Is Using Twitter Twice As Important As Using a Hammer?

February 21, 2009

1430449350_a4392bb04a_mHow many hits does  “how to use Twitter” return on Google? Currently 67,900,000. That’s twice as many hits as “how to use a hammer.”

I just did a survey of the 20 people in this coffeeshop. 19/20 looked up from their laptops and said a hammer was a useful tool. (One said “leave me alone.”) 3/20 or 15% had used Twitter, and two of them thought it was a useful tool. Then I got back to my keyboard and found that “leave me alone” guy had tweeted “who is this idiot asking people about hammers in the coffee shop?”

Here’s the mathy part:  if every Twitter user were Sybil with 16 different personalities and 16 different opinions about how to use Twitter, we haven’t come close to explaining 68MM hits.

Of the posts out there, some are useful. If you’ve never used Twitter (or if this blog post is incomprehensible to you), Cnet’s newbie guide is helpful. Amber Naslund’s Social Media Starter Kit post on Twitter goes deeper and is more business-oriented. Lots of other good ones – what are your favorites?

“How to use Twitter”, beyond the basics of signing up and tweeting, is a lousy question. Many of the “how to use a hammer” results are useless if your goals is pulling nails with a clawhammer, sinking finishing nails, or advanced ballpeenery.  The real question is “how to use Twitter for ___”. You fill in the blank.

I saw this in action this week when @sw_headgeek mentioned that he was having trouble keeping up with his Twitter stream. I asked what client he was using – it was twhirl.  That’s a fine client if you’re using Twitter as I do, as ambient text radio with the occasional @ conversation or dm exchange. But the geek needs to track a few different groups: key influencers in his industry, friends and internal collaborators, @ replies and dm’s, and everybody else. So now he’s giving tweetdeck a try.

Will it be better? Probably – because we’ve considered his purpose before giving an answer. “X is the BEST Twitter tool” is fundamentalism.

Many “this is how you should use Twitter” posts (including the current hot topic, auto-dm’s) amount to fundamentalism also. Me, I don’t get upset if someone auto-dm’s me. I might unfollow  if the dm amounts to “welcome, click my junk”, though.

We don’t need a new etiquette (twitiquette) rulebook, we just need to remember that “social” is the important word in social media. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be nice. Listen, don’t just talk. And when people break those basic social rules, karma will take care of it. The profiles on Twitter spammers say it all – “following 1,363, 75 followers?”

photo by Kyle May


5 Responses to “Is Using Twitter Twice As Important As Using a Hammer?”

  1. Gordon Rae Says:

    Pointless sarcasm and bad use of data.(Is there is anybody who knows what a hammer is, but doesn’t know how to use it?) This post is a good example of how ‘old school marketing’ struggles to come to terms with innovation.

  2. rsomers Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Gordon. I have to admit I’m a little surprised by it. Did you think I was dismissing Twitter? Far from it. I’m just advocating keeping the purpose in mind when selecting the tool (Twhirl, Tweetdeck, etc).

    Beyond that, if you don’t care for the tone of my blog, sorry ’bout that. There are plenty of others out there that may make you happier. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Tim Walker Says:

    Some good points here, Russ. I especially like the phrase “ambient text radio.”

    N.B. that my own opposition to auto-DMs is not, I hope, fundamentalism. I have seen them used well a few times. It’s just that, when I see SO many otherwise decent people use them in SUCH counterproductive ways, I want to offer some better alternatives.

  4. rsomers Says:

    Thanks Tim! One of the things I’ve liked about your stance on auto-DMs is that you focus on alternatives. Instead of simply saying “bots = bad”, you point out some downsides and abuses, then suggest a number of other ways of accomplishing the same goal.

    You say this best at And I love the Carnegie quote in there because it captures perfectly why a well-crafted, personal dm can be the equivalent of smiling warmly and saying “tell me more about yourself, Tim.”

  5. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Russ. The longer I’m in business, the more I see gaping missed opportunities — at every level — to do things better. I’m trying to remedy this the best I can with my blog.

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