Let me be perfectly honest, I don't think the social media is worth much as a marketing tool.
That makes me something of a pariah in the marketing world, where so many people and companies are trying to make a living from convincing companies that it's critical. Why am I out of step with the rest of my industry? Well... experience. I have found that it quite simply doesn't work.
It's not just a South African thing - it doesn't work for my clients in the UK, Australia or Canada. If Facebook doesn't work for my clients with an ultra-feminine demographic (you don't get more Facebook-friendly than a weightloss and beauty spa and a bridal boutique), then I'm pretty sure that it isn't going to work for my ultra-macho industrial and construction clients. Those guys don't communicate when you put them in a room together liberally oiled with a few beers, they certainly aren't going to sign up with Facebook.
I've seen a lot of media hype in my 20 years, hell I've created some of it, and social media is just another communication medium. Not a miracle, not even revolutionary, not useless - just one more channel to connect with clients and prospects.
So why do I like Twitter?
Other than LinkedIn (yes, it works if you're a consultant) there is hope for Twitter. Firstly, it doesn't throw ads in your face. Secondly, you don't have to join first - I like a medium that "shows a little leg" before asking you for your name, email and credit card details. And that also means it has a MUCH wider audience than more restrictive sites.
It is also very open and friendly in terms of linking into your website - unlike Facebook whose sole priority is to get you onto their website in order to see their adverts.
There is nothing else quite like Twitter: it combines social networking, a daily diary and a public message board. Over the past year, Twitter has really taken off as a potential communications medium.
What is Twitter really?
Twitter is a free way for people to send and receive short messages - the maximum is 140 characters. You can tweet via the Twitter Web, or with a cell phone or using any one of numerous applications designed to make Tweeting easier. (I use Tweetdeck and it has saved a lot of time.) Users are called "twitterers" and the messages they send are called "tweets."
As the interest in Twitter increases exponentially, it's no shock there are numerous misconceptions about it. I'm going to look at five of the main ones that my clients ask about.
Myth #5: Twitter Is about "What I'm doing now"
Yes, Twitter IS status updates. When you open a Twitter account, the first thing it asks you is "What's happening?" Many people just answer that question. I notice that Facebook users tend to use the Facebook phraseology like "is updating her blog".
Tweeting is a way of drawing attention to the best information to be found on the internet about a topic that you are interested in - whether it's climate change, entrepreneurship or immigrating to Canada. When you follow someone, you're simply saying "I find what you have to say interesting enough that I want to be able to keep tabs on it easily."
My personal verdict: Twitter is what you make it. A marketing tool,a branding tool, a social tool, a source of useful content on a specific topic. But it can easily eat up a lot of time. Not because of the tweets themselves, but you are continually drawn to great new content you never knew existed.
Myth #4: Twitter is for people who don't have a life
I guess you might want to let everyone know about how you're standing in line to buy groceries, or that you've just had a fight with the boss, but Twitter is growing as a communication tool for networking and distributing useful information.
Egotists will use Twitter in a narcissistic fashion. But Twitter isn't much fun unless other Tweeteers take notice of you - which they won't if your tweets consist entirely of navel-gazing. The people who get the most out of Twitter over the long term are those who identify ways to reach out and engage their fellow human beings in conversations. Painfully obvious observation.
My personal verdict: I assumed when I started that creating original content would attract the most attention, but often retweeting is a better way to be noticed and followed. Being interested in other people is more likely to get them interested in you. I guess that is a universal truth that I should have learned before now!
Myth #3: The 140-character Limit is a liability
Having limited characters to work with can be frustrating but I believe the 140-character count is one of the best things about Twitter. It requires you to get to the core of the topic you're tweeting - the key points that will make it interesting. It helps you become a better writer by forcing you to delete superfluous words (it's amazing how many you can end up doing without). It makes tweets - the really good ones easy to read and follow.
My personal verdict: It is one of the few internet applications actually improving human literacy. You ever hear anyone make the case that haiku would be improved if it involved twice as many words?
Myth #4: There Is a Right Way to Use Twitter
There are social rules, and a few technology requirements like knowing the difference between @, RT and D... very complex stuff. But saying there is a wrong way to use Twitter is like saying there's a wrong way to hold a conversation (actually the wrong way to hold a conversation is to forget to let go!) You should use Twitter any way that works for you.
For example it's not rude if you don't read every tweet your followers send. The more followers you have (hundreds, thousands) the more difficult this becomes. It's also not rude if you don't follow everyone who chooses to follow you. Maybe you do, maybe you don't -- it depends if you find someone's twitter feed interesting or not.
My personal verdict: There's one profoundly wrong way to use Twitter and that is as a vehicle for spam. Luckily except for lots of internet entrepreneurs and "social media experts" trying to find an easy way to make money online most users are normal, nice people. I don't think this will last. Virtually every website I do is inundated with senseless comments that include links to YouTube or other websites as far eastern users try to build links to increase Google page rank. I am amazed they are not yet inundating Twitter with spam.
Myth #5 The more followers you have, the better.
There are already applications coming out to "increase your followers". Sometimes you pay a few dollars per 500 followers. Sometimes you agree to follow everyone in the system (and they agree to follow you). The result is a figure for "followers" almost identical to the figure for "followed".
But you have to learn to not get too excited when you get a boom of followers. I wrote an article on "Network Marketing" and I picked 60 followers in that business. A few then went on to READ the article, and realised that it was extremely critical. And promptly unfollowed. So don't be upset when you get a a "bust" of followers either.
My personal verdict: Twitter is a very good way to get instant feedback when you write content for a living. It's not a competition - concentrate on being interesting in your niche field.