Being a bit of a geek, I signed up for Twitter in late 2008 but didn't see the importance of it at first; it was just a novelty. I could see where it could be useful, but just like Facebook a couple years back, it was more of an experience just to say I was part of the 'in' crowd.
Things have changed.
It became useful. More useful that Facebook or a blog in some cases - though not all.
Twitter is often described as a way to post (or tweet) your status for everyone to see. People then exclaim "Why would I want to know that George is going to the bathroom?" or other inane information. It's true, some of the information is not totally useful, or relevant to you or your life, but lately I've found a surprising amount that is - whether it's knowledge, charity or entertainment. I'm sure that there are other uses too.
In an article in the New York Times Twittering as a Gauge they explain how taken collectively Twitter can be a valuable tool.
Over the 2009 Easter weekend, Amazon found out that it can also be a hindrance, or possibly a notification. Initially called a glitch, and later in the week referred to as a ham-fisted cataloging error, more than 57,000 books (!) were delisted from the main search and sales rankings. I was online and watching Twitter as someone posted a link to an article describing the problem, and mentioned a "hashtag" in their post - a simple way to follow a topic that many people, including those that you don't know, are posting about. This tag was #amazonfail - "fail" being parlance for a failure for a major mistake (check out failblog.org for some prime examples). I passed this information on to my list of followers (people that subscribe to read your posts) and let them know what was going on. Over the course of a couple hours, many thousand people did the same! In addition, people started writing blogs about it, and a major protest was underway.
All in a few hours.
This made people at Amazon sit up and take notice. Suddenly it was called a glitch. This, in turn, made people even more pissed off.
After the weekend, Amazon recanted their glitch and admitted that there was indeed a problem. Was it too late though? Only time will tell.
The previous week protesters also used Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools to rally peers, but to also report what was happening to everyone around the world.
Is Twitter for me?
To find out, try the following. Head on over to TweetGrid. Then, click on the 1X2 symbol. When you get to the new page you are presented with two columns with search bars at the top. Because I live in Edmonton, and I'm interested in Halloween, I'm going to use those as an example. In the top left search box, I type Edmonton OR #yeg and click search. Because Twitter only allows you to use 140 characters sometimes your city name takes up too much room, so people have started using the three-letter airport code for their city as a hashtag - #yeg = Edmonton... This window shows, in real time, any posts that contain the word Edmonton or the hastag #yeg. In the right search box I type #halloween OR #horror OR #zombie to see all the posts with those hash tags. Watch this screen for a while and see if it is something that you might find interesting. Yes, there will probably be posts that you don't care about, but you may find something you like.
Second, go to wefollow.com. The front page contains several categories and many people. Go visit a couple Twitter accounts by clicking on the names of the individuals. Read through their tweets, their bio, and maybe click on the links to their pages - if you find anything that is appeals to your interests, you may want to sign up for Twitter and follow them. If it appalls you - run away...
Like anything, it can be used for good or bad.
So who should use Twitter?
- Part of a community
- Whether you are part of a physical community, like Edmonton, Alberta, or a group of like-minded people, such as Halloweenies, finding people with similar interests can help you connect with people and/or learn things that you may not have known before
- If you are starting a business, you will want people to know about you. Think of using Twitter to post special deals or advance information. Caution: Don't spam or blather incessantly, people will unfollow you!
- Like your news or weather up to the minute
- I know locally that several media outlets (radio, TV and newspapers) use twitter to report instantly as something comes over their wires. Instantly in many cases. One local newsradio station usually tweets 30-90 minutes before the big TV stations do. Even faster than they are - local Ham radio and scanner enthusiasts. Traffic and emergency frequencies are scanned and things posted on line immediately. I often check a few specific accounts prior to heading out to see if there are any delays I should know about, or roads I should avoid.
- You are looking for support
- Just like being part of a community, you can find all sorts of support groups and/or individuals on Twitter. As of this writing, I'm not using this function, but whether you are trying to lose weight, have lost someone, are fighting/surviving a disease or have post-traumatic issues, people can help. Seek, follow, ask. Don't be afraid, just ask.
- You're a celebrity/celebro-maniac
- If you like to follow celebrities, Twitter is another place to get your fix. One word of caution: the "celebrity" that you follow might not be the actual celebrity. They might have one of their assistants tweeting for them, or they might be completely fake. If you are an upcoming or wanna-be celebrity, make sure you register your Twitter account before a fake does. (While you are doing so, make sure you check namechk.com to find out which of the dozens of social media sites your nickname is taken on!)
- You love bacon!
- There are many memes on the internet, and bacon is currently one of the largest. If you ever want to know whenever anyone talks about bacon on Twitter, just follow @Baconfeed - the search everything and repost anything with the #bacon hashtag. And as long as you just watch, it's cholesterol free.
So, when should you not use Twitter? This article might be helpful: When NOT to use social media. I mostly agree with this article, but with a couple exceptions - you should not use any social media if you are trying to con people, spam people, or be annoying - because I can turn you off! Also, if you are a large business or you fight with your employees, you may not want to actively tweet about things, but you sure as hell want to watch what people are saying about you.
Just look at Amazon...