Twitter – Loving and hating it at the same time

Today I asked Peter Shankman to send out a query on his “Help a Reporter Out” list. I’m writing a piece for the NY Enterprise Business Report on small to mid-sized businesses using Facebook, LinkedIn and other social services (such as Twitter). What are they using these services for? Branding, marketing, recruiting, promoting? What else? (You’ll have to wait to find out – the piece will be out in the summer). But I digress. I want to talk twitter.

If you don’t know what Twitter is, I liken it to a water cooler for the digital age. It’s much more than that, of course. Twitter can be ‘micro-blogging’, a way to ask questions and answer them, and even a community. A good post by SouthWestSEO about Twitter is called “How to describe Twitter” and Lee Lefever from Common Craft has a great 2 minute video on it.

I decided to try an experiment, based on this post by Stowe Boyd called “Twitpitch is the Future.” Stowe asks any company that wants to pitch him to do so via Twitter, in the constrained manner of 140 characters for a Twitter message.

Basically, I want companies to get their story down to a one-liner ‘escalator’ pitch — like 10 seconds long — which is going to force them to drop the superlatives and buzzwords and get to the heart of the matter.

Stowe lists exactly how someone should pitch. I thought this was a good idea for a test. However, I didn’t set as strict ground rules as Stowe did – and I probably should have done so. So, when I put out my query on the “Help a Reporter” list, I just listed my Twitter account, and suggested that people could email me or “tweet” me to get my attention if they had something to pitch. This has had good and bad points.

Good:

  1. Some good replies, focused in 140 characters, sometimes with a web address, that gave me good follow up.
  2. I connected with a few people I might not have found, and got some leads for the story.
  3. An additional benefit of about 25-35 twitter followers added me today (not my intent but that’s fine).

Bad:

  1. I set myself up to have to monitor Twitter all day. This is too distracting for me. (Your milage may vary of course.) I suppose I could have just set up a “Tweetscan” for my handle (Howardgr) and just checked that occasionally. But I wanted to be responsive as I’m starting to write my piece.
  2. Helpful twitter users re-broadcast my query. This caused me to be a bit overwhelmed by new traffic via email and twitter direct messages.They truly wanted to help, so I don’t fault them in any way.
  3. Not everyone can express their message in the Twitter-limited 140 characters, so some of the replies were not as helpful as they could have been.

Overall, it was useful to try this experiment. I learned a bit about Twitter, and about my own tolerance for information coming in via that channel.

I asked Chris Brogan about his Twitter use this past weekend, and he likened it to a Chinese proverb about “Seeing flowers from horseback.” You see a different image as the landscape goes by on horseback, but stopping to look at a flower or group of flowers gives you a totally different image.

We discussed this and agreed that in that sense, watching Twitter is watching like flowers going by on horseback. Stop and get off the horse and look – see what people are talking about – and then get back on. You can look at any time. Tools like Tweetscan can help you monitor conversations, and like FriendFeed can help you catch up with what your friends are really saying. But trying to participate all day can be like a full-time job, and you might fall off your (work) horse.

UPDATE: Great piece by Mitch Joel: “Confessions of a Twitter Snob.”

5 thoughts on “Twitter – Loving and hating it at the same time”

  1. Excellent post, Howard!! I'm a total Twitter convert – it's the first site I check in the mornings! I liken Twitter to my "living breathing search engine." I also tweet my travels & whereabouts as my hubby & I drive around the US/Canada in our RV… and my mum reads my tweets. 🙂 I actually feel more connected to my Twitter community than elsewhere online, even including Facebook because the connection is so instant. Btw, I recently blogged about Twitter too – as a quick 'crash course' for business folks.

  2. Thanks for the shout, Howard – I actually included some of what you said here into this evening’s email, letting people know some ideas that work, and some that don’t. I appreciate you taking the time to mention them here, as well.

    -Peter

  3. It occurs to me also – Check out the “track” function on Twitter. Simply send the words “Track whatever” with no quotes, where “whatever” is what you want to follow. So “track skydive” would bring not only all my replies, but also anything with the word “skydiver.” Comes in handy when I’m at an airport lounge with time to kill – can track the airport lounge, and see who else on Twitter might be there. Also good for saving you from having to watch Twitter all day, as you’re right – that can be hellish – and counterproductive.

  4. I think where people run the most afoul of Twitter is when they think the tool is meant to build DEEP relationships, or MEANINGFUL conversations. That happens sometimes, but it's not the norm. Instead, it's like a booster shot for relationships.

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