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What's the Point of Twitter?
What's the point of Twitter? Who would spend time updating what they're doing and what's the point of doing it?
It's a horrible way to market Twitter. Because when you get on Twitter, you realize that very few people actually use Twitter that way (or solely use it that way). Or at least, very few people of the A-list twitizens and the people I follow do. Here's the truth of it: unless you're doing something really interesting or unique, most people don't care.
Which is why I think it's a horrible way to market Twitter. How many of us either are doing something really interesting/unique (or think what we're doing is interesting or unique) or would be willing to take the time to announce that we are doing it? In fairness, the early adopters of Twitter probably did care what each other were doing. Maybe they were techies or marketing mavens or used Twitter as the marketers describe.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Normally I would start talking by explaining what something is before I move on to other points to consider, but that's my point - Twitter is one of those fascinating services that bends to the will of its users. The developers basically gave us a way to connect with other people, 140 characters at a time. What we do with those characters is a different matter entirely.
Here's how it works. You sign up - it's free. You get 140 characters to say whatever you want - these 140 character blurbs are called "tweets." You follow other people, and when they tweet, it shows up on your page. When they follow you, your tweets show up on theirs. That's it.
The Many Faces of Twitter
Back to my original question: what's the point of doing this? There's no real way to answer that question. Here's something I can answer: How are people using this service?
Here are some of the ways people are using Twitter:
Updating their friends (followers) about what they're doing
I know, I complained that it's a horrible way to market the service, but some people use it this way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, but most people don't care about your love of tomatoes. General rule: if it's mundane enough that you normally wouldn't tell your friends you're doing it, then don't tweet it.
Engaging in conversations
Conversations abound on Twitter. Sometimes it can seem like a lot of people talking past each other, but there are also times in which you jump onto a conversation that turns out to be really fruitful. I think of it as a virtual watercooler - many of us show up when we're taking a break from working to catch up with our friends and followers.
Marketing and self-promotion
Give people a channel to spread information, and they will market their wares. Believe it or not, it can actually be an effective channel due to the opt-in nature of following people. If someone has chosen to follow you, there's a good chance that they may be interested in your product, whether that be your blog, your ebook, or the conference you're organizing.
Coming up with ideas
Stuck on an idea? Trying to get one? Twitter is a great place for this. More on this after the jump.
Feeling the pulse of the Internet
The Internet is a busy place. It's also really scattered geographically. Twitter unifies a lot of what's going on because so many bloggers and internet types use the service.
If you follow people from your area - or follow and are followed by people that are interested in things you're interested in - it's pretty easy to organize events. The viral nature of Twitter means that an effective information push can reach far and wide.
Sharing news and information
There's an interesting mix of news and information that gets spread on Twitter. Sometimes it's interesting local news, sometimes it's the random information that people are researching and writing about, and the big news always bubbles to the top of the Twitterverse.
This list is not exhaustive, and I'm sure people will use it in new ways tomorrow.
Twitter, for Creatives
Having a place to connect with other creatives and discuss your ideas is critical for creatives. It's too easy to get stuck in our own worlds and spin around in circles when what we really need is to talk about those ideas.
Furthermore, Twitter is inherently an idea generating space. The diversity, the wealth of ideas, and the willingness of Twitizens to talk about interesting ideas make it such that it's the first place I turn to if I'm needing to immerse myself in an idea culture. The fact that so many other creatives do the same thing is what makes it such a powerful tool. It's like a support group you only attend when you need the support or want to offer support.
As I mentioned above, Twitter can be an effective marketing and self-promotion platform. I know that both terms make a lot of people cringe or feel dirty, but the fact is you have to get your work out there for the world to see. Every one of your followers has opted in to see what you're doing, so it's also not like you're cold calling. You're just saying "look what I just created" - and that's enough.
I can't help but note how effective Twitter is at helping you and your ideas achieve critical mass. Every person that follows you spreads your message. If you're using Twitter to discuss your ideas and help other generate ideas, then every helpful or idea-laden tweet is seen not only by your followers, but potentially their followers, as well. It's a slow build-up at first, but at a certain point, you don't really have to try to get people to see your stuff - you just say "Look!" and they come.
So, returning to the question: what's the point of (you, as a creative) using Twitter? To help you come up with ideas, connect with others, and help spread ideas.
Why You Wouldn't Want to Use Twitter
There's a dark side to Twitter. It's all too easy to become immersed in what's going on, to the point that you spend your creative work time tweeting. It's even worse than instant messaging in this regard because people you're not IM'ing can't walk into your IM chat, but people on Twitter can (and usually do).
I struggle with this some days. I enjoy idea play entirely more than I should and walking into an idea playground can be dangerous for me. There have been a few times where I wore myself out maintaining conversations, playing with ideas, and being too plugged in, in general. As with most things in life, moderation is key.
In theory, you can get around this problem by only logging in and tweeting for set times. If you have a spare 15 minutes and want to see what's going on, then log in. Do not show up to Twitter without having some constraint unless you want to see a few hours go by before you know it. This is especially the case if you have people you've made strong connections with on Twitter. Again, imagine a watercooler where everyone there is someone you'd want to chat with.
Some of the Twitter apps make using Twitter easier to use, but they come at a cost, too. Tweetdeck, for instance, allows you to put twitter users into groups and sorts them for you. +1 for usability. That functionality also makes it harder to log off because the tweets you're watching are more relevant to you and are probably from people that interest you. -1 for distractions. Unfortunately, the only way you're really going to be able to make sense out of 100+ followers is by using an app - it's too much information to process without one.
I'm just going to advise you to be mindful of how much time you're putting on Twitter. It's easy to go overboard - but there are very good payoffs if you're mindful of how to use the service. Remember: Twitter can help you in critical phases of your workflow, but it's not your work.
My twitter username is CharlieGilkey. Feel free to follow me - I'll probably follow you back. Welcome to the conversation!