I started using Twitter a few months ago. If you haven’t encountered it yet, it’s a kind of micro-blogging tool which lets you post updates about what you’re doing. Each update takes a similar form to Facebook‘s “John is…” function, and you’re limited to 160 characters, so it’s a bit like sending a text message.
You can see my latest update in the right column of this blog, or see my stream of tweets (that’s what the little updates are called) over on my Twitter homepage. Once you’re a member, you can follow other Twitter members. When you follow someone, all their tweets appear in your Twitter stream.
Frankly, it’s not immediately obvious what Twitter is for. As a copywriter, I joined without a good idea of why I was joining it or what I’d use it for. I mainly just wanted to work out what the hell it was all about: it’s not the easiest of things to get your head around, and the best way to work it out is to try it.
But since I started using it, it’s become clear there’s a lot more to Twitter than meets the eye. It’s not just a way to let your mates know you’re just back from the shops or down the pub. It’s a seriously useful tool that can help you in all kinds of ways.
I’d definitely recommend you get over to Twitter and sign up for an account now. But if you need some persuading, here are six things I’ve found it useful for:
Finding useful contacts. It can be a networking tool, basically. Whether you’re a web copywriter, like me, or in a completely different line of work, you can make some great connections on Twitter. One of the best ways is to take a look at the people you follow, and see who they follow. If anyone looks interesting, follow them too. Because most tweets are public, it’s fine to follow whoever you like.
Keeping in touch with your mates. I’ve all but given up on Facebook. I never entirely got the hang of it, and these days I find if I log in I just get overwhelmed with information. The most interesting bit is following friends’ status updates. And Twitter lets me do that, without all the other spurious stuff that’s part of Facebook. Of course, you’ll need to persuade your mates to join too.
Getting answers fast. If you have enough followers, Twitter becomes a bit like one of those services where you can text any question and receive an almost instant response. For instance, before a recent trip to Berlin, I tweeted asking for recommendations. Within a few minutes, I’d discovered that one of my followers had edited a guidebook of the city. Result!
Connecting with celebrities. When I discovered national institution Stephen Fry was on Twitter, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Because it’s so obviously him tweeting, you get a direct connection to someone you only usually see on TV. Not sure how he deals with the massive number of direct messages he must get though. Apparently Britney’s on Twitter too, though it looks like a rather sanitised, PR-driven effort rather than Britney tapping away at a keyboard for herself.
Keeping up with the news. I’m not going to claim that Twitter is a useful tool for in-depth journalism and analysis of current affairs. But it’s great for getting eyewitness snapshots of events as they unfold. For example, there was an explosion on Slough Trading Estate the other week. I used to work there, so was interested in what was going on. Local news sites weren’t reporting anything, but by searching Twitter I found someone who was there as it happened. And just yesterday, one guy tweeted from a plane crash. Yes, really.
Venting your frustrations. I’m not sure how much my followers appreciate it, but I’ve vented at the terrible train service offered by First Great Western more than once. With Twitterific on my iPhone I can tweet from anywhere, and it makes me feel a little less helpless when I find myself awaiting a delayed train yet again. Try it sometime. It really does make you feel better.
There are plenty of other ways to use Twitter, and plenty of other reasons to use it. So if you haven’t given it a go yet, hop on over and sign up. You can tweet directly from the website, or use one of the many web-based and mobile phone clients to make it easier.
And if you don’t mind the occasional train-related rant, do add me once you’ve signed up. I’ll be sure to return the favour.