Early in 2008, I experimented using Twitter for the first time (for those who aren't familiar with Twitter, the site lets users follow and provide snippets of information -- think one short sentence or two -- that very much resembles an SMS message format for a cell phone). After a few months of trying it out and seeing little value and lots of hassle, I decided to abandon my account. For the longest time, I remained a huge Twitter skeptic. Seriously, how could anyone, I thought, find the time to follow people on Twitter let alone post their own updates. Moreover, how much can we actually say -- or learn -- in such a compressed format? As someone prone to verbosity, it's doubly challenging on the surface, at least from a writing perspective.
But flash forward 12+ months later and I'm back on Twitter with a vengeance.
I'm an addict now (but an addict that can get his fill in minutes a day if I chose to dial it back). With Twitter and Tweetdeck, a user client, I've learned that it's extremely easy to link to or locate websites, articles, blogs, etc. from Twitter messages (or tweets) as they're called. In many cases, I'm discovering information from my network that I’d never find on my own -- or would have to expend significant effort looking for. What's analogous? If you're on Facebook and you read or write status updates, Twitter is quite similar, though it comes with its own vernacular and is a far quicker way to consume significant quantities of information. In short, with Twitter, I've learned the following:
1) I'm discovering new things -- Twitter helps me find information and provide intelligence that I'd not otherwise see (or would spend forever looking for). For a self-described information hound, it’s not too often that I find a tool that proves absolutely invaluable. Twitter is.
2) I'm closer to my professional community -- I feel a type of virtual bond with those in my network and I'm learning from them (as much as they're learning from me). It's not a superficial Facebook type bond based on pretty pictures and smarmy comments-- it's an information-driven one.
3) It's the fastest way to gain and share intelligence out there (managing an account is so different from writing a blog. I give 3-4 hours a day to Spend Matters at least. I give a few minutes to Twitter, yet get out far more than I put in).
4) I can use Twitter anywhere (the iPhone integration rocks).
5) It does not require thinking (like blogs) to write since the format is so short; seriously, I can write a tweet in my sleep or before that first cup of coffee (or while talking on a conference call).
6) I'm meeting new people and making contacts that I never knew before who I should have known a long time ago because of how relevant they are to what I do.
7) It's relevant for our sector -- there's a growing body of procurement and supply chain participants in the Twitter network. And you'll quickly find them and learn about the ones worth following simply by following others (like me) who often repost other content for those in our network (who you'll begin to follow yourself if you like what they have to say). This might sound confusing, but you'll rapidly see what I mean if you try it out.
8) Twitter is flexible. You can drop in and drop out as you please.
9) Twitter is searchable. The search interface in Tweetdeck, for example, let's you rapidly locate things you're looking for. I’ve found it a complement to Google in looking for articles and information from sources that I trust.
10) You learn Twitter fast. Very fast. Your first hour, it will seem odd. Perhaps very odd. What does "RT" mean? What does @ imply? The language is unto itself, but it's extremely easy to pick up.
If you're sold on Twitter -- or just want to give it a try -- here's some basic Twitter advice for you neophytes. First, to make Twitter manageable, sign up for an account and leave the website as quickly as possible. Download Tweetdeck or another client and use it immediately. Don't even try to use Twitter's site. Think of Twitter as the underlying platform, the phone network. You must use your own hardware (or software, in this case) to make the calls, otherwise you'll be stuck with one of those impossible-to-use rotary phones, so to speak. Second, find folks in your network using twitter on a regular basis (e.g., @spendmatters) and follow them first to see what you think before plunging in yourself and writing updates (which is optional, BTW). And follow them through Tweetdeck or another client, or a smartphone client (not on Twitter website) to make it easy to read and aggregate all of your sources.
Curious to see how Twitter works prior to signing up? Check out the tweets from @spendmatters on the lower right-hand side of the main screen of Spend Matters under the calender (look right, scroll down one screen and you'll be there from this point in the column). You'll quickly get a sense of what I'm posting from my Twitter account. And then follow @spendmatters when you sign up for Twitter yourself to discover what I'm writing, not to mention what I'm reposting from those in my network -- or "re-tweeting" as Twitter users call it.
Good luck. And for all those like me who signed up for Twitter in the past but abandoned their accounts, give it a try again. Things have changed and there's more than critical mass behind Twitter at this point (a point which we owe entirely to the proliferation of easy-to-use Twitter clients like Tweetdeck).
- Jason Busch