Whenever I’m asked about Twitter, it’s usually from people with the pre-conceived notion that everyone there is a self-absorbed narcissist tweeting about what they ate for breakfast. And while Twitter does attract more than its share of self-centeredness, it’s also much, much more.
Twitter often defies explanation, but my niece has one of the best I’ve heard:
Twitter is like my own personal-pocket-Yoda. My following includes financial, biblical, life, musical, leadership and spiritual advisers.
That says a lot about why people use Twitter. It’s the same reason people subscribe to email newsletters, or read blogs, newspapers, and even books—to get information that’s valuable to them.
Some people, like my niece, find financial, musical, leadership and spiritual information valuable—and she follows those who can provide it. Others want to know about Kim Kardashian’s fight with her sister. Apparently, that’s valuable information to them.
Following someone on Twitter is much simpler than subscribing to an email list—for both the follower and the followee. All that’s required is that both have a Twitter account. To follow someone, just click the “Follow me on Twitter” button—like so:
That let the genie out of the bottle, because it enabled celebrities and the like to be “followed.”
Twitter is about Connecting
I recently started following a pastor from Seattle, after listening to him on a video. Expecting to get wise, sage advice, I was surprised (and a little annoyed) when I started getting tweets about being stuck in traffic and where he ate lunch that afternoon.
It took me a while to realize what was happening. To me, where he’s stuck in traffic, thousands of miles away, is meaningless. But to the multitudes in his congregation, it’s a connection to someone they’ve longed to meet face-to-face, yet are unlikely to. You see, it’s impossible for a man in his position to have a personal relationship with several hundred people; yet Twitter allows him to connect with them in spite of that. To the members of his church, a tweet about being stuck at I-90 and Rainer Avenue South means something: “Hey, I was stuck there, too,” or “I ate at that same restaurant last week.” People can reply to his tweets and a conversation can ensue.
But Twitter’s content is unique. Unlike newsletters or blogs, a tweet is limited to 140 characters, so it’s intended to be a short, personal message (known as microblogging). But, oftentimes, that content is delivered in a unique and personal manner—directly to one’s cell phone … you know, that personal computer we all carry around on our hip or in a purse. This allows the person tweeting to connect with their followers or fans on a level that’s much more personal than a blog or email ever could.
After all, it’s called social media for a reason.