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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter

September 15th, 2009 by Lauren · 5 Comments

It was March 2007; I was in Austin for South by Southwest Interactive, the annual gathering of the tech-geek tribe, and it seemed like Twitter was all anyone wanted to talk about.

The Twitter server kept crashing because everyone at SXSW was using it nonstop: to tweet about the panels & keynotes, to find each other, or just to exult in the adrenaline rush of being early adopters of what was soon to become a social media tool to give Facebook a run for its money.

And me? I rolled my eyes and waited for Twitter’s shiny newness to wear off, and for all the geeks to move on to the next thing that was sure to take Twitter’s place.

Oh, I checked it out. I looked around and sniffed around and just didn’t see anything that grabbed me. I was totally unconvinced it had any value, except as a sort-of-fun timewaster.

It took me ages to get on board the Twitter train. Would you believe, in fact, that it was just a year ago today that I finally woke up and smelled the zeitgeist? Me, a web designer and online strategist. Me, an early adopter and enthusiast of all things internetty. I resisted as long as I possibly could, until I feared I’d be laughed out of my industry.

Here’s the thing: I just wasn’t convinced it was the best use of my time. I wasn’t convinced that I knew enough people who were participating in conversations on Twitter, or that I could say anything meaningful in 140 characters, or that it could even be fun.

But I decided to try it anyway. It took a couple of months before I started to really like it. Eventually, though, something clicked and I got it.

Here’s what I like about Twitter: I like the asymmetrical relationship structure, where you can choose to follow people who have no idea who you are (like, say, Oprah or the Dalai Lama), and you can read their tweets without them having to follow you back — and likewise, other people can sign up to get your tweets without you needing to reciprocate. To me, this is a wonderful complement to systems like Facebook or LinkedIn, where all the relationships are two-way (and replicate real-life ones). You can still create a virtual network on Twitter based on common interests — but here there’s space for fans (whether of celebrities, brands, thought leaders, or funny people like the dude who writes down his curmudgeonly father’s more hilarious turns of phrase).

The Twitter relationship structure mirrors the way I think most of us use the internet: We read a lot of people’s stuff, but we don’t necessarily comment on all of it. We listen to a lot of people; we may also speak to a lot of people (through our blogs, for example); but we engage in mutual exchange with a few.

I run into Twitter skeptics every day, particularly among entrepreneurs, who are often struggling to measure the ROI on engaging in yet another “free” (but in reality time-consuming, and we all know time is money) form of online marketing. And I sympathize: There’s a learning curve, there are legitimate resistance points, and it’s hard to know what the payoff is really going to be. But take it from someone who came late to the party, with a healthy dose of skepticism: Twitter can not only be fun, but it also affords plenty of opportunities for businesses – especially niche businesses like ours. Here’s a quick list:

  • Listen to what’s being said about you & your business (via Twitter search, for example).
  • Respond to customer service questions. Twitter’s real-time conversational stream is a boon for hearing about problems early and responding to them quickly – which can give you the edge on your competition and foster amazing customer loyalty.
  • Invite input (on new products, blog topics, business advice, recommendations, or whatever you can dream up). Twitter can be a wonderful micro-focus-group (though of course you can’t always count on getting as many replies as you’d like).
  • Connect with like-minded people: customers, prospects, colleagues, or that kick-ass entrepreneur you’ve always wanted to meet. The 140-character limit makes it easy to get around formalities and chat with virtual strangers.
  • Link to inspiring stuff, and share what motivates you. When you share your dreams with the world, you’ll be amazed at the rapport you build within your community.
  • And of course, the nuts & bolts of self-promotion: Promoting new products & services, driving traffic to your blog, sharing limited-time offers (especially immediate or short-term ones) – and tracking the click-throughs (by using tools like Hootsuite, which also lets you schedule your tweets).

But perhaps the most fun thing about Twitter is that it’s an emergent medium, and people are always dreaming up new ways to use it. I imagine that another year from now, I may have a completely different list, and that’s exciting. I love that it keeps me on my toes and introduces me to new ways of connecting. That’s part of why I went into business for myself – to make sure I’d be learning new things every day, and meeting new people.

So there it is, my Twitter confessional. Anyone else late to the party, still resisting, or just want to give me a hard time for holding out so long?

Tags: Business Advice · Our Story · Thoughts

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 tea_austen // Sep 15, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Very good advice. I think Twitter can be endless useful, though I need to monitor how much time I spend there as it can suck me in endlessly as well.

    PS. And your first tweet mentions Cortes, where I lived as a kid and we still have a cabin–that just makes me happy.

  • 2 Becka // Sep 15, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    I too took ages to get into Twitter, for much the same reasons you outlined here. I thought it was a phase and I just didn’t really see the point in it. But when I attended the WAM! (Woman, Action and Media) conference earlier this year and EVERYONE was using it I decided to give it a try. What I really like is that you can totally cater it to what you want by who you follow and choose to engage with. I have met wonderful people via twitter, and it is one of the major ways I follow and keep up with fellow progressives and social justice advocates, which I really like.

  • 3 Ann D // Sep 16, 2009 at 5:57 am

    I share your enthusiasm for Twitter. I find it’s a great way to connect with others who share my passions. I’ve met so many fabulous people I never would have met any other way.

    Thanks for a terrific post.

  • 4 Susan Johnston // Sep 16, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Lauren, I was a little late to join Twitter, too (I joined in January of this year). But I’m so glad I gave in to my curiosity, because Twitter can be a great tool! In addition to connecting with new blog readers and potential clients, it’s nice to havea virtual water cooler I can turn to, since I work from home. Obviously I can’t be totally transparent because I don’t want to alienate clients, but it’s a an interesting universe on Twitter.

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