The Human Element
4. Engage the conversation, on Twitter and beyond.
What makes Twitter work, and what makes it so special to its users, is its potential for human interaction. "I think the question that Twitter's really asking and that all our tweets are asking is 'What do we have in common?'" says Fitton.
People show a tremendous loyalty for companies and products that they feel represent people "like us" -- witness the community of Apple users. Being genuine and forthcoming, as well as taking part in the natural back-and-forth of conversation on Twitter, goes a long way toward showing people what you have in common.
And it doesn't stop there. Although Twitter itself is a finite community, there's no reason the conversations that start there need to stay there. Twitter should be just one part of your social media presence, says Scoble. "Don't just Twitter. Do blog posts, post pictures on Flickr, put videos on YouTube, list events on Upcoming.org [an event guide that defaults to the San Francisco Bay Area but that you can set to your locality when you join], quote Twitterers in your blog posts," he says. What you want to do is create ties between your Twitter presence and the rest of the Web.
5. Use the right tools.
Twitter's Web interface can be somewhat confusing and ill-suited to some tasks. Fortunately, a wide variety of alternative tools for Twitter have been developed for just about every platform. Some simply make it easier to perform common tasks such as sending direct messages. Others add new features like automatically updated keyword searches, easy URL shortening or marking tweets as read or unread. Finding the right tools for your particular personality, needs and Twittering style can be a challenge, but here are a few recommendations to get you started -- and they're all free.
At Your Desk
Both Scoble and Fitton agree that Twitter's built-in search function is the single most important tool. Using the advanced search options, you can find tweets with specific keywords or phrases; those written by or for certain users, on particular dates; and so on. You can even subscribe to any search as an RSS feed.
The desktop client TweetDeck goes a step further, allowing you to run multiple searches that are updated in real time as your keywords are mentioned on Twitter. (In other words, it integrates search feeds directly into the interface.) TweetDeck also allows at-a-glance access to your direct messages and replies, as does another popular desktop client, Twhirl. Running on Adobe AIR, TweetDeck and Twhirl are both Mac- and Windows-compatible. Both of these clients are powerful alternatives to the Twitter Web site, although some users, including Fitton, prefer to use Twitter's home page.
A number of Firefox extensions let you do things with Twitter directly from your browser. For example, if you see a Web site you want to share with your followers, Shareaholic allows you to tweet it with one click. And TwitBin puts Twitter into your browser's sidebar so it's always at your fingertips.
Another tool worth mentioning is FriendFeed, a service that lets you consolidate updates from more than 40 different social media and social networking sites -- including Twitter, Digg, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious and Flickr -- and create threaded discussions. "FriendFeed gives people a place to talk about your tweets," says Scoble, and can be an important extension of your online persona.
On the Go
Finally, you can take Twitter with you when you're away from your computer using any number of clients on your smart phone. There are dozens of Twitter apps for the iPhone, but the one getting the most attention at the moment (and Scoble's favorite) is Twinkle, which includes a location feature that allows you to find other Twitterers nearby (it's available from the iTunes App Store).
On the BlackBerry, TwitterBerry is your go-to client; Twitter fans also recommend TinyTwitter on Windows Mobile and Java-based cell phones (including the BlackBerry), and MoTwit on the Treo. All of these are solid apps with strong followings.
Try one on your mobile device and keep tabs on your Twitter account during those moments of downtime between meetings, standing in line, sitting in the back of a cab or waiting in a plane on the tarmac for two hours, and you'll start to see why Twitter is much more than meets the eye.
Logan Kugler is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has written about technology and business for more than 30 national magazines including MacLife, PC Magazine, Success and Advertising Age. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story, "Twitter for Business: Tap Power of the Tweet" was originally published by Computerworld.