The Many Uses of Twitter

Twitter LogoAs I promised in my earlier thread, besides answering the typical question, “What are you doing?”, Twitter has many additional uses. What are my top picks?

  1. Twitter as a tool to communicate during conferences. After attending SMX (I’ll post something on that soon) and SES NY, I realized that Twitter is a useful tool for conferencegoers to communicate their whereabouts or to share breaking news and announcements. This was particularly prevalent during the South by Southwest conference several months ago, which helped fuel Twitter’s growth. The SXSW Twitter feed helped many communicate with each other and even allowed for individuals to meet for the first time. Similarly, Michael Twittered during SES in April. So did I. I also did so during SMX.
  2. Twitter as a tracking device. This is an interesting and unconventional way of using Twitter. Personally, I haven’t seen it that often (with the exception of this cute little flight post Barry wrote about me), but I think it has potential. Last week, when I went to Seattle, I was in a timezone that put my family three hours ahead of me. Still, they were interested in my whereabouts and wanted me to email them. When email is unavailable, there’s almost always SMS. It’s much easier to send a text message to 40404 than to buzz your sleeping family member letting them know you landed. Have them check your Twitter page to see that you are safe and sound. If you’re someone who spams Twitter often, your family (and friends) should see a lot of updates from you.
  3. Twitter as a marketing tool. My opinion has not changed much since I wrote about Twitter’s ability to market products in March. I still follow Woot.com. However, I believe Twitter’s ability to market easily comes from those who associate usernames with brands. Right now, brand awareness is the sole reason why people follow particular Twitter streams. Smaller companies could succeed with this method by marketing — verbally or through their website — to groups of devout followers and keeping their Twitter streams current (offering a daily deal or frequent deals that encourage customers to seek out discounts and sales). Making such deals exclusive to Twitter is a way of experimenting if this is really something that has potential. Obviously, you’ll drive the traffic back to your own website too. As I said earlier, it’s an extremely targeted type of marketing and people specifically seek it out. If you have that type of following, take advantage of it!
  4. Twitter as a feed reader (for more important feeds). I subscribe to nearly 150 feeds and have no systematic way of reading them (unlike Robert Scoble). Sometimes, I’ll read the noisier (and most frequently updated) feeds first so I can tune into the more important feeds later. But sometimes, there’s some breaking news and I’ll never know about it until I actually hit the particular feed that discusses the news. That’s why Twitter works — it delivers this news to you and you can read it right away as it comes to your Twitter page. Because I subscribe to 150ish feeds but still find that some more important feeds need more visibility, I typically use Twitter sparingly for this purpose and only focus on the stories that would be most useful to me. As an example, I followed two major news aggregators for awhile, but the updates were just too frequent for my needs. Your mileage may vary. :)
  5. Twitter as a news breaker. This, too, is useful. My personal favorite is CNN Breaking News. It’s hardly noisy (last news update was from 5 days ago) compared to others, like BBC or the NY Times. If you want the headlines on a regular basis, the latter two will work for you. If you just want top news, CNN Breaking News works quite well. Oh, and if you’re interested in other types of breaking news, I also follow WordPress to know when latest updates come out. If you have a software application and people follow your product, by all means, set up a Twitter feed and let your users subscribe!

Twitter can indeed satisfy many goals. A marketing firm might want to sell a product. A social media user might want to call people’s attention to a recent stumble, blog post, or website. You can also stalk your friends who keep their Twitters updated often.

So while people don’t all like Twitter, I can’t say that I dislike it. It thrives among people who want to know those small pieces of information about others or little bits of news and quick updates. It also serves a specific purpose, while its chief competitor, Facebook, does not. That’s why I, like Eric, won’t be spamming Facebook, but I feel fine about doing so on Twitter. I don’t want to lose friends over Facebook mini feed abuse. :)

Additionally, as for Facebook vs. Twitter (I’m really surprised that Frank Gruber went the other way), Twitter just is a better solution. You can answer what you’re doing or you can make a simple statement. You can share your thoughts with the world or link a blog post to have your followers read. How many people really think that the below, from Facebook, is syntactically correct?

Michael A. Gray
is Everyone please post stuff in my honesty box.

Yeah, I thought so.

So while I love Facebook, Twitter fulfills many needs. Don’t choose just one. Go with both.