Twitter for Beginners Part Two: Why Bother?

In my last post I explained the basics of setting up an account and getting started on Twitter. In this, the second in the series of ‘Twitter for Beginners’ posts I want to look at some of Twitter’s uses and attempt to explain ‘Why bother?’.

It has probably occurred to you that it seems like an odd idea to spend time sending 140 character messages over the internet to a group of people you might never meet. Entering a strange world where people have ‘followers’ and ‘tweet’ like birds all sounds a little bit odd to say the very least.

Probably the most difficult aspect of explaining Twitter to a new user is to explain what the big fuss is all about. It’s such a simple act to send short messages over the internet that it seems odd that such subtlety and complexity has built up around it.

Twitter can be different things to different people. Please take this post as it is intended – my own viewpoint on some of its many uses.

A Social Network

Twitter offers a space to meet new people and extend your social network. Likewise, it offers you another route to stay in touch and connect with the people you already know.

Unlike other networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, Twitter places the emphasis on the words expressed in your messages (tweets) and your interactions with other users.

Space for biographies, photos and other items is limited to just a few small boxes on your homepage. The connections made through Twitter are based more on shared interests or lifestyles and less on location, past contact or other factors.

By ‘following’ another user you are opening a window to their messages. You will need to ensure that those messages coming in are relevant and interesting to you the majority of the time to avoid getting overloaded with too much content.

Your reasons for extending your ‘social network’ will be personal to you. You might want to meet new people, you may be looking to market your business or possibly you want to gather new perspectives on an idea or subject. Whatever your reason, Twitter can be a very effective social networking tool.

In later posts I will explain some more ways to find people on Twitter. For some basic ideas please go back to my first post.

A News Channel

Twitter can become your very own news channel, feeding you the news you are interested in, as it happens.

Apart from the many traditional media organisations feeding news flashes out through Twitter (BBC, Sky, The Daily Mail, The Guardian and so on) you will also find users acting as ‘citizen journalists’. People just like you and I, who hear a story, see an event or are on location providing commentary.

Take the recent Hudson River Plane Crash in the US as an example. One Twitter user was stood on a ferry heading out into the middle of the river to rescue the survivors and took the very first picture and sent it out through Twitter. (Click here to read the Telegraph’s report)

Hundreds of users subsequently added their own comments or passed the story onwards to other users, breaking the story before many news teams could even make it to the scene.

Similarly, there are a number of commentators on Twitter who report on, or feed information on, a particular area or subject. For example, in social media, users such as Robert Scoble or Jason Calacanis will often report from conferences or events, helping other users like me keep up to date with the latest developments within the industry.

You will find your own news sources and commentators as you begin to become accustomed to the site.

In future posts I will provide you with links to some of the tools you can use to find your own news sources.

A Search Engine

Your traditional search engine such as Google or Yahoo allow you to search for sites offering relevant content based on a number of factors such as; the number of sites linking to it, the frequency of relevant words or phrases on the page or how recently the information was updated.

Twitter offers a more human led approach to the search engine model.

By fostering your own group of experts you can pose questions to them instead of trying to search for the information yourself. You will know the opinions to trust as you will have been listening to and interacting with those in your community (the people who you follow or those following you).

Likewise, when one of your own community posts a question, you might be the best person to answer it. We all have our own areas of knowledge, Twitter helps facilitate communications between those needing an answer and those with the knowledge to answer it.

Further still, by fostering a group of people with similar interests to you own, you are often fed information in the form of links before you even go looking for it.

Later posts will go into more detail on fostering your own team of experts.

A Marketing Tool

Twitter offers those in business another tool to market their products or services.

Unlike, most traditional media, Twitter offers two way communication between the ‘marketer’ and the ‘marketed to. This can be a daunting prospect for traditional marketers who are wary of allowing their customers to add to the conversation.

However, let’s make this clear, should a marketer not enter the communication in the first place, they have no control over what is said! If someone wants to talk about them they can, whether they’re taking part or not.

The challenge from a business and marketing angle is the age old ‘return on investment’. What do I get out of this? Why should I invest my energy?

Social Media Marketing (encompassing Twitter, Facebook and Blogging amongst others) can be difficult to quantify or measure results from. So before you start engaging in any activity be clear on what you are looking to achieve and work out how best to monitor success.

Spamming (the sending of bulk unsolicited sales messages) is more likely to damage your reputation than build it. Users found to be spamming on Twitter often find themselves becoming the topic of potentially damaging negative conversation.

An Organisational / Communication Tool

Twitter can be highly effective as a communication or organisational tool. Whether planning a night out with friends, organising a dinner party or a business event you will find Twitter built for the job (providing those involved are using Twitter too!)

Take the upcoming Twestival as an example. The event is taking place in over 180 locations across the globe with the bulk of communication and organisation taking place over Twitter.

Messaging made simple:

  • Through using the ‘Direct Message’ function you can message individuals privately.
  • Through ‘@replies’ you can ensure that multiple recipients are aware of the same details.
  • Through ‘Protected Updates’ you can protect information that you would like to keep between a team or private group.

Please refer to Twitter for Beginners Part One: Getting Started for further explanation on using these functions.

In future posts we will look at some of the freely available web based tools that link with Twitter to take its organisational or communication capabilities a step further.

This concludes the second post in our series, Twitter for Beginners. Future posts will look at some of the great tools designed to aid you in getting the most out of Twitter.

We would love to hear about your own experiences, please feel free to Tweet @arengrimshaw or @uknetweb with your views or leave a comment at the end of this post.

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This post was posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009 at 11:07 am and is filed under Twitter for Beginners.

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