What Is Twitter Good For, Anyway?

figTake it from the Digital Media Mom, Twitter is not the colossal waste of time you’ve been led to believe it is.

True, many celebrities and teenagers have used it only for purposes of wasting their own and others’ time, but that’s not Twitter’s fault. Hard though it may be for you to believe, Twitter can be an amazingly powerful tool and resource you may soon find yourself using on a daily basis.

Twitter Basics

Twitter is one example of “social media”, which is really just a jargon-y way of saying “tool that facilitates communication between individuals and groups”. Blogs, online discussion groups, message boards and newsletters (whether online or the old fashioned, real-world type), group emails and even phone trees could all be classified as social media, depending on how they’re being used.

Twitter is sometimes referred to as a “microblogging service”, because it allows users to post very short messages (the maximum length is 140 characters). These short messages are called “tweets”.

Because users are limited to just 140 characters, they’ll typically use abbreviations and acronyms as much as possible to minimize character count. For example, someone tweeting about anything to do with Pirates of the Caribbean (movies, rides, anything) might use the abbreviation “POTC”. Words are often spelled phonetically to keep them short (e.g., “tech” becomes “tek”, “know” becomes “no”, “awkward” becomes “awkwd”, and so on). This is similar to what people do in text messages.

While it’s true that many people who are onTwitter post mostly useless, navel-gazing stuff you couldn’t care less about, plenty of them use it to share web links to valuable information and resources. Under the DMM Twitter account for instance, I post a link anytime a new article goes up here on the site, when I learn about an especially great deal on tech or digital content, when I learn about great FREE digital content, and when I want to share tech articles from other sites that I think DMM readers will find interesting or useful.

Once you’ve signed up for a FREE Twitter account, you can “follow” other Twitter users. This will display tweets from anyone you follow in your “twitterstream”, or the list of messages you see when you login to Twitter. So you see, it’s very easy to screen out the useless noise and focus exclusively on the information you want.

Twitter As A Search Engine

Imagine having hundreds of thousands of people out in the world, gathering information about everything you’re into and delivering that information to you. That’s what Twitter can be, if you use it right. Whatever you’re interested in, you can find LOTS of links to articles, commentary, discussion groups and news about that thing on Twitter and it’s all incredibly easy to find, because Twitter has a handy little search box.

As an example, let’s say you’re a knitter or crocheter and you’ve heard about the upcoming Los Angeles Yarn Crawl. I just went on Twitter and typed this into the search box:

yarn crawl

I got hundreds of tweets in the search results. Some were from people intending to participate, some were from yarn stores who are hosting special events during the Yarn Crawl weekend, some were from @YarnCrawlLA (the Twitter user who’s officially posting for the event), and some were from other knitters and crocheters who had something to say about either this Yarn Crawl in particular, or yarn crawls in general.

You could choose to follow some of the Twitter users whose tweets showed up in the search results, and if you did, going forward you’d be kept up to date on their tweets. Since many of the tweets were from knitting and crochet bloggers, those tweets might include links to free patterns, sale announcements about yarn or supplies, links to blog posts about knitting / crochet technique or tricks and tips, et cetera. But note: you don’t have to follow anyone to use the search function on Twitter.

Twitter As A Research Tool

You can do the same kind of thing with ANY subject. Whether you’re into WWII memorabilia, movies, music, tech, crafts, pets, physics, or anything else: Twitter makes it easy for you to connect with hundreds to thousands of like-minded individuals and find out what they’re saying and sharing on the subject.

As an added bonus, the real-time updates on the Twitter site ensure that when you’re watching a live event (like an awards show or sporting event), or looking for information about a live event that’s happening far away, you can get up-to-the-minute information and commentary about it on Twitter. By doing an appropriate search, you can see in real time what Twitter users all over the world are saying about The Oscars, a high-profile trial, a natural disaster thousands of miles away, or anything else you’d like to know more about.

Another great use for Twitter is getting uncensored reviews of products and businesses. Wanna know what people are saying about iTunes 11 before you install it? Just do a Twitter search on “iTunes 11” or “iTunes11” and you’ll soon have all the opinions you need to make an informed decision.

Twitter As A Business Tool

For those who are running small businesses, Twitter can be a great tool to help reach your target audience at zero cost—other than the time you spend sending tweets.

Remember those yarn store tweets that turned up in my sample search? Their tweets inform the public that they’re participating in the yarn crawl, and that’s going to bring in more customers during the event. After the event’s over, they can tweet about other special events, sales, new products just added, classes being held in their stores, or posts made to their company blog. They can also use their Twitter accounts to invite questions from actual or prospective customers, and this will also help drive more foot traffic into their stores.

So you see, whether you’re a small business owner looking for a marketing tool that’s virtually free, or just an ordinary shmo who’s trying to find out what people think of Dyson vacuum cleaners, Twitter may be just the tool you need. Click on any of the Twitter links in this article to sign up (remember, it’s free), and start using this excellent tool.