Tweet for visibility

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on April 29, 2009

You may be wondering what all the fuss is about, a free web tool that allows users to bombard friends and strangers who take an interest in them with regular updates on what they are doing and thinking about. Last week, comScore, a company that measures and tracks the digital world, announced that Twitter had more than doubled its visitor base in the space of just a month, making it the top-gaining Internet property in the US.

But Twitter’s popularity extends well beyond the US, where it added more than five million visitors in March, increasing total US visitors to more than 9.3 million. Since the beginning of the year, Twitter visitors have surged more than 1,000% according to Hitwise, another Internet intelligence gathering firm. In Singapore, Twitter increased its popularity ranking by 239 points to become one of the city-state’s top 50 websites. Worldwide, about 14 million visitors use Twitter regularly.

Although neither popularity ranking nor actual visitors to Twitter are available for the Philippines, commentary in the Blogosphere suggests that it is gaining visitors. A similar site, Plurk, is also popular in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. Although no hard data is available comparing Plurk and Twitter usage in the region since the first of the year, anecdotal data (Ronald Bien, a graphic designer, has 16,545 visitors following his posts. Other Twitter elite can be found here.) suggests that Twitter will soon eclipse Plurk.

Founded by 10 people in San Francisco, Twitter created what’s called “microblogging.” It provides online presence or visibility to politicians, celebrities, and business executives, and according to a New York Timesreport, has quickly become an important marketing tool for these individuals. The obvious example was actor Ashton Kutcher’s well-publicized race to one million followers with CNN. The actor won April 17.

Amidst the Kutcher-CNN race for the most followers, talk show-host Oprah Winfrey joined the Twitterati and within 24 hours had 125,000 followers. When I was writing this column Monday afternoon this week, she had 560,000 followers. While these are great visibility gains for both Twitter and its well-known users, it’s not yet clear how either will generate direct revenue as a result. But what matters for now for users is simple: If you don’t Tweet, you’re missing out on an important visibility opportunity.

Unlike “traditional” blogging, Twitter visitors write 140-character mini-commentaries (There are applications that allow visitors to call in verbal updates as well.). Often, the commentaries include a URL link to a photograph or a blog where an idea, activity, or announcement is more fully explained. This is pretty typical for businesses explaining a new product and service, and celebrities who want visitors to drop by their websites or their show’s websites. Politicians, not surprisingly, usually just mini-pontificate.

Visitors can search for friends as well as celebrities, politicians, and business executives (or just businesses) to follow. When visitors choose “to follow” Google, for example, they automatically receive a Tweet, as a Twitter post is called, whenever whoever is assigned to twitter at Google about new services or other announcements does so. Visitors can respond to posts directly. Some visitors run contests to see how followers will respond to ideas or comments.

When individual visitors make smart mini-commentaries, other visitors may take notice in a variety of ways and become followers. Visitors who make inane Tweets, which is typical, probably won’t generate many followers. However, those visitors are still important to businesses because they immediately tell them what the market is saying. learned this lesson in a difficult way when it reclassified gay and lesbian literature to adult literature. A noisy protest on Twitter and blogs forced the company to restore the original classification.

Governments should be alert, too, not just businesses. Mostly young users in Moldova used Twitter to organize protests earlier this month following what they perceived to be rigged Parliamentary elections. There are other very practical ways in which Twitter can be useful as well. According to another report in The New York Times, surgeons performing delicate brain surgery twitter back and forth with other experts during operations.

One of the best things about Twitter is the amazing array of applications available to make using it easier. Most are developed by third-party enthusiasts, and for now are free. They are available at the Twitter Fan Wiki, and include desktop and Web applications. As far as I can see, the missing piece in these apps is a mobile application for my BlackBerry. On my laptop and desktop I use a popular application called TweetDeck that allows me to follow updates on both Twitter and Facebook.

For me personally, one of the greatest values is following interesting people, such as political commentator Ana Marie Cox and tech columnist David Pogue. They are both a riot. More importantly, they teach me to think and communicate more compellingly.

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