Tweet Tweet II: Not Pancakes for Breakfast

    By Jeremy Friday, June 05, 2009

    Welcome to the second post in my Tweet Tweet series. Today I'll be talking more about the strengths of Twitter. What it is and is not and why it's too powerful for you to ignore.

    If you haven't already, be sure to read the first post in the series, Twitology 101.

    It's Not Facebook Status Updates

    No, really. It's not. It's so much more than that. But it's difficult to explain that to someone whose understanding of the internet is limited to Google Search and Facebook.

    The beauty of Twitter, in contrast to Facebook is that tweets are essentially broadcasted. You don't have to check a person's Twitter page to see what their last tweet was, it will show up on your timeline, on your Twitter app or right to your phone if you have device notifications on (which you can limit to certain people).

    Also, you can follow people on Twitter without them having to follow you. This schema may seem counter-intuitive, but actually it greatly enhances the level of engagement. This allows people to keep tabs on their favorite celebrities, often without the PR buffer.

    It's Not a Narcissistic Tool

    Of course you can Tweet about every little thing that you do, but you'll quickly find that you bore your followers and they'll stop following you. Unless you have something interesting or otherwise noteworthy to say, it's pointless to Tweet about it.

    Why should you care if you lose followers? Well, if you're the narcissistic type, you might not care. But you should, because having a strong Twitter following gives you a certain level of influence and dramatically increases Twitter's usefulness to you.

    Twitter Influence

    Trying to drive traffic to your blog? Looking to raise money for a charity event? Want to organize a missionary trip? Looking for people to participate in a charity service? Need an answer to an obscure or difficult question? Want some recommendations for something? With a strong Twitter following all of these become that much easier and Twitter suddenly becomes a vital tool. You'll reach much more people faster than you ever could have using traditional word of mouth, e-mail or even Facebook.

    So, if you're serious about your reach and influence on Twitter then keep an eye out on your Twitter Grade and don't tick people off!

    Sure, you can Tweet "I had Pancakes" for breakfast today. Or, "My foot fell asleep," but nobody cares. Tweet only the funny, relevant, interesting or useful. Everything else just contributes negatively to your Twitter grade and positively to your TwitterNuppy-ness.

    SMS Broadcasting

    Fortunately, convincing a few of my friends that it's more than narcissistic updates was fairly easy once they set up their own accounts and tried it out for a few hours. After some fiddling, they find that Twitter is a sort of SMS-broadcast tool. A really cool feature that is especially useful when a tight circle of friends are all on it.

    Yes, one of the main features of Twitter is a competent SMS broadcasting tool (if you set up Device Notifications). But why would you want to broadcast SMS messages?

    It's a great way to stay "in the loop" with what is going on within a group of friends and to organize events and meeting places. Instead of creating a mass text message and hoping you don't forget the odd person here and there, if they're all connected via Twitter, you need only to send one text message and everyone will see it. Now if someone isn't on Twitter and doesn't get the message, it's not your fault! :)

    Picture Messaging

    Especially for phones that lack picture messaging capabilities (namely, the iPhone until OS 3.0 is released), Twitter can be used to send pictures.

    Using any number of the Twitter Apps (for iPhone, BlackBerry, etc) you can snap a picture and send it to Twitter and it will automatically be uploaded to TwitPic (or any of the other Twitter picture hosting services, depending on what your particular app is configured to use). This TwitPic is also broadcasted to whoever is following you, of course.

    Answers

    Besides just messaging and staying in touch with your friends. Twitter can be a vital tool in finding answers to current, obscure or otherwise immediate questions fairly quickly and with high relevance. While Yahoo! Answers and a Google query or two can provide answers to most of your questions, it's always better to hear it first-hand from people in the know right now.

    Provided you have a reasonably large network of followers, you can ask a general question and expect answers replied to you in short order. If you don't have a large network, you can use hash-mark tags (as discussed in Twitology 101) to increase the exposure of your question and get answers from complete strangers interested in the topic.

    Many times you can even expect to hear from leading industry professionals, freelancers and others intrested in the topic. In my case, I'm usually talking about website or graphic design and one question I recently tweeted about was whether to use Drupal or Joomla for revamping my local church's website. This was on my Christnology account and I didn't have a huge following, so I used 3 hash-tags to increase exposure: #joomla #drupal and #cms (for Content Management System). Almost immedately, I got several tweets personally recommending Drupal over Joomla due to its expandability, free add-on modules and advanced featureset. Nice!

    ... But it's even more than that... much more.

    Real-Time Search

    Twitter is slowly taking over many of my online habits. Instead of searching Google for the latest and greatest on various topics (usually related to web development and upcoming technologies), I find myself searching Twitter. One great Twitter search engine I recently came across is Topsy.

    It's no secret: Even Google is intimidated by Twitter.

    Why? Think about it: Twitter is a massive hub of what people are talking about right now. It is therefore inherently current, fresh and active. You won't find stale links here. While Google's thousands of search spiders are constantly scouring the web to index what it thinks is relevant and useful, Twitter has an army of human spiders directly linking to what really is relevant and useful.

    We judge Google search results by their link title and description. Hardly do we have the time or even ability to check timestamps on returned results, resulting in outdated and/or useless data. We are also at the mercy of the web author's discretion. The author decides what the title and description is, this is essentially a marketing pitch that is at best misleading or at worst grossly over exaggerated. We rely on Google's search algorithm to find and weed out these culprits, but at the end of the day it's a machine making the decision and the accuracy will never reach that of a human's.

    With Twitter, the title AND description is limited to 140 characters. That means people get straight to the point. Not much room for exaggeration.

    Trending Topics

    It's also current. You see the tweets as they come, and the more people are talking about a certain topic, the more coverage and related links you'll find through Twitter.

    There are dozens of websites dedicated just to tracking current trending topics on Twitter. Save perhaps for another post, here are a couple that are particularly useful:

    • WhatTheTrend: A user-edited wiki-style directory of current Twitter trending topics. Find out exactly why a certain topic is trending right now.
    • TweetMeme: Follow the most popular links on Twitter right now.
    • Almost.at: It's almost like being there! Follow people that are at Real-World events in Real-Time.

    Still Not Sold?

    TIME wrote a great article on Twitter along with some real-world applications and how it's changing the way we live. A little sensationalistic, perhaps, but still a great read nonetheless.

    If this article doesn't convince you otherwise, I don't know what will:

    TIME: How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live
    (Photo from Article)

    What About Christianity?

    What about it? That's next week's topic!

    Continue onto Tweet Tweet III: Real Journalism...

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