With hundreds of millions of users and growing, why are there still so many people who don’t get Twitter?


A typical example

Ouriel Ohayon, formerly of Techcrunch.com, used to be one of the biggest bloggers in France and in Israel. An Internet entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist, a lot of technologies are paraded in front of him. As an early adopter of many of those technologies, you might think he would be quick to jump on something like Twitter but that wasn’t the case.

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On March 13th 2007, Ouriel blogged “First impressions on Twitter” where among other things he said that it was “totally useless… totally addictive… still don’t get it but keep on trying…”

Just 4 months later on July 11th 2007, Ouriel came back and blogged “One of the reasons I love Twitter” where he said “Right now Twitter is by far my favorite web app and my favorite channel of communication. I don’t care that most people don’t get it…”

What did Ouriel realize during those few months?

How Twitter created the problem: bad branding

Visit any Twitter user’s homepage like mine and you’ll see the same message:

Hey there! jacobshare is using Twitter.

Twitter is a free service that lets you keep in touch with people through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing? Join today to start receiving jacobshare’s updates.

The key phrase is “What are you doing?

When I first saw this question, I thought to myself “how boring. Who wants to know that I’m now blogging, that I’m now going shopping, that I’m now sitting on the train? Why would I want to spend time constantly updating everyone on my status? Worse, why would I want to drown myself in tons of these messages daily, even from the people I know and care about?”

The fact is that the people who only twitter about these things are the most boring people on Twitter.

They don’t get Twitter either.

The key to getting Twitter: where the branding is right

If you can get past the horrible “what are you doing?”, you’ll notice that Twitter refers to subscribers as “followers”. If you subscribe to someone else’s Twitter feed, you’re “following” them and vice-versa.

Just like you subscribe to personal blogs to follow the latest thoughts and insight from your favorite people, you’ll subscribe to their Twitter feeds for the same reasons. However, with only 140 characters allowed per message, your friends’ and mentors’ bite-size thoughts will arrive faster, more often than blog posts, with more focus and will be easier to digest.

In short, or as I’d say on Twitter in 140 characters: Twitter is bad for life-streaming, good for micro-blogging. Power users use it to share their messages & network with people doing the same.

Top 20 uses of Twitter

Micro-blogging – every major blogger is also on Twitter. Followers often become subscribers.

Sharing favorites – using one of the many url-shortening services such as bit.ly, it’s easy to quickly share links to blog posts, images or videos.

Networking – as people learn about you and what you have to share, they will follow you and become part of your network. The same is true for you, and you’ll meet more and more people who share your interests.

Strengthening your network – by networking with someone in more than one medium, you create more bonds between you. Meet on Twitter with people you know from the real world, email, forums, etc.

Promotion – when you or better yet, someone else in your network, shares your links. There are also services like Twitturly that will automatically republish links, getting yours even more exposure.

Learning – with so much free sharing of information and links to more sources, regular Twitter users get educated daily.

Finding jobs – if you offer a service, your followers will want come to you first. If you job search on Twitter, your followers can send you job leads or you can learn about them from people you’re following.

Getting answers – once you have your own network following, be a proactive learner by asking questions to your network and getting some of the fastest answers anywhere. Or use Twitter Search to use Twitter like one massive focus group.

Polling – a quick question to your whole network is a good way to gauge current trends or fads.

Interviewing – by interviewing someone in public this way, many people get to follow the replies. A good attention-getter for both the interviewer and the interviewee.

Group conversations – part of a team or club? Using a service like Nurph makes it easy to use Twitter for group chat, panel discussions, focus groups, etc.

Conferences – the Israeli consulate in New York held a conference on Twitter to answer questions about Israel’s incursion into Gaza.

Announcements – A few lines is all it takes to announce the launch of an event, product or service.

Breaking news – during the first hours of the Mumbai terror attack, local twitterers were the most updated news source.

Life updates – these are worth twittering if there’s an extra point of interest for followers such as a discovery (‘new restaurant in town!’), recommendation (‘they’ve got great service’) or useful information (‘they’re closed on Saturdays’).

Protect your online reputation – there are lots of tools for managing your online reputation, but at the speed news travels on Twitter, you need to be able to react in case someone says something bad about you.

Contests – more and more contests are appearing on Twitter, giving away prizes for people who twitter a certain message or follow a specific Twitterer.

Charity – for example, Twitterers joining Twestivals are coming together “to raise money and awareness for charity: water.”

Streamlining your electronic inboxes – communicating via Twitter will often result in less email, messages on Facebook or IM, and so on.

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Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. carl brookins

    Interesting and useful article. I can already divine a number of ways to help me bring info about my books to a wider audience.

  2. Sheri Fresonke Harper

    Handy article, I liked it and found it useful
    🙂 Sheri

  3. Reality

    Now I get it! Twitter is used by shameless hucksters like you to promote themselves and the scams they are selling. Gee, I can’t wait to sign up.

  4. Dave Y.

    It’s kind of like skittles or mcnuggets…

    “…your friends’ and mentors’ bite-size thoughts will arrive faster, more often than blog posts, with more focus and will be easier to digest.”

    ….lots of calories and no nutrients.

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  6. Xavier Lur

    Nice post and interesting points!

  7. Jacob Share

    Carl- good luck leveraging Twitter for your books.

    Sheri- glad to hear it.

    Reality- Twitter isn’t a very good tool for advertisement for a number of reasons, and that’s why I don’t recommend it in the list above.

    Dave Y.- For some Twitterers, that’s true, but they’re the ones who don’t get Twitter. For the ones who do get Twitter, I would say the opposite- ‘all nutrients, few calories’

    Xavier- thanks

  8. Mistah Tea

    That cartoon was hilarious when I saw it perhaps three weeks ago.

    But with a couple weeks on Twitter I have NEVER seen anyone tweet stuff like “Sitting in my chair”.

    Well, I do have one really boring guy on my following list that tweets stuff like “woke up”.

  9. Jacob Share

    Mistah Tea- I have to admit, I haven’t seen anything that bad either, but I have seen one level above e.g. “trying out my new ergonomic chair.” Is that a good sign?

  10. Ilan

    Interesting article. Haven’t really been interested in Twitter because I thought it was just a resource for people to share boring details about their lives, but I see that it has much more potential. Thanks.

  11. Bailey

    I think I get it, but don’t think I need it. So I believe that I will try to live without it.

  12. Ken

    It’s kind of sad you have to explain yourself. I’ve always learned when building a website, make it simple and easy for people to understand. There’s a lot of idiots out there among us, we need to build clear and easy. Twitter apparently doesn’t fit in this category.

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  16. Don C

    Here’s what I “don’t get” about twitter. It’s completely pointless and 99% of the tweets I see out there are in fact RT’s. RT this @this #this that and those… Yeah, I already saw that 100 people RT’ed that one, the only information you are conveying on twitter is that you lack the capacity for independent thought. How about tweet something about YOUR opinion instead of RTing someone else’s opinion!?!?!? POINTLESS! Twitter is symbolic of everything that is wrong with our human culture today. There haven’t been any huge advances in years now. Everyone is trumpeting twitter, facebook, myspace, google+, and it’s all just a bunch of BS that occupies the time of aspiring technology journalists who spend all day tweeting about how great the lastest useless app/tablet gadget is for tweeting. It saves me so much time when tweeting, you can tweet from anywhere with the tweet app, I’m tweeting about it on the can right now! Blow me!

  17. Rob C

    I like twitter, but all my friends call it twatter.

  18. Kate

    It took me a long time to “get” twitter and I can’t say that I’m expert yet.

  19. Karin

    Definitely can live without it. Why would I share random bits of personal info. with millions of strangers who couldn’t care less? Nobody I’m actually friends with in the real world uses it. It’s just another business marketing tool pretending to be ‘social’, like Facebook.

  20. Xero

    Still seems entirely useless. Why would I care what random people on the internet are talking about unless I’m in a marketing career? Equivalent to old people gossiping about what’s in the national enquirer with none of the humor of the weekly world news.

    1. Jacob Share

      That’s a fair question, and a phenomenal way to waste time, get aggravated or both. Instead, use Twitter to follow sources of information you trust, meet and connect with people who you can help and can help you

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