Monday, March 21, 2011

To tweet or not to tweet?

It’s Twitter’s fifth birthday today and judging by the comments left on most of the media articles I have read covering the milestone, there are still many people unconvinced of its value.

As far as the social media industry is concerned Twitter is widely regarded as second only in influence to Facebook. This doesn’t seem to be reflected in the opinion of the general public, indeed even amongst my largely ‘technology-savvy’ friends. The general gist of most conversations I’ve had seems to be ‘what is the point’ and ‘why bother’.

Despite this apathy it is difficult to argue that the micro-blogging site hasn’t already had a significant impact on many peoples’ lives. Much of the unrest recently seen in the middle east has been associated at least in part with rebels using social media sites, including Twitter, to organise demonstrations. The site has also been used extensively from within countries suffering under various government regimes to make the outside world aware. Many recent news stories, including Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, have also been initially notified to the world via tweets. If nothing else this shift to people-reporting must be impacting traditional news sources.

In commercial terms there still seems to be some ambiguity around how the site makes money, for its owners and users. Though Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has indicated that the site is already generating revenue through advertising, it would seem the ‘real’ revenue source has yet to be uncovered (judging by the sky-high valuations of his organisation). As far as users are concerned, especially businesses, the value generated by tweeting currently seems to be pretty intangible. There are an increasing number of companies offering insight and strategies or how you can generate revenue from Twitter (and similar social media applications) but the discipline is still in its infancy.

From a personal point of view, I use Twitter as a filter on the wider internet to steer me directly to things in which I have an interest. By following other users with similar interests to my own I am exposed only to links posted by others to web pages/articles/information that I want to read. I no longer need to ‘surf’ the internet, I just look-up the links posted by others. This makes the whole exercise far more efficient, especially when I’m using my mobile phone. I have also found Twitter particularly helpful for real-time updates on football scores and traffic problems... information that is often delayed elsewhere.

I have received a number of significant tangible bonuses from using Twitter over the last couple of years. The top three of which are:

Ticket to MWC11
Easily the most valuable benefit (in monetary terms). I managed to snag a free ticket to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona courtesy of BlackBerry. This provided a great opportunity to take a good look at the latest developments in the mobile industry and more importantly gave me the chance to catch up with many friends and ex-colleagues I hadn’t seen for a while.

Crisis at Christmas
In response to a link requesting volunteers over the Christmas period I started an ongoing involvement with the London based homeless charity Crisis. As well as helping out at their annual Crisis At Christmas event, I have also helped with a number of other fundraising and support events. In addition to the obvious benefit of helping others in a less fortunate position, I have made some really good friends.

Tour of local distillery
My most recent treat was a last-minute chance to visit a local gin distillery based just around the corner from where I live. Sipsmith is the first gin distillery opened in London for almost 200 years and already has some great stories about its location and product development. The ‘tour’ included a chance to meet the three ‘smiths’ behind the operation and a chance to sample their products (including a particularly enthusiastic tasting led by the creator/designer of the gin). Overall a fabulous evening I only discovered by following tweets.

Based on these three benefits alone I think I can justify my continued use of Twitter; now if only I could find a real use for Foursquare...

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