Twitter: pointless and superficial or the future of communication?
Well, here's the helpful and unhelpful thing: it's probably both.
I only signed up about 6 months ago. I had good reasons for not throwing myself into it earlier. Why would anyone be interested in what I was eating for dinner? Why would I be interested in what anyone else was eating for dinner? Who cares about Justin Bieber's haircut or who's voted off X Factor? I didn't want to get involved in hashtags and retweets and desperately acquiring followers. Most of all, I knew it would sap my time – that I would get sucked in and swirled into the virtual world of Other People's Opinions.
I was right about the last point. Not so much about the others. Because, as with anything, it depends on what you make of it. Yes, current trending topics (phrases that lots of people are using) include "Replace song names with curry sauce" and "You know you are bored when…", but they also encompass current affairs and politics.
There are thousands of articles about Twitter, which there's no point in duplicating here. Many describe its growing influence on the real world. For example, this is one about the positive affect of Twitter on language use. This one is a comprehensive guide to Twitter marketing. And this one illustrates the impact Twitter has had on people's lives.
So what can I add? In true Twitter spirit, I can add my own reasons for encouraging you (yes, you!) to use it.
1. Personal development: you can learn a lot if you follow the right users – those who do what you do, those who are influential in areas you're interested in, big brands and individual customers. Even celebrities (or at least those with interesting opinions). People use Twitter because they have something to share. I follow links to article on the latest web trends, language developments and instant news. That way, you are immersed in the information that you want to – or need to – know, and absorb it without it feeling like hard work.
2. Get networking: in my experience, there's nothing competitive about building relationships with people who do what you do. They might be competitors but you can equally view them as partners, supporters, sharers, even friends. They might post something you find interesting, then you might return the favour. And it's always interesting to find out what other people are up to, especially if there might be an impact on what you do. Who knows how it can pay off?
3. Self-promotion: get yourself out there and get known. People relate to the personal touch. I started out with the aim of it being a serious business account – formal, to the point, serious. But that's not (always) me: very soon, my real personality came through and that's much more engaging for both me and my readers. People – whether that's colleagues, clients or friends – want to get to know you.
Here's another example: the author Ben Hatch is heroically conducting a Twitter campaign to promote his new book, contacting people who may review it and taking the time to thank them for their support. It worked for me – I downloaded his book and am enjoying it. I probably wouldn't have heard of it if he hadn't told me about it. Great idea! You won't always get direct sales from Twitter but it's all part of the marketing mix.
The only proviso, if you're running a business, is to stay away from controversy. There have been some high profile corporate embarrassments on Twitter – one thoughtless comment could destroy your reputation. But then, that could happen in person too.
4. Communication skills: you have 140 characters to get your point across. As an editor, it pains me to sometimes miss out full stops but, on the other hand, honing your message to the essentials is a great skill to practise… and even I have to admit that normal punctuation isn't always necessary – or even possible – within a tweet.
5. Fun: so after all the worthy reasons comes the most important one: it's a great way to spend your time. It's also a time-consuming way to spend your time, so you have to be disciplined, but it's an immediate way of opening your eyes to the world and to other people. After all, how else could you find out how Stephen Fry is coping with being stuck on a delayed plane?
If you take the plunge, follow me @juliawordfire and introduce yourself. I look forward to tweeting you.