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Twitter for Business: How Does It Work and What's the Value? Part 1

Nice overview and history.

(First, sorry for my latency in posting of late. Was away with my wife Amie on the trip of a lifetime to NYC! Travels are over; getting back to business.)

One of the questions I'm getting A LOT is "What's up with Twitter?" and "How do I use Twitter for business?" Let me say at the outset it is an amazing app with manifold uses. Companies as large as Dell have created a business model around it and solo entrepreneurs (real estate agents included) are proving its case as another channel for business development.

It's my aim to answer the above questions, at least in part, by not only sharing my own thoughts, but providing links to others who've addressed these as well. It will take me far more than the 140 character limit Twitter allows. :-) In fact, this will be a multi-part series.

Let's start by attempting to define Twitter.

Wikipedia Definition

First, the wikipedia definition: Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

OK, stop right there! What the heck is "micro-blogging?" While I don't know who cooked up the term, it's a suggestion that Twitter is a blogging tool, one limited to 140 characters. Hence, "micro" blogging.

Why 140 characters? Because the guys who dreamed up Twitter (Biz Stone and Evan Williams, the same guys who created Blogger) saw it as an SMS (text messaging) tool. In other words, it was first conceived as an application for mobile devices, but one with a web-based interface.

Even though it started that way, Twitter's user-base largely ignored the SMS side of things in favor of the web-based version. At one point, due to bandwidth and thru-put demands on Twitter's servers, SMS capabilities were actually shut off. Essentially, Twitter started out as one thing and became something else. (More on that in a moment.)

Better Definition

A better explanation was one given to me by a gentleman (whose name I don't recall) I met at a social media conference in Houston a few month back. He referred to Twitter as a "high latency instant messaging application."Huh?

Twitter is like Yahoo! Messenger or AIM or any number of instant messaging applications, only you aren't compelled to respond immediately, if at all. Hence the term, "high latency."

Best Definition

In my opinion, Twitter is best defined as a social instant messaging application. "Social" in that you friend others who then see your posts and follow them (the term in Twitterese is, in fact, "follow," though it means the same thing), and "instant messaging" in the sense that it has that feel to it.

What it really is is a conversation stream that you jump into at any given moment in time and start talking. Participation is the price of entry. (More on that in a later post.)

More from Wikipedia

"Updates are displayed on the user's profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them," says wikipedia. "The sender can restrict delivery to those in his or her circle of friends (delivery to everyone being the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, SMS, RSS, email or through an application such as Twitterrific or Facebook."

Twitter's Evolution

As mentioned above, Twitter started out as a mobile application, but morphed to something that was largely web-based, thanks to its users. And, I mean, let's face it, if you're following a few hundred people, do you really want to get text messages from everyone of them? You can pick and choose who to receive such messages from of course, but even if you've limited it to a handful, if they're avid Twitter users, you're phone will still be dinging all the time. In my view, it's overkill. If you like the SMS component, that's fine, but I'd limit it to a select few.

Back to the evolution...

Speaking of the user-base, Twitter's founders have been fairly well-receptive to the way Twits (one term for Twitter users) are using the app. For example, at some point people started using the "@" symbol to address a single individual via their Twitter handle (e.g. @pchaney). It was a way to delineate that the message wasn't for everyone, but for that specific person.

It wasn't long until Twitter incorporated the activity as part of its functionality. Not only that, they added a direct messaging capability enabling users to send private messages to individual users.

That's enough for this post. I'll be back tomorrow soon with another talking about how to use Twitter, explaining proper "Twittiquette" and sharing the rules of the road.

In part 3 (yes, there will be a part 3 and a part 4; I told you it would take more than one post.) I plan to delve into some of the applications that have developed around Twitter thanks to its API (A geeky acronym which stands for Application Programming Interface. It's a way for one application to be used by or integrated into another.)

Part 4 is where the water really meets the road in terms of how to use Twitter for business. I'll provide some practical, real life examples, including some from fellow agents. Look for that early next week.

Comment balloon 0 commentsAnn Dail • November 12 2008 03:58PM