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Thursday, 26 February 2009

Twitter – What’s all the fuss about?

by Glen Feechan

Unless you have been trekking across the Sahara (without a mobile phone) for the last few months, you will almost certainly have come across the phenomenon that is Twitter. Every day the newspapers are full of stories about this latest social networking craze. Is it just that, or is there something genuinely important and groundbreaking about Twitter – and can there be a business opportunity?

Twitter seems to have really taken off in the UK when
Stephen Fry talked about his interest in it on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross back in January. Many use it for following celebrities, but it has many applications.

I have been experimenting with Twitter myself over the last couple of weeks, and thought you might find it useful if I let you know a little about my experiences, particularly from a business perspective.

What is Twitter?
Twitter allows users to have a profile (see mine
here) and post status updates of up to 140 characters at a time. Anyone else can choose to follow them and see these tweets on their Twitter homepage (or in third party software) - along with those of everyone else that they follow. You can reply to anyone’s tweets (visible to anyone else) or send a direct message to anyone that is following you (visible only to them). You can also 'retweet' someone else’s tweet (similar to forwarding an email) to your followers. This tends to be how news spreads very quickly on Twitter.
That’s Twitter in a nutshell, One of its strengths is its simplicity. It’s not until you get into it that you realise the potential.

My experiences
I had kept hearing about Twitter and had been encouraged to sign up by
Emily Coltman who I have worked with on our Pivot Table Videos. At first I couldn’t grasp the potential and didn’t sign up, but eventually did so at the end of January after hearing Stephen Fry talk about it (in the interview mentioned above).

Registering is very simple and there are no detailed profiles to complete, so you can be up and running in about 10 minutes.

I still did very little with it for a couple of weeks but had picked up about 25 followers anyway. When I started looking at it properly this rapidly increased to over 150 within a week.

I have significantly increased its usefulness with two free pieces of software.

Firstly, I have started using
Twitterfeed to automatically tweet new blog posts once I post them.
Secondly, I am using
Tweetdeck instead of the Twitter website to manage the incoming and outgoing tweets.

Tweetdeck allows you to view incoming tweets by groupings and to post tweets with shortened URLs, picture links, etc. all from one screen.

One of the most powerful uses I have found of Tweetdeck though, is the search facility. This allows you to set up an ongoing search of all tweets (whether or not you are currently following the tweeter) thereby allowing you to see comments from all over the world on your chosen subject.

I, for example, have a column looking at the term ‘pivot table’ or ‘pivot tables’ which shows me every tweet that uses these terms. Where I see someone struggling with pivot tables, if I have time available, I reply - offering to answer their questions. I also tweet a link to my free pivot table videos if I think it appropriate. I can also choose to follow these people to see how they get on. Very often they start following me if I have been helpful.

Conclusion
This facility alone allows anyone to determine what the world is saying about any particular subject at any one time. Think of the possibilities for market research, politics (many even claim that Twitter won the US election for
Barrack Obama), or even simply communicating with people with similar interests.

In a matter of weeks, I have found that Twitter has allowed me to reach a far wider audience with this blog and ezine. It has generated online training sales, and looks like generating real world consultancy and training opportunities. It has also been a lot of fun.

I would recommend anyone register and take a look. You could start by following me at
http://www.twitter.com/glenfeechan.

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