Barely a week goes by without someone saying this to me:
What is this Twitter fad? I have no interest in finding out what people had for breakfast or when they walked their dog. I find it ridiculous when a friend mentions they “tweet”, and annoying when a television programme suggests people “follow” it. It’s a waste of time and I can’t imagine how 140-characters could be of any use to anyone.
So, I thought I would respond:
I used to be one of you. I also thought the enthusiasm for Twitter would fade and didn’t see any benefit or usefulness that could be gained from it. In August 2009 I signed up though- mostly to see what all the fuss was about. I certainly wasn’t hooked immediately, but I now regularly use the tool to find thought-provoking articles, meet people interested in the same topics as me, and keep in touch with contacts who aren’t friends (Facebook) or business associates (LinkedIn). Over time I have come to see Twitter as a valuable news source, a great networking tool, and a frequent source of surprises.
First, let me dispel three of your most commonly believed myths:
1. “I don’t want to read about what people had for breakfast.”
You should view Twitter as a personalised news feed. Or a friend feed. Or a gossip feed. Or even all three (and more) if you want. And it’s not just feeds from your friends; it’s from whoever you want (you want to hear what Lady Gaga, or Stephen Fry, or Jon Snow has to say? Hear from them directly)- and, likewise, it’s not from anyone you don’t want. Is someone telling you about how tasty their toast was? Then stop following them (unless you want to hear about toast, of course). You are in complete control. If you are reading about someone’s fried eggs then it’s your fault.
2. “I don’t want to tell people about what I’m doing.”
You don’t have to. Many people on Twitter just use it as a news source and don’t share their own news. This is fine. No one else will care.
3. “It’s a fad.”
If Twitter’s a fad then it’s a pretty big one; the site currently has over 200 million registered users, and 1 billion tweets are sent a week. It’s taken a bit of time to get here (the first billion tweets took 3 years, 2 months and 1 day) but you can’t deny it’s now growing very rapidly.
Still not convinced? Let me tell you about some of the more unexpected ways you can use Twitter:
The Twitter surprises
a. Trying to find out about a breaking news story?
Twitter is quicker than any other site, and will bring you insights and photos directly from the source of the news within minutes- if not seconds. BBC news consistently lags at least a few hours behind Twitter.
b. Want to help with a humanitarian crisis?
Along with helping to co-ordinate revolutions and riots (and their subsequent clean-ups), breaking celebrity scandals, and tracking where it’s snowed, when a humanitarian crisis arises Twitter is now one of the key sources of information- both for those stuck in the crisis and those trying to help them. You can read about this in the context of the recent Japan earthquake here, but similar situations are replicated across many other natural disasters and warzones.
c. Want to complain about something?
As a Sceptic you probably enjoy complaining, so you’re in luck! There are few places better for getting a useful complaint reply than Twitter. Want to let the world know that a company’s service was sub-standard? Use Twitter. Want to connect with a customer service rep without sitting on the phone for hours? Use Twitter. If the company doesn’t answer then their poor service is there for the world to see.
d. Need a job?
Whatever sector you’re in, and whatever your interests are, Twitter plugs you in to relevant stories and links you with others working in similar areas. For many areas I don’t think there’s a better way to network, and demonstrate your knowledge and interest, than through Twitter. I know lots of people (myself included) who have been offered jobs as a result of their participation in Twitter.
And there’s more; through Twitter you have the opportunity to talk to people you would never have access to outside of the tool (for example, I have had conversations with TV personalities, MPs and well known journalists), you can learn about other cultures and communities (I find people like @kenyanpundit particularly interesting), and you can even book a cab.
So, I recommend this: try Twitter. Not just for an hour, but try it for one month- and use it for a few minutes each day of that month. When one of your favourite radio or television shows talks about following them, do it; join the conversation that goes on between those who have similar interests to you. I’m sure a lot of people will ignore this advice and choose to spend their time in far more “fruitful” pursuits (checking Facebook no less) instead, but for those that do try it- prepare to be surprised.
A Twitter Convert