Of late there has been much press and hype about twitter… so much so that it is pulling in millions more to sign up for twitter accounts. But a majority of these people on twitter do not really know what to do. A recent study conducted at Harvard Business School on Twitter showed that the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one which translates to a user tweeting less than once every 74 days. Moreover the study also concluded that 10% of the users on twitter generate 90% of the tweets. The results from these studies are not really surprising to me at all.

So why is there so much hype about this social platform?

Before we answer that question, first especially for the benefit of those who need more clarity, lets look at what Twitter exactly is.

If we drew an analogy to online communication tools we widely used in the past or use even today, twitter is nothing but an advanced mailing list that restricts your posts to 140 characters and gives you multiple ways to broadcast your information (web, sms i.e. text messaging and third-party applications like TweetDeck etc). If you are being “followed” by someone on Twitter, then  it is similar to that person subscribing to your mailing list. On the other hand if you are “following” someone on Twitter, then you have subscribed to that person’s mailing list. Also keep in mind that this broadcasting is immediate i.e. real-time and also public i.e. although those who are following you get notified, your posts can also be found by rest of the world either through search on twitter or by visiting your twitter page. In Twitter terminology if you posted a message it is called tweeting and if you re-posted a message originally posted by someone else you are following, it is called re-tweeting. So if everyone retweeted a message, it creates a viral effect and the news spreads rapidly (at the speed of light).

Obviously, organizations, media and corporations would love this real-time viral campaign. They can get their information and promotions out there very quickly. You’ll also notice that Twitter has become a standard announcement in radio Ads, TV Ads etc wherein the advertisers ask you to follow them (which is essentially asking you to sign up on their mailing list). On the other hand by analyzing the tweets by you (mostly by monitoring keywords using search), these companies instantly get to know if their customers are praising or dissing them. In case of the latter, they can take immediate action and avoid widespread backlash or criticism about their offerings or products. This is a big boon for the marketing and sales departments in these companies and also an area where Twitter is proving to be of great value. In fact, one of the business models being tried by Twitter is to charge these corporations for their activity on Twitter. Dell claims to have earned $3 million by offering promotions on Twitter so obviously Twitter can claim a percentage of those revenues. Today businesses are also queuing up to buy followers on Twitter to increase their reach quickly.

Now that brings us to the question on what a typical internet user can do on Twitter. Because most people do not know how to leverage Twitter properly, they post Twitter Litter i.e. meaningless and most often useless information as updates which is of no value to anyone. Just imagine if you had a mailing list, would you ever send an update that said “I just finished my dinner”, “It sucks because it is raining” etc?  Twitter is no different. A recent study showed that the Gen Y has been slow in adopting Twitter which probably makes sense because the younger generation posts more litter (as Facebook shows) and Twitter limits their litter creativity to 140 characters while Facebook doesn’t.

So given the potential of Twitter, here are my tips on how you can leverage this hype

  1. Do not follow anyone and everyone. Be choosy and follow select few who give you value.
    Yes, feel free to discriminate among your friends/network. The advantage of Twitter unlike facebook or linkedin is you can follow anyone you want even if it is Barack Obama or Bill Gates. So follow prominent people to get news and updates directly from the horses mouth.
  2. Follow news agencies or bloggers that you are interested in so you get to know the updates instantly
  3. Post meaningful Tweets (Quality not Quantity)
    It does not matter how many times you Tweet but make your tweets valuable. It is also OK just to be at the receiving end i.e. get useful updates from those you are following. You are still gaining a lot of information. If you are following smart people, you can re-tweet their messages. Nothing wrong in it. Thats what Twitter is meant for – to spread the message.
  4. Become a citizen journalist.
    The Iran election controversy is showing how citizens are leveraging twitter to update the world. Protests and rallies don’t happen everyday but there are plenty of newsworthy incidents that you may come across. Maybe in a meeting, a conference or when you are walking/driving down the road.
  5. Use Twitter Search to find out about latest happenings instantly or use TweetDeck.
  6. Promote yourself and get more followers.
    The more meaningful and useful your Tweets are the more people that are likely to follow you. Or if you are ready to spend buy them.
  7. Last but not the least don’t get too addicted.
    If your wife is in labor, you are better off focusing on her 🙂

Another thing you’ll notice once you are on Twitter is that random people start to follow you. In most cases people do this in the hope that you will follow them back in return. You don’t have to reciprocate. Remember my first tip.

Finally, if you like my posts, you can follow me on Twitter to get updates or subscribe to my blog.