I started using Twitter when it was born because as an Internet marketer, I needed to understand it. It took a long time to understand! And today, very few do. My friend Andreas Ramos wrote a book on Twitter marketing (presently free, http://andreas.com/twitterbook/) and found execs inside Twitter who don’t really understand how it is used.
One reason it’s misunderstood is that there is no single reason. It is like asking for the one reason people use the telephone.
Here’s my list of reasons people use Twitter. What have I missed? Let me know in the comments.
1. Stay in touch with close friends. This is analogous to how teenage girls talked on the phone for hours when we were young, except now it’s many at once. This includes the trivial uses the press focuses on (rather stupidly, in my opinion) like sharing what I ate for breakfast (multigrain hot cereal with brown sugar, by the way).
2. Very rich source of news and information, often more up to date than any other channel. For instance, CNN has multiple channels (@cnn, @cnnpolitics, @johnkingCNN, and @cnnBrk, a breaking news channel). It’s especially good for specialized sources like @theonion, @gizmodo.
3. Follow celebrities, whether it’s @kevinbacon, @ladygaga, Alton Brown, Bill Gates, or to local celebrities such as the executives of your company or your town council. This is a “one to many” channel.
4. Company or product affinity. For instance, you could follow @JackBox or @Zappos. Some companies (@VirginAmerica, for instance) use this really well, sending information of interest and actually listening to responses from their customers. There are numerous stories of how Virgin America has instantly replied to customer complaints, such as a time when someone complained how cold it was in the waiting area and Virgin dispatched someone to fix it, right then and there. Many send offers, such as @amazondeals. But most companies stupidly waste the channel, sending a stream of company-centric, lame product news.
5. Listen to great thinkers or cultural icons. For instance, I follow Penn Gillete, Dan Ariely, some online comics authors, and Malcolm Gladwell (“Security at Newark Airport just patted down my hair. Can’t figure out if that’s racial profiling”) to see what is bubbling in their brains. Some are leaders in my industry, such as search marketing wizards @dannysullivan and @randfish; or analytics god @avinash. Some of them post frequently and you get to taste their stream of consciousness. Some post more deliberately.
6. Live conversation: This is one of the more interesting uses. If you watch the Superbowl or the Oscars with friends, people comment on the proceedings. With Twitter, the same thing happens frequently. Using hash tags like #49ers or #superbowl or #americanidol, you can share comments with others who are watching. On a smaller scale, this is done at conferences. For instance, I recently attended a CMO conference and a few people remarked on the proceedings: http://twitter.com/#argylecmosf
7. Background noise: A lot of folks tune in to their Twitter feeds kind of the way some people have the TV on whenever they are home.