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The Twitter Phenomenon: Why Bother?

Twitter Phenomenon

Twitter has become insanely popular, almost to the point of being nauseating for those who would rather never hear the word “tweet” ever again. Nevertheless, the micro-blogging site shows no signs of slowing down and seemingly no chance of bowing out to competition (such as the open source identi.ca).

Many of those who use Twitter, whether for business, pleasure, or both, would testify in a court of law that it is one of the most useful tools of the 21st century. It connects them in ways they never could before. Whether the Twitter user is actress Alyssa Milano, interacting with her fans in a safe, friendly environment, or an upstart Internet entrepreneur, reaching thousands through guerrilla marketing, the Twitterspace seems to be quite content.

Those who do not use Twitter, those who tried it but did not like it, and those who still do not understand what it is might wonder why they should even bother with the service. Is it not just another account to check, friends list to manage, and distraction from real work?  For some it might be.

Deciding whether or not to use Twitter is actually a lot like deciding to use any site or service on the Internet. You need to have a reason to use it. We will present several reasons for using Twitter that may or may not fall into your sphere of interest. If none of them apply, then Twitter is probably not for you, and people who try to encourage you to join it are just wasting your time.

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Socialization

It is technically possible to post tweets on Twitter.com for years without actually ever interacting with anyone, and everything you write will exist forever in the archives of the Library of Congress. Vain publishing aspirations aside, such an existence on Twitter would be pretty useless, and unless you say something that threatens the sovereignty of a nation, no one will ever read your tweets.

Add a couple of friends to Twitter, and suddenly, you have an audience. People who use Twitter like that they can decide who that audience is and how much interaction they will have with them.

If you have a good number of friends already on Twitter, it can quickly become an enjoyable experience. Those who have tried Twitter and then left often were unable to find many friends on it. In terms of finding people you know, Twitter lags behind social networking sites like Facebook, but even if your old high school friends are not on Twitter, you can still meet a lot of interesting people using services like wefollow.com. For a friends-only Twitter experience, it is best to keep your list of people you follow small, only adding those people you know.

Networking

Are you a an engineer, writer, astronaut, chef, or teacher?  Twitter may interest you in the arena of professional growth. No matter what your profession is, there are people out there in the Twitterspace like you. Twitter also has lists of people in various professions, clubs, and organizations. This makes it an excellent way to network with like-minded people.

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For example, as a writer, I use Twitter to find out the latest tech trends, news about new gadgets, sites, and software, and to communicate with other people in this industry. As a librarian, I also communicate with other librarians from all over the world.

Networking on a Twitter is not quite as easy as adding friends you already know. It takes work, and you are bound to get numerous people trying to follow you who only want to advertise their products. Therefore, networking on Twitter requires follower management, but it can still be rewarding, with a little work.

Marketing

If you are marketing for a well-known celebrity, corporation, or organization, marketing on Twitter is very easy. Many people will follow you just because of who you are or who you represent. For others, it can take hours, days, or even weeks of following the right people, getting people to follow you back, and lots of tweets that walk the thin line between interesting posts that happen to mention a product and outright spam.

Marketing on Twitter is a lot of work, but once you have an audience established, it is a good way to spread word of products and services very quickly. A person with 10,000 followers may only get 400 of them to click on a link, but that may be enough, depending on the strategy and product.

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If you are interested in using Twitter for marketing, you should probably keep your friends out of it.  It may, however, overlap with networking, particularly if you run your own business.

Information

For some people, Twitter is their primary means of learning new information and their main tool for sharing it. For that reason, you will see millions of posts containing shortened URLs, many of which point to news stories, blog posts, YouTube videos, and pictures.  Many news services even search Twitter for leads, breaking news, and user reactions to events.

Some users, rather than using an RSS service, may follow various news outlets, their favorite celebrities, their favorite television shows, and other twitter users with similar interests. In this way, Twitter becomes a rapid, somewhat disjointed discussion forum for information.

The Bottom Line

If Twitter fits into one of the above categories for you, then you should give it a try. If it does not, and you cannot think of another reason to try it, then don’t. There is no sense in jumping on the bandwagon if it will not be of any use to you. To really be involved in Twitter, even for recreation, it takes time. If you value your time, use it wisely.

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I am a librarian with 8 years of experience in information architecture, technology, free and open source software, and electronic publishing. I have written hundreds of articles on topics ranging from information technology to politics. I also write fiction novels, short stories, and fables.

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