What is Twitter for, exactly?

I was discussing Twitter with a colleague the other day and we came to the conclusion that really, we don’t know what it’s for. Neither do a lot of other people.

Even The Guardian is perplexed. It mentions that futurist Warren Ellis uses Twitter. Well, that’s just great for him, but with things moving so fast and in such unpredictable ways, can futurists get this stuff right any more? These new social media sites seem to come from nowhere then everyone is talking about them. Had you heard of Twitter, Facebook or even Second Life more than, say, six months ago? And could anyone really have foreseen that texting would become the force it now is?

It could be that its success is down to doing just one thing well and its seeming readiness to be taken into other platforms. It could also be that it’s a form of micro-blogging. However, it seems to me that whereas blogging is about sharing content, Twitter is absolutely about building communities. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s the cheapest way to amass a community and monetise it. The actual 140 character message is largely irrelevant. It’s just a way of forming massively valuable data about social groups without just asking people to link for the hell of it.

I have to say that frankly I cannot think of a good, solid PR use for it. Nor any other use come to that.

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6 thoughts on “What is Twitter for, exactly?

  1. From a PR pov it’s handy for stalking journalists, make sure that they’re heading for heathrow the day of the press trip, getting some immediate and usually unfiltered feedback.

    As for everyone else, it is more about the connection than the content.

  2. For me ‘Web 2.0’ isn’t about the Technology, it’s about a change in social behaviour and attitudes that technology is influencing/being influenced by.

    Argubly Twitter wouldn’t have taken off if it didn’t appeal to a very specific need for people to share their ‘presence’ with others.

    When you say “a good, solid PR use” for Twitter – how do you mean PR use? If PR is about building relationships with the public – or specific publics – then there’s no better way than by sharing your personal activities/thoughts etc (providing your publics are interested that is).

  3. I’ve seen Twitter used to announce products, build WOM campaigns, help a CEO communicate with his customer-base and general brand building. All of these are direct to people who have chosen to listen (not always a liberty we in the PR world can realize).

    Additionally we’ve also started using Twitter for ‘micropitching’ editors and it’s been effective, particularly with business pubs. Journalists have always asked for less from us PR types…Twitter kind of forces that point and teaches us all to be more concise.

    /kff

  4. Very, very interesting indeed. I really like the forward-looking, innovative approach here. I have a hard time explaining to people how useful Google Reader is so it’s good to know some PR people are embracing the new tech (and Web 2.0 is *also* about the tech as well as the change in behaviour – the two go together). I particularly like the emphasis on being concise.

  5. Hello FG. Here’s a good post from Dave Winer on what Twitter is. A bit jargony, but one of the more concise descriptions I’ve seen. http://www.scripting.com/stories/2007/07/27/whatTwitterIs.html

    For PR purposes, I’ve personally used Twitter to reserach stories from my buddy list very quickly, build relationships with journalists and PRs (both those I knew previously and new contacts) and I’ve developed online PR widgetry for clients using Twitter as a simple SMS remote publishing tool. I think part of what makes Twitter work and equally what makes it confusing is its open-endedness. The Twitter people themselves say that they are still in research mode.

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