Twitter (for entrepreneurs)

January 19, 2009 in 5 out of 5 stars, Twitter

What is it?

Twitter: A means of being part of The Conversation. The fourth leg on the internet communication stool (yes, the stool has four legs now). Email, Blogging, IM, Twitter. (I know, I know. Bear with me.)

A note: this post is for those of you who have never heard of Twitter, or who don’t “get it.” See the rest of you back here for tomorrow’s post!


Who makes it?

Those smarties who changed the world by creating Blogger – Evan Williams (@ev) and company. Could they really be responsible for pioneering two of the four most important internet communication methods? Turns out that yes, yes they could. And they have.

Hard to believe? Read on.

Why is it the killerest?

Well, let me start by saying that only because of the pedigree of this service, I reluctantly signed up back in 2006.

Then promptly rolled my eyes.

I figured it was one more shiny object the internet kids were chasing. So I largely ignored it. But instead of fading away like a fad, the noise only great louder, the adoption more widespread, and finally, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I think it was when Shaq  (@THE_REAL_SHAQ) started using Twitter seriously. I mean, if Shaq gets Twitter?

So I decided to invest a little time to see if I could “get it.” And get it, I did. Bear with me, and you might get it too. And yes, this is extremely relevant for entrepreneurs. Chances are, you want to get it.

First, a quick description. Twitter is about communication. It’s kind of like micro-blogging. You make a “post” (called a “tweet”), of 140 characters or less in length, and anyone who “follows” you, can see your post/tweet. Most will just see it, anyone can reply to it if they want, and you both move on. It’s that simple.

At first I thought: what do I care if someone just ate breakfast? I have to admit, that following someone you don’t know, or know of – and hearing about them eating breakfast has pretty limited personal appeal, at least for me. That said, one of the uses of Twitter, is to connect with your friends and family who do care that you just ate breakfast, and this is a way to share that, without sending out an email, or making a blog post, or saying something on IM which expects a response.

But Twitter is about more than that. And you as an entrepreneur need to know what that more is.

First step, you need a tool. Not the website. You go there to sign up, and you go there to find new people to follow, but you don’t go there to use Twitter to communicate. This is important to know. The moment that I “got” Twitter, was when I started using TweetDeck. Now, there are a couple bazillion similar products, I happened to choose this one first after a little research, and about 24 hours after starting to use it, I suddenly “got” Twitter. TweetDeck gave me an interface where I could easily watch, and be part of the conversation. This is key. I can’t imagine deriving the real value from Twitter just relying on the web site to stay connected to it.

For those of you who aren’t in front of your computers all day – Twitter was also (perhaps originally?) created for you. You can do everything I discuss via your phone with text messages and apps for your iPhone or similar phone. This is a whole huge aspect of Twitter that I haven’t dived into yet, but if you’ve got a phone with texting, you can be part of the The Conversation too.

Ok, so the key understanding Twitter, as I elude to in my intro, is to understand that Twitter helps you be part of The Conversation. What’s funny is that starting to use Twitter, was like putting on special hearing aids that allowed me to hear a new frequency. Suddenly I became aware that there is indeed a conversation going on that I had no idea about. Now that I’m using Twitter, I’m part of the conversation. I think for most entrepreneurs, being part of the conversation is exactly what you want to do. No matter what your market segment it, chances are that segment is having a conversation on Twitter. Do you want to be part of it?

So here’s how you get started:

  1. Go to Twitter and sign up. It’s quick, easy, secure, and they don’t spam.
  2. Download TweetDeck, or any number of the other options out there, or get it set up on your phone
  3. Find some people to follow. You can search for them, or everyone has a public list of the people they follow, look through a few of those lists and you’re sure to find someone that interests you.
  4. Sit back and watch the conversation.
  5. Jump in and participate.

It’s that easy, so give it a try.

Some ideas on how to be part of the conversation:

  1. Provide your followers what they are looking for. If you follow me, for example (@Carson), I’ll be posting ideas, stats, news bits, links, and other items of interest related to my interests (entrepreneurism, business, marketing, SEO/SEM, photography, etc.). Plus I do micro-reviews of everything I review here, with a link back to the full review. So it’s another way to keep up with
  2. Use it to interact with your market.
    1. Chase Jarvis (@chasejarvis) uses it to connect to fellow photographers, clients, and prospects.
    2. Comcast (@comcastcares) uses it to (primarily) field gripes and respond to frustrated customer’s questions and comments.
    3. Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki) uses it to spam his stuff, and offer interesting links and commentary, and communicate with his followers directly.
    4. The CEO of Zappos (@zappos) uses it to talk to customers and admirers of his company.
    5. Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) uses it to promote his work with charity, and keep fans updated on his training.
    6. Barack Obama (@BarackObama) used it to help campaign.
    7. Karl Rove (@KarlRove) uses it to bring balance to the force.
    8. Or maybe that’s just Darth Vader’s job (@darthvader).
    9. Twitter (@twitter) uses it to keep you updated on the news, health, and the status of

      You get the idea.  
  3. Be real. Be human. It’s expected that Twitter is fairly personal. Use the common rules of decency and courtesy, of course. But telling us about what you had for breakfast on occasion, is probably ok. Let the real you come out. Part of the fun of Twitter is allowing us all to have a less formal conversation. So go ahead, let your hair down.
  4. Talk back. Part of the fun of Twitter is that it’s a one-to-many, “two-way” conversation. If someone says something you want to respond to, you can reply by starting your tweet with the at symbol (@) and their Twitter name, then post your tweet. The recipient will get a special notification in their “replies” area of what you said. For example, one of my favorites on Twitter is John Hodgman (@hodgman). He’s the comedian who plays “The PC” on the famous Apple Computer TV commercials.  John affectionately refers to his Twitter followers as “the hive mind.” And he regularly interacts with them. He’ll post a question. And his followers respond.
  5. Let people know they can find you on Twitter. Put a link on your site/blog (I have one on my sidebar). Depending on what your purpose is in using Twitter, you might want to somehow let your clients/prospects/customers know they can find you there. Don’t be obnoxious of course – but let anyone who cares know where to find you. The more people who follow you, the greater your ability to participate in The Conversation.

A few pitfalls to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t be overly commercial/spammy. This isn’t a marketing email. Save that stuff for your… well, marketing emails. I mean, if I’m following Adam Savage (@donttrythis) (he’s the guy on the US show Myth Busters who doesn’t wear the beret) I don’t want him jamming his show down my throat, telling me to watch, etc. What I want is the inside scoop, the personal connection – what he might share if we were buds. And that’s exactly what he gives. Perfect.
  2. Go easy on the volume. I love @guykawasaki, but he is so prolific I had to unfollow him and resolve to keep up with him by checking his Twitter page periodically instead. Because I like to actively monitor the conversation, I prefer not to have someone who dominates the conversation. 
  3. If you ask a question and get an answer – share the answer with everyone. Many times your followers will have a similar question, and be anxious to hear the response as well. Remember, your followers don't get the replies you get.

You can start slow – I am (I really only started a couple weeks go). Start by listening. Spend a few days observing, and picking up on the culture, the chatter, the general feel of the conversation – then when you feel comfortable, wade on in. 

Now that I understand Twitter, I have to tell you that I’m completely floored by it. And I was the biggest skeptic on earth. I made fun of it for years. Scoffed at my friends who used it. Invited them to get a life. Suggested they were probably real big fans of MySpace too. But I was wrong. First – it’s a whole lot of fun. But second – it’s useful. It’s a new way to communicate. It fills a gap that email and blogging and IM just don’t meet. You may not feel like you have that gap, but I invite you to give it a try for a week and then let me know where you stand.

What could be improved?

Frankly, I hope they don’t do much. They have an API which allows outside parties to extend them (like TweetDeck does), and I believe they should leave that to them. They’re more like a protocol at this point, and I think that’s exactly where they should be.

How much does it cost?

Just a whole lotta your time, if you're not careful.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

p.s. This presentation isn’t catered to how the entrepreneur might use Twitter, but it does describe how it works, and where it fits in communication picture.

p.p.s. Darren Rowse of Problogger fame (@problogger) has a site dedicated to Twitter Tips. It has some good ideas and things to think about as you're getting your feet wet.

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The perfect guide! I sent this to my assistant who just gets confused with Twitter. What's funny is that she got the idea faster than an hour of explanation from me. I should've seen this early on. I love :)

Posted by: Marie | Jan 26, 2009 12:33:03 PM

Thanks for the kind words Marie, glad to hear your assistant is now up to speed!

Posted by: Carson McComas | Jan 26, 2009 12:38:25 PM

So how's Twitter different from any other blog that support RSS feeds? That is, aside from having limited message length and a proprietary network that you have no control over?

I wish I could take a common place technology, reduce its functionality, take away everyone's control over it, and make huge $$$ in the process. Oh wait, Twitter's not generating any revenue, not even from adds! Oops!

Sorry to troll, but I'm sick and tired of seeing everyone drink the Twitter Kool-Aid without at least explaining why it tastes so good.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 28, 2009 11:04:36 AM

She is, and seems happy about it. :) She's been reading on ever since I passed her this guide.

Posted by: Marie | Jan 28, 2009 2:41:56 PM

@Chris - if my case here hasn't persuaded you why it tastes so good, I invite you to try it out, use one of the tools I recommend, and let me know if you don't get it. Not everyone will - clearly - but there's something here that I didn't get until I tried it with an open mind. Now I get it. In spades.

Posted by: Carson McComas | Feb 9, 2009 1:42:36 PM