Twitter for the Casual User — How to Make It Work for You

It's probably not surprising that I view and use Twitter as a business and professional communication tool, based on what I do for a living. It can clearly be advantageous to tweet professionally and/or about your business, as I wrote in a blog post a few months ago.

Recently I've been asked what value Twitter has to the more casual user someone who's not promoting a business or using it professionally. Twitter is one of those experiences in life that is hard to explain (even though I'm going to give it a go here), but becomes amazingly clear once you understand the ground rules and try it out yourself.

At its most basic level, Twitter is a social networking channel. Because there is a 140 character limit, it's ideal for sharing small bites of information and links. Twitter's reputation while not totally undeserved as nothing more than the latest way for the self-absorbed to overshare the mundane details of their lives ignores how well it enables the communication of relevant information quickly and succinctly. Are there people tweeting about what they ate for breakfast and what color shirt they're wearing today? Most likely. A communication channel is only as good as the content filling it. Garbage in, garbage out still applies.

But when you ignore the garbage and focus on the "communication of relevant information quickly and succinctly" then that is when Twitter reveals its value. You can customize Twitter so that it delivers exactly the information you're interested in, and you never have to send a single tweet (40% of Twitter users don’t tweet every month but watch others tweet*). To create a road map through the approximately one billion tweets created every five days*, I've categorized tweets into six groups, with examples, to help new Twitter users navigate their way:
  1. News
    Every media outlet tweets. Follow BBC World News, the New York Times, CNN, CBS News, or your favorite news source. Most magazines also tweet. Usually you'll get the headline and a link to an article if you're interested in finding out more.
  2. Favorite celebrities, authors, actors, photographers, musicians or sports teams
    So many of them tweet. Anderson Cooper, Coldplay, Robert DeNiro, Annie Leibovitz, Maya Angelou or the San Jose Sharks hockey team are just a few examples. You can use the Who to Follow function in Twitter to search for the people or groups who interest you.
  3. Elected representatives
    Members of Congress (Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren in my case), governors (Governor Jerry Brown in California) and even the President of the United States all tweet to communicate with their constituents.
  4. Local businesses
    One of my favorite social networking success stories is about the catering trucks who tweet their locations so that their customers can find them. Mashable covered the trend in an article titled How Social Media Is Fueling the Food Truck Phenomenon. One example cited in the article, Kogi BBQ,  has 87,000 followers who follow five trucks.
    I can follow one of my favorite French restaurants, Left Bank, keep an eye out for sales and new merchandise at Nordstrom, or find out what local events are taking place with tweets from the San Jose Downtown Association.
  5. Favorite causes or hobbies
    Whether it's disability advocacy, organic gardening, nature conservation, micro lending, running, hiking or trumpet playing, you will find someone who is tweeting about topics that interest you. A few examples include the Harvard Art Museums,Yosemite National Park, or Knitting Network where knitters share patterns and information.
  6. Trending topics
    This is a daily Twitter feature that tracks the most frequently used hash tags. Including a hash tag in a tweet makes that tweet appear in topical searches, such as #Egypt, #Occupy or #accessibility.
And here's the amazing thing about Twitter. You choose how you want to use it. You can set it up as a simple feed, where tweets on the topics you're interested in come to you, via your computer, tablet or smart phone, or even as cell phone texts. Or, if you want to connect with others who have the same interests, Twitter can help you do that too. You can respond to that person who has the perfect non-toxic aphid spray and ask for the recipe. Or you can tell the governor that you are opposed to the bill she is poised to sign. (Twitter has a very good Basics page to tell you exactly how.)

With Twitter, you define your experience engage as much or as little as you want, and as frequently or infrequently as you like.

* 11 New Twitter Statistics

Stuff IBMers Say — Following a # Conversation on Twitter

The last 24 hours have been a lot of fun and laughs tracking the IBM Twitter conversation about common IBM sayings, hashtagged #stuffibmerssay.

 The impressions were on their way toward a million (granted there are over 400,000 IBMers), several hours ago. I've shared the URL with a few friends, and no one was quite as amused by it as I was, lol. I'm not sure if you have to be an IBMer to really "get it", or if working for a large corporation would be sufficient.

Two things about the thousands of contributions really struck me:

1) I've not seen any metrics about this yet, but I would say there were more sayings about conference calls than about anything else IBMers obviously spend a lot of time on the phone working on teams that are spread across countries and across the globe. (For instance, I only have one other teammate on the West Coast. The majority of my team are on EDT or CDT. I work early hours compared to most other Californians.) We participate on calls at all hours, and have a lot of common sayings. (I'm going to be self-conscious now every time I say, "Who's joined the call?" or "I was talking on mute", lol)

2) We use collaboration tools all of the time we are eating our own Social Business cooking, as the saying goes. I hadn't realized how ubiquitous so many of them have become that we don't even think about how we use them daily. Communities, team rooms, status updates, expert locators, full function instant messaging where you can drop in a screen grab or file, pull other people into a conversation, instant web conferences, you name it. We use these social collaboration tools without even thinking about it any more.

At a glance, working for a company with 400,000+ employees spread around the world sounds large, intimidating, impersonal, distant. This Twitter conversation has shown me once again how social social networking, social business, social collaboration connects us all, personally.

Google+ Re-Invites Brands to the Party — Can You Hear Me Cheering?

The New York Times was one of many news sources reporting today that Google+ is now going to allow corporations to return to the social media network the ones they kicked out earlier when Google+ was first launched.

Can you hear me cheering? No, I didn't think so.

Google+ currently has 40 million users compared to Facebook's 800 million. Brands have flocked to Facebook attracted by the fast-growing and active audience. (More than 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day, according to their fact page.)

As the New York Times article states:
"Relationships with Facebook have proved to be valuable marketing and awareness tools for companies with pages on that social network. Ninety-six of the top 100 brands have Facebook pages. The fast-food purveyor McDonald’s, for example, has over 11 million “likes” and 1.6 million visits to its page. Overall, about 100 million online stories, pictures and other things are “liked” by Facebook users daily."

Google, not surprisingly, would like a piece of that pie. As eMarketer reports:
"US Social Media Network ad revenues are expected to surpass $3.90 billion in 2012 and a large portion of that money is going straight to Facebook. New numbers show that Facebook will likely earn 72% of social media specific ad spending next year.  That’s equal to 7.9% of total online ad spending."

 Google is hoping their new Direct Connect feature taking advantage of Google search will be, if not the Facebook killer, at least the Facebook equalizer. As the Google blog post describes it:
"People search on Google billions of times a day, and very often, they're looking for businesses and brands. Today's launch of Google+ Pages can help people transform their queries into meaningful connections, so we're rolling out two ways to add pages to circles from Google search. The first is by including Google+ pages in search results, and the second is a new feature called Direct Connect. Maybe you're watching a movie trailer, or you just heard that your favorite band is coming to town. In both cases you want to connect with them right now, and Direct Connect makes it easy—even automatic."

So am I ready to create a Google+ business-to-business page? No, not yet. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn keep me busy enough, and we are seeing results with relationships happening and communities being built. Google appears to be focusing first on the consumer market, and is going to have do a much better job of selling me on the advantages of their network for me to support it with scarce resources my time.