It was on a gorgeous summer day that I vowed I would never Twitter.
I was speaking at a Seattle conference of tech-savvy professionals, feeling rather old fashioned as I tried to network (i.e., talk to people in person) before the opening session. The guy on my right was zoomed in on his iPhone (AAPL). “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Twittering the conference,” the man said. He didn’t look up—just kept tapping. The woman next to me had her laptop browser open to Twitter, too. I was surrounded. That’s when I made my vow.
A recent Web 2.0 fad, Twitter is an instant messaging stream, or microblog, that allows you to publicly broadcast short-short messages to your “followers.” But I think it’s bad for business.
Twitter is the ultimate in self-centeredness. To imagine that anyone would want a running commentary of every moment of your life puts you—as a businessperson—at the center of your world when in fact that’s where your customer should be. It feeds the isolated narcissist who wants “followers,” rather than live contact with actual customers.
If I am tweeting about my lunch with you while we’re having lunch, then we’re not having lunch together. If you’re tweeting while we talk, we’re not talking. And if your customers are tweeting, they can’t be buying from you.
In this world of pseudo-personalized and artificial everything, real contact is better for business. Pick up the phone, people. Go visit a client. Go to an event. And don’t be afraid to talk to the people you meet there.
At first, I thought Twitter was ridiculous. Who could possibly want to know what I was doing? And why would I want to know what they were doing?
Instead, a year and a half later, Twitter has become an important part of my daily information flow. How?
First, as you gain followers, Twitter can serve as an incredible knowledge network. I’ve found software for my new Mac, good deals on hosting services, recommendations for office chairs, and answers to a zillion other questions I’ve tweeted.
Second, by allowing me to follow leaders in their field who Twitter, the microblog suggests where I should focus my attention. New Web services, products, tools, research—I’ve found all via others who “tweet” about their work. Following media outlets as well can alert you to breaking news. I find myself reading my Twitter stream far more than RSS feeds.
Third, Twitter has connected me to people, face to face. If I go to a conference, a quick Twitter search can reveal who else is there. I’ve met fascinating people—and yes, generated business deals as a result.
Fourth, Twitter has deepened my connections with people I know. I’ve learned about new aspects of their lives. And for home office workers, Twitter can turn into a virtual water cooler that eases the isolation.
Corporations like Comcast (CMCSA) and Southwest Airlines (LUV) use Twitter as a customer service tool (BusinessWeek, 09/08/08). Political campaigns employ it to keep supporters informed. Heck, the Los Angeles Fire Department is even tweeting out fire alarms (useful if you live there).
So is Twitter a nuisance? Like any tool, it all depends upon how you use it. For me, the answer is: No way. Twitter and other microblogging services are here to stay.
Please send us your ideas for new Debate Room topics. If you're an academic, association officer, or other industry expert and would like to write a Debate Room essay, send us a query. Questions? See the