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What is all this kerfuffle about Twitter?

What is Twitter?

There has been a lot of industry buzz about Twitter. Sometimes we become so immersed in our online marketing sector where we’re always looking to adopt early, that we forget that the absolute vast majority of people, in effect our clients or target audience, haven’t got a clue what Twitter is; how to use it or what value it has. Hopefully I’ll answer a few of those questions right here

So, really, what is Twitter?

Twitter is what’s is rather sweetly known as a ”micro blogging platform”. Sounds rather twee doesn’t it? Effectively it takes SMS sensibilities and applies it to blogging. So with Twitter, you have a restricted number of characters, 140, for each post that you make, similar to the concise nature of SMS. The idea being that you compose your thought into a very neat package of commentary or wisdom. And Twitter is blog-a-like in that your posts are displayed sequentially with the most recent first. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Twitter is the ability to choose who you follow, whose Tweets (an individual Twitter post) you consume. And conversely, other people can choose to follow your Tweets. In effect you can go some way to customising your conversation. By choosing those whose opinion you respect, you can get a short cut to the foremost thinking in your sector. Assuming they use Twitter of course. And as we are in the digital media sector, most of the people whose thinking we value tend to use Twitter. For example, we would certainly recommend that you follow:

Aaron Wall

Robert Scoble

Jeremiah Owyang

Lee Odden

Simon Wharton

Jonathan Yarmis

You might think of these as the “Twitterati”

How do you use Twitter?

At its most rudimentary, Twitter has a web interface that you can use via a Browser. Realistically though, this is an awkward way of using Twitter. The browser takes up a lot of desktop real estate and really doesn’t have the tools built into it that starts to make Twitter useful. You’ll find a lot of people use Twhirl or very similar applications such as Twitterific for the MAC. These deploy more a chat/instant messenger interface which can fade into the background on the desktop. The client becomes unobtrusive when you’re not using it, yet remains available, picking up the Tweets of those you follow by regularly polling Twitter. Twitter can also be narrowcast as opposed to broadcast. You can choose to send a message directly to one person. You can also reply to direct message or broadcast messages and so engaging conversations may follow. Twitter is also usable via mobile devices. You can choose to receive and SMS on your mobile when certain people Tweet. Obviously you want to be careful about who you choose to follow via this method as you don’t want to be receiving and SMS that have little relevance to you while you are out and about. You can also access the Twitter website via a mobile browser friendly version at http://m.twitter.com.

The Downside of Twitter

Noise, noise, noise and more noise. Too often you can find that that Tweets are focused on the ego of the author. Am I really interested in what you had for breakfast? Many people Tweet these fascinating snippets. I have no interest in this but to some people, the “Water cooler” conversation that is enabled with your peer group, but world-wide, is a great way of relaxing. You could say it empowers the down time of the digital community. I’d say be careful who you follow unless you want your attention diverted with drivel.

Getting Started with Twitter

What do you want to be known for? Give it some thought. If you want a good audience for your thoughts, then think why people might want to follow you. Are you sharing wisdom or are you sharing your breakfast menu?

Find the people you respect on Twitter and then follow them. Twitterquette suggest that you follow those who follow you. It doesn’t always happen but at the time of writing numbers of followers seem to be important for bragging rights in the Twitterverse. My following is bigger than your following is the measure of the online personality.

If you are doing something interesting, or are somewhere interesting, then Twitter the event. Breaking key news snippets is a great way of getting the attention of those who can’t be there and it’s certainly where the mobile interactivity comes into play.

The question arises as to how much penetration Twitter has. According to Techcrunch, it’s not huge on the grand scale of things, but it is growing rapidly.

Third Party Twitter Applications

It’s the third party applications that are starting to make Twitter compelling.

Twhirl

Thwirl certainly ticks a lot of the boxes with what I like with a desktop client.

Twitterific

A Mac based desktop client.

Twitterlocal

Twitterlocal is a nice tool which allows you to add a regional context to Twitter. You can see who is Twittering within a radius of a given location.

Facebook

You can also consider Facebook as a Twitter app in a way as you can pull your Tweets into your Facebook profile, a nice way of using technology to economically spread your wisdom.

Jaiku

With so many online tools and applications to keep abreast of, it’s essential for the savvy webbie to be able to use their time economically. This of course leads into a conversation about managing your personal brand. Another example of how you can use Twitter to feed your online presence with data is via Jaiku. In many ways, this is a Twitter competitor but you can use Twitter to drive it. Which is handy as it follows the micro blogging principle but with bells on.

Terraminds

I also like Terraminds as a tool for searching Twitter which is a good way of finding who you want to follow.

Twitter Scan

A Twitter search engine with bells and whistles

How can I use Twitter?

Twitter can be used in many ways. It depends what you want to get out of it. It’s excellent for:

• Following the thoughts of experts

• Getting real time breaking news

• Delivering real time breaking news

• Building your personal brand

• Gossip

• Seeding marketing campaigns

One of the most interesting Twitter experiments, as I write, is by Zappos. By aggregating Tweets about Zappos into one stream, they make a compelling connection very directly with their customers who are consequently very publicly their advocates. Their CEO also uses Twitter very intimately to give an engaging view of how Zappos works at his level. There’s a bravery and openness that many businesses would shy away from that could prove to be a winning strategy.

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So, What use is Twitter?

There isn’t really a definitive use for Twitter, it’s a multipurpose tool. As a browser based tool, I found it a bit tiresome but Twhirl is the application that made it useful to me. It sits just out of site and lets me know what people I respect are thinking. I can also let them know what I’m thinking and on the odd occasion, these key influencers find my thoughts interesting and propagate them to their audience. It massively increases my reach. It’s not for everyone though, the only way to find out is to play.