Twitter has risen to second place among social networks with monthly growth estimated at over 1,000 percent. According to Wikipedia, there are an estimated 6 million people using it on a regular basis, and that number grows every day. We aren’t sure when Twitter crossed the line from geek toy to mainstream tool, but we are pretty sure it already happened. Marketer Seth Godin in his book Purple Cow suggests that if a product is divisive and worthy of parody that you might have something remarkable on your hands. Twitter fits this description. With a user retention rate around 40%, it’s evident that a lot of people sign up and never use the service. Here are some reasons that the bitter twitter quitters should reconsider:
1. Mobile Integration
Twitter gained a lot of users and attention early on because they made it easy to post from a cell phone. Before everyone’s children and pets had their own smartphones with push notifications, twitter did a great job of integrating plain old SMS text messages with their system. Today, there are smartphone applications that rival their desktop counterparts in features, but sometimes it’s still easier to send a text message to 40404 than to fire up an app and navigate it. Conversely, you can turn on device notification for someone you want to follow closely, and their messages, called “tweets” will appear as text messages on a cell phone that you have associated with your account. It becomes addictive to pull out your phone, see what your friends are doing, and update them in on what you’re up to, all within a few seconds. There is a novelty factor there that helps new users stick, but seems to wear off after a while.
2. Poll Your Friends
If you have friends on Twitter, and they are following you with device updates or push notifications, your tweets hit them instantly. For example, if you work in a music recording studio, you could send out a message like “what’s a good microphone to use on a trumpet?” and your contacts, many of whom are interested in the things you are, might respond in seconds with specific suggestions that you might not be able to find on google. Sometimes your friends are a better source of information than the entire internet. Twitter makes it easy for people to get back to you with information you need fast.
3. News Right Now
In Southern California, sometimes the earth under our feet seems less than stable. During a recent earthquake, if you fired up twitter you would see within seconds where the epicenter was, the magnitude, and how it was affecting your friends. Or you could wait 15 minutes for the television to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming. You don’t know how to access a live streaming feed of the Richter scale at Cal Tech? One of your friends does. In 2010, even major news networks like CNN are reporting what is being said on Twitter. It’s becoming a credible source, which is a little bit scary, but also worth understanding and participating in.
4. Annoys Fascists
Once in a while you see someone whose profile photo on Twitter is tinted green. This is left over from the Iranian Election Riots when many twitter users went “green” in support of the people who were attempting to bring democracy to Iran. Despite the government’s attempts to silence the reformers, including disrupting internet connectivity, people used Twitter to let the world know what their government was doing to them, how to get around road blocks, and where violence was happening. The U.S. State Department sent a carefully worded memo to Twitter, advising them of the importance of what they were doing for the people of Iran, and asking them to delay a scheduled off peak update that might have disrupted service to tweeting Iranians.
In 1995, people searched the internet to find a travel agent. In 2005, they booked airline tickets themselves. In 2010, they ask their networks where they should go on vacation and how to get the best deal. Ironically, sometimes the person who responds first is a travel agent. People give 140 character reviews of movies, music, restaurants, and businesses frequently. A recommendation from a friend is worth more than an ad. Savvy marketers are working on ways to influence influencers, in order to properly capitalize on this phenomenon.
6. Get To Know Your Competitors
On Twitter, unlike other social networks, you can follow anyone. Although you can send private messages to individuals or groups, this is not really what the service is famous for. You can follow your favorite author or chef to get insight into what he or she is thinking about, reading, or eating this weekend. You can also follow other businesses and get an idea of what they are investing in, thinking about, or even what account they just landed. A lot of entrepreneurs like to brag. Conversely, anyone can follow you and read your posts, so watch what you say, and try to be interesting.
7. Customer Service
Rarely does a new technology capture attention and imagination the way Twitter has. Corporations are hiring recent grads to head up “social media” initiatives and departments. People who don’t understand Twitter realize that it’s becoming an important part of how their businesses are perceived by the public. In fact, try complaining about a national brand like AT&T or Southwest Airlines, and you will likely get a personal response from a corporate representative whose job is to make you happy so you will stop publicly damaging their brand. Sometimes this produces better results than calling customer service. To really get their attention, tag them in the post by putting an @ symbol in front of their twitter handle, like @jetblue. In fact, look at their profile. It’s littered with personal responses to people who mentioned them in posts.
8. Social Utility
You run into someone you haven’t seen in 18 months, and you have 10 things to talk about, all derived from twitter posts. You know a little bit about what they’ve been up to, so you can jump right in to a substantive conversation without having to fish around for what an interesting topic might be. Your friends feel known by you, and you feel like you know them better. Other social networks go farther, encouraging you to remember friends’ birthdays. Frankly, Facebook is more personal than Twitter, but it’s also more time consuming.
9. 140 Characters
People speculate about when Twitter will “upgrade” to more characters. On the contrary, the limit is probably the best feature about the service – it allows readers to gather a lot of data from a lot of places quickly, and it forces writers to be brief. There is a quality of information that comes with brevity. Granted, some people just tweet over and over again, but remember that you don’t have to follow someone just because they follow you. It’s a challenge to be interesting and not annoying, because everyone knows there is an “unfollow” button next to your post. If you want to say something longer than 140 characters, you can tweet a link to your blog, and people can read it if they want to.
10. Integration With Other Social Media
Do you like social networks? Great, you can participate more meaningfully by linking Twitter to your other accounts. Do you hate them, but need to participate for work or social reasons? Great, you can update almost all of them from your twitter account. Other networks like LinkedIn and Facebook have API’s that allow post importing from Twitter. You can tweet from a cell phone whenever you want to, and read the responses once a week. Twitter saves time.
So now you at least know what all the fuss is about, and how Twitter is already influencing society. The service is still young, is still experiencing growing pains, and is still embraced most fully by people who like to stay ahead of the curve. If you consider yourself an influencer, or want to connect with people who are, it’s probably worth the time to understand Twitter.