Unless you have been living under a moss-covered rock for the last three years, you have at minimum a passing familiarity with the microblogging service known to fans, detractors, and headscratchers alike as Twitter. The service is the ultimate Swiss army knife, serving purposes that are as diverse as its 170 million (and growing) users. Founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, while not as well-recognized as Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page / Sergey Brin, have become celebrities in their own right, appearing everywhere from NPR interviews to Vodka ads.
Not just for kids / geeks anymore
Awareness of the strong potential of Twitter has extended far beyond the halls of geekdom, text-addicted teens, and Silicon Valleywags. As The Wall Street Journal‘s Kara Swisher first noted, as of mid-December Twitter is now valued at $3.7 billion after a fresh $200 million cash infusion from vaunted venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Further, an eMarketer study noted that the number of Fortune 500 firms with Twitter accounts doubled between 2009 and 2010.
140 characters, infinite reach
I for one am a rabid, shameless fan of Twitter and sing its praises to anyone who will listen (or at least politely nod along). It is a powerful tool for consuming and disseminating information, and is a great way to establish and nurture connections on a professional, educational, and social level. Social media expert Chris Brogan noted in his excellent tome Social Media 101 that Twitter changed his life in 2007 by adding exponentially to his network, and deeply enriching his relationships.
You are correct, sir
I concur whole-heartedly with this assessment. I have broadened my information stream considerably by investing modest amounts of time on an ongoing basis to conversations with some of the 170 million other “twits” with shared interests. As with YouTube, its inherently democratic nature makes it pie-simple for anyone with an Internet connection to broadcast news across the world. The following are just a few of the examples where Twitter has “scooped” major news events, or provided complementary coverage to content provided by the major news outlets:
- Hudson plane crash, January 2009
- Iran elections, June 2009
- Haiti earthquake, January 2010
- email@example.com, December 2010
Same, but different
While falling into the broad category of “Social Media,” Twitter is distinct from other noteworthy services such as Facebook and Linkedin. One key difference is the level and nature of effort required to maintain a Twitter account. The 140-character limit for “tweets,” for instance, is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, for those not predisposed toward blustery prose, the barriers to entry are relatively low for maintaining an active Twitter presence. A series of terse posts along the line of “Walked the daschunds this morning – felt recharged and ready to take on the day” looks a lot less bare on a minimalist Twitter page than, for instance, on a Facebook fan page, which typically requires a bit more in the way of videos, imagery, and the occasional incriminating Spring Break photo thrown in for good measure.
However, it may also be a challenge to keep this content relevant over time, as many business owners have found. My recommendation to new Twitter users is to use the service much like another great social media tool, Delicious: if you find an article of interest, simply post a link to it with the title, along with the URL.
Bear in mind that URLs for most articles are rather long and unwieldy; to get around the 140-character limits for tweets, I suggest using one of a variety of URL shorteners:
- tinyurl.com – the “grand-daddy” of all shorteners; has been around since 2002, or the dawn of URL shortening
- bit.ly – my personal favorite; allows tracking of clicks on each URL you designate, customized URLs, etc.
- ow.ly – affiliated with HootSuite, another popular Twitter client
Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan compiled a more exhaustive survey of other services. Though the article is over a year old, it provides answers to just about every question regarding URL shortening you may have cared to ask.
Left hand, meet right hand
At WSI, we impress upon businesses the importance of maintaining an integrated marketing strategy among these different social media channels. It is essential that the meaning, branding and content of a firm’s Linkedin page be consistent with what is reflected in its Twitter feed (with some modifications for each medium, obviously). The common objection I have heard from many resource-strapped small business owners is, “I’m so busy trying to keep my understaffed business humming along, and fending off competition from all angles. And you’re telling me I should spend time managing three different social media channels?”
This may seem like a tall order to those less familiar with these social media channels. They may not be sold on its return on investment (ROI) of time, dollars and energy. Fortunately, social media is a poster child for the powerful benefits of network effects. As has been the case with the iPhone, the rapidly increasing rate of Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter has spawned a fertile cottage industry of complementary applications.
There are a wide variety of applications that can be used to easily manage content on multiple channels. While many updates are suitable for broadcasting to all of your social networks, some content may be more suited to selective updates where you pick and choose. The most obvious example would be a War and Peace-length blurb that might be tough to cram into a 140-character tweet. Or, there might be episodes from a weekend fishing trip that might interest your friends on Twitter and Facebook, but would bore / annoy your Linkedin colleagues and business partners.
The two services that I would recommend are:
- Tweetdeck – this product provides users with “rivers of information.” It’s kind of like tabbed browsing on steroids, and allows instant access to all of your social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Foursquare, MySpace) at a glance. This will appeal to folks who enjoy consuming information in a unified platform, without the clutter of ads and disparate interface elements.
- Ping.fm – a simple, yet elegant Web-based tool that offers some of the features of Tweetdeck, but is a bit more limited. Its one advantage: it’s Web-based.
I would say that these services are complementary, and not mutually exclusive: Tweetdeck is definitely far more robust, but requires installation of an Adobe AIR application onto your Desktop. This slightly complicates things when you’re on the go, and may not have access to all of your applications. As of writing, there is a browser-based version of Tweetdeck, but it is only available for Chrome. While I do enjoy Google’s Web browser, and it is rapidly gaining market share , it is unlikely that the browser-based version of Tweetdeck will enjoy widespread adoption without catering to IE and Firefox users. For them, Ping.fm is definitely an adequate (if slightly less elegant) substitute.
But wait, there’s more
Here at WSI, we have a global network of Internet consultants armed with knowledge of how to best leverage Tweetdeck, Ping.fm, Delicious, and numerous other social media technologies. We help businesses attract and retain profitable clients through a variety of digital marketing tools such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC), and Social Media Optimization (SMO). Experts and novices alike can benefit greatly by participating in our Webinars or reading our whitepapers at getwsipowered.com.
About the author: Nikhil Torsekar is a Chicagoland-based Internet Consultant with WSI. To learn more about how WSI can help you, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to have one of our consultants perform a competitive Internet Business Analysis (IBA) for your organization today.