Why twiddle with twitter?

by Stephanie Chasteen on March 16, 2009

A recent query on a writers’ listserv pleaded:

Can someone, anyone, please explain the advantages to me of being on
Twitter? I certainly understand the “concept” of repeated exposure, and
that it takes less time and words than blogging, but in all honesty,
even though this is called “social” networking, it leaves me a bit cold
without a real person to talk to. I guess what I’m wondering is how much
does it really work?

This post attempts to answer that question, mostly by reference to a bunch of great articles and blogs.

First, for a great beginner’s guide to Twitter, read this article in the NY TImes.  He explains:

I’ll admit that, for the longest time, I was exasperated by the Twitter hype. Like the world needs ANOTHER ego-massaging, social-networking time drain? Between e-mail and blogs and Web sites and Facebook and chat and text messages, who on earth has the bandwidth to keep interrupting the day to visit a Web site and type in, “I’m now having lunch”? And to read the same stuff being broadcast by a hundred other people?

Then my eyes were opened. A few months ago, I was one of 12 judges for a MacArthur grant program in Chicago. As we looked over one particular application, someone asked, “Hasn’t this project been tried before?”

Everyone looked blankly at each other.

Then the guy sitting next to me typed into the Twitter box. He posed the question to his followers. Within 30 seconds, two people replied, via Twitter, that it had been done before. And they provided links.

As one of the other members of the listserv explained:

Twitter has some search-engine-like properties that make it especially interesting. It’s hard to grasp the potential and fun-ness of it ’til you play with it for a while….The 140 character limit is
interesting from a literary point of view. Lastly, those of you not interested, no worries! It’s not a cult. Not a must-do.

And someone else said:

I think Twitter is getting more useful all the time. Fewer and fewer people are posting things like “I’m eating a ham sandwich” and are now posting tweets with more substance.

I’ve found that the best way to build my network on Twitter is to use the SEARCH feature (located at the very bottom of your home page or www.search.twitter.com). I plug in keywords that are important to me (e.g., “corporate training” “mentoring” “health care”), then follow anyone whose posts look interesting.

And, what does it mean to Tweet? Here’s a short ABC Nightline video about Twitter -- quite interesting!  The Twitter developers are on there too.  A couple of geeky well-meaning guys!  Look like people I know.  You can follow news correspondent Terry Moran (from “Nightline”),  on Twitter, too.

If you want to know more about Twitter, the company, and the guys behind it, here’s a really interesting article on the NY Times about them, and how they’re the last company living the dot-com dream.  Except, they’re not.  They’re more progressive, more San Francisco (whatever that means).

Stone speaks of Twitter’s potentially being a new form of human communication, “like a flock of birds choreographed in flight.” That’s an extremely ambitious statement, particularly because it doesn’t seem to describe what Twitter does at all.

“It’s another step toward the democratization of information,” Williams says. “I’ve come to really believe that if you make it easier for people to share information, more good things happen.” Williams would know. He’s in his second incarnation of reinventing publishing. In a former life, he was the creator of the Blogger platform — he’s the guy credited with inventing the term blogger.

Stone and Williams run Twitter but it’s clear, in conversations with both of them, that Stone’s more of the dreamy visionary. Where Stone will say things like, “We’re here to impact people’s lives; we own up to our leadership position here,” Williams admits that he has trouble getting his mom to figure out his service

If you’re a blogger, here is a post with 9 benefits of Twitter for bloggers.  On the list are:

  • Research tool
  • Enforce your brand
  • Increase your audience
  • Widen your audience
  • Networking
  • Storygathering

If you’re a writer, here’s some information on how one writer uses Twitter. For example, he says:

Networking. Twitter is a decent way to connect with people without being creepy, a sort of pre-e-mail contact method… something between a chat room, a status updater and a room full of people. Let’s say I visit Joe Bob astronomer’s blog and his Twitter username is clearly displayed there. He’s a great blogger, so I follow him. If I don’t have his e-mail, I can can use an @joebobastronomer in my tweets to flag his attention or if he beings to follow me, I can send him a direct message.

Another writer explains:

Twitter is very good for getting on-the-spot accounts of conferences or newsworthy events like plane crashes. I’ve been following the Ticketmaster/ Live Nation hearings in Congress and when I can’t get the live video, I look at the Twitter updates to see what is being said. So it has its place as a form of reporting.

But Twitter may be a hard sell for journalists, who are trained to find facts, not ideas:

I have the feeling Twitter is interesting for the ideas which are shared. For instance, I have been tweeting a blogpost by Fred Wilson on “hacking education”. A lot of ideas there about how our educational system was developed in the industrial age, while the educational needs in an information tech society are different. The problem: journalists are very focused on fact finding and hard news, less so on new ideas, seeing big trends, and finding facts in function of the trends. This I think is a very fundamental reason why Twitter, as an idea-generating machine, is a hard sell when confronted with traditional journalists.

If you’re a journalist and want some social media training, here’s a site for you.

And if you want every possible trick or tool that Twitter has to offer for professionals, check out this constantly-updated blog with all the different memes and tricks that those in the know, know.

  • Display number of Twitter followers on a website
  • Create cloudmap of current Twitter topics
  • Plot the latest trends and statistics in Twitter
  • Tools for managing your Twitter communication
  • And much much more…

And of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a plug that yes, you can follow me on Twitter! I mostly use it to feed out my blog posts and De.li.ci.ous bookmarks, and I check it every few days to see if there are some interesting posts from the people I’m following.  I haven’t yet gotten deeply into searching, etc.  I’m just too darned busy!  But I did find the power of Twitter when a popular Twitterer tweeted about a blog post I wrote about voicing at NPR.  My blog posts tripled in that one day!  He wouldn’t have found that blog post if they weren’t being fed to Twitter, so I guess I’m a convert!

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