What is Twitter Really? Why So Many People Don’t Get It

Twitter is the communications service that has set the blogosphere on fire since 2006. With a few million of users and growing, why are there still so many people who don’t get Twitter? By the end of this article, you will get it and know how you could be using it.

Twitter Group Writing Project logo

A typical example

TechCrunch’s Ouriel Ohayon is one of the biggest bloggers in France and in Israel. An Internet entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist, a lot of technologies are paraded in front of him. As an early adopter of many of those technologies, you might think he would be quick to jump on something like Twitter but that wasn’t the case.

On March 13th 2007, Ouriel blogged “First impressions on Twitter” where among other things he said that it was “totally useless… totally addictive… still don’t get it but keep on trying…”

Just 4 months later on July 11th 2007, Ouriel came back and blogged “One of the reasons I love Twitter” where he said “Right now Twitter is by far my favorite web app and my favorite channel of communication. I don’t care that most people don’t get it…”

What did Ouriel realize during those few months?

How Twitter created the problem: bad branding

Visit any Twitter user’s homepage like mine and you’ll see the same message:

Hey there! groupwritingpro is using Twitter.

Twitter is a free service that lets you keep in touch with people through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing? Join today to start receiving groupwritingpro’s updates.

The key phrase is “What are you doing?

When I first saw this question, I thought to myself “how boring. Who wants to know that I’m now blogging, that I’m now going shopping, that I’m now sitting on the train? Why would I want to spend time constantly updating everyone on my status? Worse, why would I want to drown myself in tons of these messages daily, even from the people I know and care about?”

The fact is that the people who only twitter about these things are the most boring people on Twitter.

They don’t get Twitter either.

The key to getting Twitter: where the branding is right

If you can get past the horrible “what are you doing?”, you’ll notice that Twitter refers to subscribers as “followers”. If you subscribe to someone else’s Twitter feed, you’re “following” them and vice-versa.

Just like you subscribe to personal blogs to follow the latest thoughts and insight from your favorite people, you’ll subscribe to their Twitter feeds for the same reasons. However, with only 140 characters allowed per message, your friends’ and mentors’ bite-size thoughts will arrive faster, more often than blog posts, with more focus and will be easier to digest.

In short, or as I’d say on Twitter in 140 characters: Twitter is bad for life-streaming, good for micro-blogging. Power users use it to share their messages & network with people doing the same.

Top 15 uses of Twitter

Micro-blogging – every major blogger is also on Twitter. Followers often become subscribers.

Sharing favorites – using one of the many url-shortening services such as tr.im, it’s easy to quickly share links to blog posts, images or videos.

Networking – as people learn about you and what you have to share, they will follow you and become part of your network. The same is true for you, and you’ll meet more and more people who share your interests.

Strengthening your network – by networking with someone in more than one medium, you create more bonds between you. Meet on Twitter with people you know from the real world, email, forums, etc.

Promotion – when you or better yet, someone else in your network, shares your links. There are also services like Twitturly that will automatically republish links, getting yours even more exposure.

Learning – with so much free sharing of information and links to more sources, regular Twitter users get educated daily.

Finding jobs – if you offer a service, your followers will want come to you first. If you job search on Twitter, your followers can send you job leads or you can learn about them from people you’re following.

Getting answers – once you have your own network following, be a proactive learner by asking questions to your network and getting some of the fastest answers anywhere. Or use Twitter Search to use Twitter like one massive focus group.

Polling – a quick question to your whole network is a good way to gauge current trends or fads.

Interviewing – by interviewing someone in public this way, many people get to follow the replies. A good attention-getter for both the interviewer and the interviewee.

Group conversations – part of a team or club? Using a service like tweetworks makes it easy to use Twitter for group chat, panel discussions, focus groups, etc.

Conferences – the Israeli consulate in New York held a conference on Twitter to answer questions about Israel’s incursion into Gaza.

Announcements – A few lines is all it takes to announce the launch of an event, product or service.

Breaking news – during the first hours of the Mumbai terror attack, local twitterers were the most updated news source.

Life updates – these are worth twittering if there’s an extra point of interest for followers such as a discovery (‘new restaurant in town!’), recommendation (‘they’ve got great service’) or useful information (‘they’re closed on Saturdays’).

Now that you get Twitter, go all the way

Sign up now. If you already have a Twitter account, follow me on Twitter for more articles like this one. You’re going to need a Twitter account for the upcoming First Ever Twitter Group Writing Project.

2 thoughts on “What is Twitter Really? Why So Many People Don’t Get It”

  1. What is Twitter really?

    To me it is an on-going conversation between a group of people who are interested in what others in the group (those they are following) are doing. That’s probably a very text-book response, but then again all Twitter asks is “what are you doing?”

    I think what a lot of people – at first – didn’t get about Twitter, myself included, is that the conversation on Twitter can be made up of whatever you want to say, be it professional, personal, or completely pointless.

    And the best part of that usually, as opposed to blogging, is that no one seems to hold it against you.

  2. John, thanks for joining in, your last point is on the money. Because tweets are so small and fleeting, it’s rare that people will focus on any individual one and attempts to make ‘best tweets’ posts don’t seem to have worked well.

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