by Ron Vitale
I wrote a rather innocent post on my Facebook wall the other night: "Dear Facebook, Sorry but Twitter's more fun. Nite all!" A few minutes later I received an email from one of my Facebook friends, asking why I was leaving Facebook. Minutes later another friend wrote me an upset posting wondering the same thing. Being misunderstood, I explained to them that I was only shutting down Facebook for the night and jumping on Twitter. Then the comments started coming in as many of my friends aren't on Twitter because they find it confusing.
Maybe you're in the same situation and you're wondering: Why should I be on Twitter?
Reason #1: Twitter Is Open
I'll be honest. I despise Facebook. Not the service, but its sneaky policy changes over the years, its horrible layout and closed system. Facebook is a tool, like any other, but I find that my world is extremely limited on Facebook. I have my friends and we chat back and forth, but my world is rather small. Granted, maybe I'm not using Facebook as efficiently as I could, but I find the user interface of the service to be downright poor.
On Twitter, when I tweet, it goes out to the world. There are no ands, ifs or buts about it. I know exactly where I stand and realize that potentially millions of people could see my tweet. In reality, only thousands will, but there is the serendipity factor: By accident, over time, people interested in the topics I tweet about will begin to follow me. I will be notified that these individuals find my tweets interesting and I can then choose to follow them back. This is where I magic happens.
Reason #2: Learn What You Don't Know
I cannot tell you how important the serendipity factor is on Twitter. With more than 56 million people (following 8 or more people) actively using Twitter, there are many people who might find you interesting, or better yet, you can learn from. Time and time again, I'll need information about writing, social media, books, publishing, you name it--and if I search on Twitter, I will find someone who has the answers I'm looking for. The difference between using Google and typing in a search and using Twitter is that you can then build a relationship with the person who has the answer on Twitter. You build a bridge so that you can learn more from that person and, in return, they might learn from you. People who have similar hobbies or interests can become friends, colleagues, writing partners, etc. My circle of friends on Facebook is limited to who I actually know, but on Twitter I can search through tens of millions of people who might be able to help me.
Reason #3: Hashtags and Influencers
The biggest complaints I hear from people starting out on Twitter is: "I can't figure it out." Or: "It goes too fast and I can't follow along." Both criticisms are legitimate and can be extremely frustrating to a new Twitter user. The trick is to use a tool such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Both of these Twitter tools have the same function: Enable you to organize your message streams in an effective and easy way for you to read messages. Here's an example:
Let's say you want to follow other writers on Twitter. You're new to Twitter and have 0 followers. The easiest way to get started is to do a search on Twitter and start looking at various hashtags that fellow writers use. Let's stop right there. What's a hashtag? Simple: A hashtag is a keyword that you put a hash in front of so that Twitter knows you're earmarking a topic. If I am writing and want people on Twitter to know that, I will write:
"Working on my #wip by getting some #writing done on the first draft."
I've used two hashtags in my example. #wip stands for "work in progress" and #writing stands for, you guessed it, "writing." People using Twitter who are searching for #wip or #writing will see my Tweet (even if they aren't following me). And here's the magic in all of this: By using hashtags that others will be searching, your message will come up in other people's search feeds. Not only will this allow others to find you and then choose to follow you on Twitter or not, but you can also be discovered by influencers on Twitter.
Now let's jump back to the simple example: You just joined Twitter and have no followers. To solve that problem, visit Twitter's search engine or WeFollow.com and do some searches for various hashtags (#publishing, #writing, #amwriting, #wip, #starwars, #LOTR, #TheBeatles, #lefthandedpeoplerock--whatever!). Click on the links to people's Twitter profile pages, see if you're interested in following them and then do so. (Word of advice: Before I follow someone I make certain that: 1. Their posts are interesting to me. 2. They have a picture rather than the generic "egg" Twitter photo as that speaks volumes as to how much they know about Twitter. 3. Their Twitter profile is completed and looks impressive.).
For me, I prefer to use Hootsuite at home and Tweetdeck on my Android Droid X for when I'm on the go. To help you get started, be sure to read through (step by step instructions and screenshots included) my "how to use Hootsuite" post.
Reason #4: Find Influencers and Be One Yourself
Twitter is about information, the sharing of ideas and connecting with like-minded people. Whatever your interest is, you want to find out who knows more than you and then follow that person. Similarly, you might also wish to start building up street cred in the fields of interest that you're an expert in and begin sharing your own content. Visit Klout.com, create an account and go through the pages and do some searches. You'll find out some very interesting things about how you are being classified on Twitter and how much your reach actually is. Let me break this down for you. I'll use myself as an example on Klout. You can see that Klout classifies me as an explorer and you can also see who I am influenced by and who I influence. Granted, the algorithms aren't 100% as I don't follow on a regular basis who Klout says I am influenced by, but the service (it's free) gives me a good sense of who I might wish to follow and what their ranking is.
With more than 100 million tweets per day zipping all over the internet, finding tools to help you hone in on the important people or topics you're interested in learning more about is critical. Of the 200 million people signed up for Twitter, again only 56 million accounts follow 8 or more people. That statistic tells me a lot about how complicated people find Twitter--they sign up, give it a try and then give up on it. But for the tens of millions who do stick it out and learn to use it, there be gold in those hills!
Twitter is about data mining and if you have the right tool to dig through all the tweets, you'll be on your way.
Reason #5: Research and Listening
After reading all of this post, you still might not wish to sign up on Twitter. It's a lot of work, confusing, and what the heck is a Hootsuite anyway? At the least, I would highly recommend creating an account and set it up with Hootsuite so that you can do research or to listen. If you're working today in PR, marketing, communications fields or wish to be a writer, the resources that are available on Twitter are tremendous. Here's something to think about: Often we surf the web, when we have some free time. Each of us has 5 or more sites that we browse to on a regular basis. Think about the time that you spend there and what you're learning: You are seeing what you're expecting to see. When I visit CNN.com, I'm seeing the news and most often, the news that's been filtered and edited in a way that will be geared toward the American public. I am only seeing what CNN.com allows me to see (as they're creating content that will bring them more eyeballs to their screen).
With Twitter, once I start following people or hashtags, I'm now able to see video, read blog posts, listen to podcasts from many more sources. For example, when CNN covered the uprising in Egypt, I could turn on the TV and see what their reporters were able to gather. Yet I quickly realized that even CNN was turning to Twitter as they were searching for on the spot reports and sharing those tweets to their viewers on CNN. But cutting out the middleman, on Twitter I was able to hear reports directly from those in Egypt and could even see video that protestors took with their smartphones (keep in mind that you have to use your bullcrap filter--are the reports you're seeing on Twitter legit--is that person truly in Egypt?)
Twitter is the world's best listening device. No matter if you choose to send out a tweet or not, using Twitter to listen to what people are saying will help you in your job, hobbies or even your personal relationships. There is a lot of great content on Twitter, you only need to listen to learn. The two best ways to do this would be through searching on Twitter (no account needed) or using Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.
Summing It All Up
The tools are all here. It's up to you: Take a leap into the great new social experience or not? I will tell you that for the three plus years that I have been on Twitter that my knowledge of the world and of my interests has grown beyond what I could have imagined. But don't take my word for it, sign up for yourself and start small. Follow a few dozen people, set up search streams in Hootsuite and start listening. Once you do, your world will never be the same.