Twitter: The Epidemic of Talking to Yourself
I don’t think many people truly understand Twitter and that is a shame. I am going to try to explain Twitter today in the hopes that it will help my readers and clients succeed with social media.
Let’s start with what it is. Many people call Twitter a microblogging platform. But I think Twitter does a great job of summarizing their service when they say it is “for friends, family and coworkers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages.” I like to think of Twitter as the marriage between some of the best features of Facebook and text messaging.
Tweets, or Twitter posts, are short messages (140 characters or less) that are posted to a user’s wall and sent to their followers. A user can also include someone else in the conversation by adding their Twitter handle to the message (@BoxlessMedia is mine).
One of the coolest parts of Twitter is that tweets are searchable. So someone can look up tweets regarding a particular keyword. Now include a “#” in front of that keyword and it becomes a hashtag. People can now follow and read all of the messages containing a specific hashtag. In fact, you can even monitor conversations on specific hashtags.
To see Twitter at work on a massive scale, follow a contestant on American Idol or the Voice during the show. People from around the world will chime in a conversation about that contestant. It is truly the beauty of social media – people from around the world all sharing thoughts and viewpoints as if they were in the same room. Now imagine they were all talking about you, your company or one of your products. The possibilities are endless.
Twitter also allows you to include photos, links and other content with your tweets. So really Twitter has changed how people have conversations. I think it is truly one of the most underappreciated and misunderstood social media platforms.
So now, here is the answer to the big question… why only 140 characters? Twitter was specifically built for mobile devices (originally only cell phones). The limit on SMS (text) messaging is 128 bytes or an optimized 160 7-bit characters. Twenty of those of characters were reserved for the Twitter handle and the remaining for the message. There have been conversations about changing the tweet length due to the many changes and evolutions in mobile devices. Twitter is sticking to their original format and believes that you can say anything in those 140 characters. I agree and respect them for staying true to their original concept.
So, is Twitter a viable platform for businesses? Absolutely. Twitter is about conversations and community. It is the base of what social media was built for. My iPhone is on the T-Mobile cell network. I was having problems and got no response from normal customer service channels. I jumped on Twitter, included T-Mobile’s handle in the conversation, and got a response almost immediately. From talking about products to providing exceptional customer service, there an important and valuable place for Twitter in business.
One of the biggest problems I see is novice Twitter users talking to themselves or only to their own choir. People tweet company information over and over to the same people in hopes that something magical will happen. You have to remember that 645 million people are on Twitter. They search all the time. For you to succeed on Twitter, you have to learn how to use hashtags and open your conversations. If you do that, the possibilities are endless. In 4 months of community building on Twitter, we at Boxless Media have amassed a following of more than 20,000 followers. It is because we are saying some valuable and sharing it productively.
There is great power in Twitter but unfortunately too many people don’t know how to embrace it. My advice… learn it, love it and get involved. I promise it is worth it.