What Can Twitter Do for You?

Whenever I start a conversation about Twitter with someone who doesn’t use it — or who tried it, but never got beyond the inane act of twittering some insignificant detail of his daily life — I get eye rolls, throat clearing and other signals that suggest I should change the subject.

But if I start a conversation about Twitter with someone who has taken the time to use it, I get the exact opposite response: an instant conversation about fresh ideas, emerging thought leaders, newly revealed content and trends in social media that comes at me faster than an overcrowded chat room.

I am in the latter camp. For me, Twitter is not another Facebook. It’s not about connecting with lost friends or letting your virtual posse know what you’re up to. It’s not simply a source of breaking news à la US Airways Flight 1549. And despite the fact that it blows Google away as a real-time search engine, even that barely begins to describe Twitter’s true potential.

Instead, I’ve found far greater benefits to incorporating Twitter into my life and onto my desktop. Here’s what Twitter’s given me:

1. Instant access to thought leaders in social media, digital trends, technology and marketing in the new age of community. They’re all here: the staff of Wired, the lead strategists at the next generation of agencies, the pioneers of social media itself. Not just the expected names like @crowdsourcing  (Jeff Howe) or @johnabyrne (BusinessWeek’s digitally proactive editor) or @henryjenkins (MIT’s director of comparative media studies) or @jaffejuice (Crayon’s Joe) but a new generation of even younger social media enthusiasts. Most of them are remarkably generous with their knowledge, willing to answer questions, share ideas, even give away their content. 

2. An opportunity to experience crowd sourcing in action. Conduct a brainstorming session in your own agency and you’re pretty much limited to the usual suspects. But on Twitter there are thousands of people willing to help out. And because no one pays attention to seniority or title, new voices are more willing to express an opinion that more often than not is both fresh and provocative. I’m constantly surprised where the quote or thought or insight or example I’m looking for comes from. But it’s always to be found.

3. A new way to connect with Millennials. We live in a society that does its very best to isolate generations. But because a Twitter relationship centers around content, information and ideas, it erases differences in age. I’m now connected with college students in New York, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami. Many of their blogs are far more telling than another research report from Simmons or Forrester. And all of them are willing to make me smarter about how marketing has to change if it’s to connect with a generation defined by community, collaboration and responsibility.

4. The first hand experience needed to become an authority. As has been noted by Adweek, clients are critical of most agencies’ lack of experience in social media, specifically calling them out for not using the space themselves. For me, hanging out on Twitter inspired ideas like Trash Talk from Section Twitter and RedCarpet09, two virtual gatherings created around the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. They not only became successful events in and of themselves — generating visibility for Mullen and attaining status as hot topics on Twitter — they demonstrated to clients how one agency in particular actually gets it.

5. A better understanding of how to weave together all things social. If nothing else, Twitter gives you a clear sense of everything a brand can and should do with social media: enable connections and ultimately create a community that let’s you listen, engage, inspire, build and mobilize. Maybe you can’t achieve social Nirvana with Twitter exclusively — you still need a broader brand network, relevant content and genuine utility — but Twitter makes it easier to create connections and to identify the content and utility that can help make sure those connections last.

Yes, there are challenges. Co-founder Ev Williams admits that Twitter needs to come with a set of directions; the functionality remains less than obvious. It also takes time to determine a personal strategy. Are you building your individual brand? Seeking new contacts? Looking to master a category? Or simply practicing what we all have to preach? To make things more complicated, there are hundreds upon hundreds of Twitter apps to consider, thanks to the open API. Figuring out which ones matter is in and of itself a chore.

Still, it’s worth the effort. If you haven’t joined yet, you’re missing out. If you gave up the first time around, give it another go. And if you want help making it easier, contact me. I’m @edwardboches or http://twitter.com/edwardboches. I’ll gladly share everything I’ve learned about the platform, and willingly introduce you to a few hundred people who can teach you everything I don’t know.

Edward Boches is chief creative officer at Mullen. He can be reached at edward.boches@mullen.com or @edwardboches on Twitter.