What’s Twitter good for, anyway?

Posted by Jen Ochej on August 9, 2013

As someone who joined Twitter in 2008 and has been using it daily since 2009, it’s sometimes easy for me to forget that the whole world isn’t tweeting. I feel a genuine sense of shock when I meet someone who has never used Twitter, and often those same people truthfully have no idea what it’s about or how to use it.

I’ve been instrumental in convincing many friends, acquaintances, and even the occasional random stranger to join Twitter, and over the years I’ve developed a somewhat standard list of talking points. If you’ve ever wondered why someone would bother with 140-character posts, read on:

It’s a great way to keep up with your friends’ day-to-day lives—and to share your own.

The average shelf life of a Facebook post is three hours. A tweet? Eighteen minutes. While there’s a certain etiquette dictating what constitutes “over-sharing” (whether in frequency or in content) on Facebook, the rules are totally different on Twitter.

In a tweet, you can share quick thoughts, jokes, or small details about whatever you happen to be doing right now, in a way that you probably wouldn’t on Facebook. Do you need to know where your friend just had lunch? Probably not. Does it give you a better picture of what their day has been like? Absolutely.

It’s great for networking and making connections you might not otherwise make.

There’s a pithy saying that Facebook is for people you know in real life, and Twitter is for people you wish you knew in real life. With the amount of personal information often contained in a Facebook profile, most users only accept friend requests from those they know in person. Twitter, on the other hand, lends itself much more to conversation with strangers, as there is no such structure of requests and no inclusion of personal details such as date of birth, phone number, etc.

The very nature of Twitter is to follow people whose tweets interest you, which means that networking is a natural consequence. As you interact with those you follow, and your own followers, you’ll begin to build relationships and make connections in the same way that you would if you were having these conversations at an in-person event. Before long, you’ll “know” people you’ve never actually met in person, and you never know when that may come in handy.

It allows you to connect with celebrities and public figures in a way that you never could have before.

Whether it’s an actor, a musician, a politician, an author, or any other public figure, we all have at least one “famous” person we look up to and wish we could have a conversation with. One of the amazing things about Twitter is that, to a degree, it allows you to do just that. Gone are the days of writing a fan letter, mailing it off, and hoping for a response that might never come. Today, you need only find that person’s account on Twitter (most public figures have officially verified accounts, denoted by a blue checkmark logo) and write them a message. Though it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get a response, your odds are certainly much higher—and the response, if it comes, will be much quicker than a mailed letter!

Much like in my first point, as well, Twitter allows us a window into our public figures’ day-to-day lives. Celebrities can share the music they’re listening to, the books they’re reading, even what they had for lunch, with anyone who chooses to follow them. Whether or not you find this minutia interesting is entirely subjective, but there is a certain appeal in seeing a photo of two musicians you admire who just happen to be having lunch together today.

It opens up new doors for customer-business relationships.

Whether you’re a customer or a business owner, or both, you know how important it is for customers and businesses to be able to connect. Of course, the traditional in-person or phone conversations are still applicable, but Twitter opens up new avenues and actually increases the odds that you’ll hear from customers about smaller issues and even about good things, not just about the big crises.

Twitter allows your business to receive compliments about good service in real time (or allows you to give those compliments, as the customer), and to hear about minor issues as they arise, rather than when they’ve reached critical mass and are going to be much more difficult to deal with. In today’s increasingly smartphone-connected world, these comments are being made in the public forum of Twitter every day, and having a presence there allows you to become part of that conversation.

What else?

Of course, there are many more reasons than just these four, but these are what I consider to be some of the basics. Are you a Twitter user? How would you explain its usefulness to someone completely unfamiliar with it?