I talk about twitter a fair bit, and I notice people have one of 3 reactions. They either say “I didn’t know you were on Twitter! I’ll follow you! What’s your twitter name?”, or they give me a vague, blank look as if to say “I already have Facebook, why do I need Twitter?” or, they just come right out and say “I don’t get Twitter”.
Saying “I don’t get Twitter” is, in my mind, the equivalent of saying “I don’t get CNN” back in 1991. (Side note, I still don’t “get” CNN. More on that in a moment.)
I find that twitter has never been explained well. I plan to do that in a future article, but here, we’re going to consider the top 5 reasons you need to be on Twitter.
1. Find out news first.
These days, more stories are broken on Twitter than anywhere else. Bin Laden’s death alone was completely captured on Twitter before it was anywhere else.
Don’t believe me? A 33-year-old man named Sohaib Athar, and IT consultant living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was posting a live account to twitter of what was unfolding. I can’t say it better than MSNBC:MSNBC reports: As the operation to kill bin Laden unfolded, Athar liveblogged what he was hearing in real time. He questioned whose helicopters might be flying overhead. “The few people online at this time of the night are saying one of the copters was not Pakistani,” he tweeted. Throughout the battle, he related the rumors swirling through town: it was a training accident. Somebody was killed. The aircraft might be a drone. The army was conducting door-to-door searches in the surrounding area. The sound of an airplane could be heard overhead. Athar then said one of the aircraft appeared to have been shot down. Two more helicopters rushed in, he reported, and gunfire and explosions rocked the air above the town. Soon Athar’s tweets earned him 14,000 new followers as he unwittingly described the U.S. operation to kill one of the world’s most wanted militants. After liveblogging and speculating for several hours over what happened, it dawned on Athar and those following him that they were witnessing bin Laden’s final moments.
Hours later, Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff Keith Urbahn tweeted at 10:24 EST: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
Now, if you follow CNN closely – you’d have been hours behind. Statistics say that 20% of young people found out this news online, and that during this time, 3,000 tweets were being posted every second.
2. Only see what you’re interested in.
Twitter gives you personalized information. If you do watch the news , or read magazines for any kind of information, you’re seeing what the media companies are choosing to show you. (That’s why I don’t “get” CNN.) That can lead to people only being aware of certain stories, particularly on a national level. If you follow the people or subjects you’re interested on twitter, you’re seeing what you want to see.
For instance, say you follow sports closely. You could watch the evening news, which I notice has about 5 minutes of sports around 10:55. (I don’t watch the news very often, but I believe sports ranks below weather. Not that I care about sports, but if I did, I’d be annoyed at that.) If you follow sports closely, you probably listen to sports talk radio, have a fantasy team, and more. Want to truly be able to get information about sports without anything else getting in the way? Twitter is the place.
Side note – this is the best part about being in the “Me” generation – seeing only what you want, when you want.
3. Connect with companies to give open and honest feedback.
Recently, I went for a haircut to the same place I always go – Supercuts. I printed a picture from their website of a haircut I liked, showed it to the haircutter, and walked out with the worst haircut I’ve ever had. She ignored every feature of the haircut style I wanted, and I was annoyed. So, I tweeted “@Supercuts an hour later, and I look nothing like the picture I brought from Supercuts.com. Grrr. Epic fail.” By the next day, I had been contacted by Supercut’s marketing company and offered a $10 gift card. Yes, thank you! All without a phone call, complaining to a manager, or anything else.
Side note – I do find this concept a little annoying, on some levels. Isn’t human-to-human interaction better than posting something online to get attention? It feels like I’m forced to blackmail the companies to get someone to notice my plight. But, there’s no arguing that it works. For the companies, their customer service representatives can respond to posts and messages a lot faster than they can answer and document calls. But that still doesn’t make it right.
4. Connect with the experts on current and interesting topics.
Sure, you can use twitter to follow famous people. But the real value of twitter is being able to interact with the experts on a particular topic – follow a discussion, ask them questions, get their feedback, and share your own insights. How do you do that?
Although I’ve promised to explain using Twitter more fully in another article, I’ll give you a little information here. Twitter uses “hashtags” – essentially the “#” sign – to group conversations together. So if multiple people are talking about Bin Laden, they would say something like “How come even though #binladen may be dead, gas prices haven’t dropped below September 11th prices?” Now, if you were to click on the hashtag #binladen, you could see other conversations that discuss Bin Laden.
There can be hashtags for anything. The most popular ones are shown in the twitter sidebar, so you can join in the conversation at any time. Often, people you follow may post using a hashtag, giving you the opportunity to find out about a discussion topic.
Sharing in a conversation may eventually lead to you becoming a recognized expert on that topic. How is that possible?
5. Become an Expert and Build Your Reputation..
Say you’re a real estate broker. Instead of posting updates about the houses you’re trying to sell just like everyone else, why not create some interesting content for potential homebuyers to read and then share it on twitter? If I was a first time homebuyer, and I saw that every day, a particular real estate agent in my area posted articles, information, and useful stories that taught me things about buying a home in surrounding areas – I’d quickly view them as an expert on that subject, and I’d be sure to use them when I was ready to buy. Why? Because they offered information showing them to be knowledgeable, subject matter experts on my area – which caters to my desire to learn from a trusted resource. The end result for the real estate agent? New clients, who will recommend them to other potential clients.
When people hear your name, what do they think of? What is your reputation? Often, that’s described as a “personal brand” – and Twitter can be used to help people become recognized for whatever they choose. Now, that doesn’t mean “just post a bunch of stuff on twitter and you’ll have millions of followers.” But, what it does mean is that everyone has the opportunity to build a reputation from the ground up, for whatever they would like to be known for. How?
In my opinion, the best way is by helping people. I follow the hashtag #computerhelp. Often, people post things like “why won’t my computer boot up? I don’t have a Windows CD! HELP!” In the few seconds it takes me to answer their question, I provide value. It doesn’t cost me much, and I only do it when I have some downtime. To that person who hasn’t been able to get anyone else to help them, I’ve now become a trusted resource for information and help on all technology products.
Why not try it? Find a subject you’re knowledgeable about, and follow the hashtag. When people post questions, provide your feedback and advice. You’ll start building followers, and you’ll be part of a Twitter community.
Follow me @toodifficult on Twitter.