Four reasons why Twitter is so powerful, and how I use it.

Twitter might sound like a really ambiguous and confusing thing at the start. For people who are used to reading information off websites, emails and Facebook, what good could reading and ranting in 140 characters do?

The first value of Twitter stems from the fact that news comes in real time. Absolute breaking news. No editors, no schedules, just the raw stuff served straight up. Nothing more, nothing less. Speed is of the essense.

(This excludes organisations, especially big ones that cannot afford to get their brand damaged through thoughtless tweeting. A single layer of censorship or approval might be required to get things out.)

Second value: concise information, no bullshit. You cannot afford to write lengthy stanzas or flowery essays on Twitter. It’s all about getting your point across, and 140 character is not a lot to work with. With the modern internet user’s short attention span, short informative nuggets help in digesting news and information quickly.

What else can Twitter provide? Direct access. That’s right, a lot of people have Twitter these days. Politicians, athletes, celebrities, singers, writers, the list goes on. Ghost writers do exist (yes, even on Twitter), but chances are you will be reading tweets that are composed by the real owner. How cool is that? Everyone likes the real thing, and nothing beats close-up access to the real person like what Twitter provides.

If you turned this thought on its head, you realise you would be able to contact the persona directly without having to wade through hordes of management. It sure has the convenience argument won by a billion hands down. How else would you be able to interact directly with people all over the world so easily?

Anything else? Community access through hashtags. A hashtag is what you add to your tweet to interact with the same “community”. Hashtags allows people to tweet to like-minded “communities” who read and tweet to the same hashtag.

For example:

Imagine reading and tweeting to #USElection2012 while the US election is going on. I would imagine reading and interacting with a stream of comments on the same topic. To add a hashtag to your tweet, simply compose your tweet as usual, but add the hashtag anywhere in your tweet.

If I used the same #USElection2012 example, I could be tweeting “I'm for Obama! #USElection2012“, which would appear on every Twitter user’s stream if they did a search for #USElection2012.

Now, on to a real-life example – me.

Twitter is a tool that varies according to how you use it – in short, on who you follow.

I’m an NBA fan for the most part, and Twitter is how I get my daily fix on the latest news. My weapon of choice is Tweetdeck, which allows the Twitter feed to be split into multiple streams (or channels).

The point is, Twitter isn’t useful if you miss too much. For me, I want to read the latest Celtics news, but if I had my friends all in the same stream with the NBA media, their tweets would most definitely be overwhelmed and buried under that avalanche of non-stop tweets. Hence: the use of channels in Tweetdeck.

I follow NBA beat reporters, Celtics media/bloggers/fellow fans. I also follow interesting random online personalities, and of course my friends. So my Tweetdeck is configured to split the feed up into multiple streams: NBA, Others and Friends. My channels have gotten more granular with time, but this is a rough overview of how I split my Twitter feed to make it useful and readable.

I tweet about the Celtics, about technology, and also tweet my writings out to my followers. It’s a means of sharing my thoughts with interested individuals.

I use hashtags to communicate with fellow Celtics fans. For example, #Celtics. I’m also promoting the use of #AussieCeltics to gather Australian Celtics fans into a community.

The real question behind Twitter however, is how it manages to survive. Monetisation (aka how your business earns to support itself) is always the question behind the business, and Twitter does not seem to have this down pat. The service is free, there are no freemium features, there is no revenue from advertising (seeing as there is no advertising to begin with), it consumes massive resources (because a gazillion people use it 24/7/365) and probably costs heaps to maintain.

I have thought about this from time to time. It’s an interesting thought process with no obvious conclusion, so I’m really keen to see how things turn out with Twitter. Will it end up being shut down due to the lack of monetisation, or is there an unique angle to this problem that could conceivably solve this impasse?

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