereas Facebook and MySpace tend to be services that permit users to maintain their existing relationships, Twitter seems to be more effective at creating new ones. I’ve made the acquaintance of several professionals in my city, and these new relationships have resulted in networking opportunities, business discussions, and friendship.

    One way that Twitter users are creating stronger bonds with their followers is through meetups or tweetups where online associates meet and network in the real world. In Milwaukee, I’ve launched a couple of “Twappy Hours”—social happy hours announced to followers via Twitter—with considerable success in terms of attendees, feedback, and lively discussion.
  • Get service from or connect with brands: Increasingly, brands are taking notice of the dialog that occurs on Twitter. Comcast made headlines earlier this year when a well-known tech Blogger complained about service on Twitter; within minutes, the Blogger received a call from Comcast asking how they could resolve his concerns. This sort of proactive customer service isn’t limited to the famous; last month a friend of mine complained about his mobile service and was contacted by the company as a result. Smart brands are beginning to understand that they don’t have the luxury of ignoring people complaining to hundreds or thousands of followers on Twitter, and in the future you’ll see more of this proactive service offered via Twitter and other microblogging tools.

    There are other reasons to connect with brands on Twitter. My wife and I own two small businesses, and we’re beginning to test our ability to promote specials and answer questions via Twitter (at @metropawlis and @petstroller). Our small business is following in the footsteps of larger brands that can be found on Twitter, such as @zappos, @DellOutlet, @SouthwestAir, @SamsungMobileUS, and @woot.
  • Reinforce your personal brand and promote yourself: The last benefit to Twitter is important but must be approached with care and caution. I’ll discuss tips for being successful on Twitter in the last of the four-part series, but for now it’s sufficient to say that Twitter provides a means for you to promote yourself and to fashion and reinforce your personal brand. It’s important to note that you don’t do this by being self-promotional but instead by participating, offering smart and pertinent contributions, making meaningful connections, and finding and following like-minded people.

    Fullhouse, the agency at which I work, has been successful in raising awareness and improving perception among potential candidates as a result of the Twitter participation of several employees. Job candidates—at least the smart ones—show up with knowledge of our people and the work we do as a result of their research and connections made on Twitter and other social media services. Conversely, I became familiar with an individual first through his Twitter contributions and the social network he founded; he has since become a peer at Fullhouse, in part because he was able to communicate his passion, knowledge, and experience via his social media activities.

The benefits of Twitter are many and extend beyond my list. Each Twitter user seems to find his or her own benefits and purpose to Twitter, and it is Twitter’s ability to provide a unique and customized experience for each user that perhaps speaks best to the value Twitter creates.

If learning what Twitter is and how it creates value has piqued your interest, please visit ExperienceTheBlog.com later this week for Twitter 101, Part 3: How to Use Twitter.

1 comment:

raster said...

Thanks for the mention! I feel so honored to be called an "Interactive Marketing professional." :)