One day I woke up and realized everyone I knew was on Twitter.com. Business blogs that I love and read regularly lay neglected while bloggers twittered away instead.
Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. Not everyone is twittering. And not every business blog is going un-updated. Still, a lot of business people I know seem to be spending more and more time on Twitter, sometimes to the detriment of their blogs. So I set out to find out why.
Twitter is a kind of public instant messenger stream. You go online or on your mobile device and send text messages ('tweets') of up to 140 characters -- or about one sentence long. Your tweets can be read by others, and you can sign up to follow the messages others write so that you can read theirs.
Often the messages are incredibly mundane. 'Just landed at San Francisco airport.' 'Body can't seem to adjust to the time change.' 'Reading e-mails --147 in my inbox.'
Some messages are so trivial that at first you'll be shaking your head. How could extremely intelligent people -- the early adopters of technology -- waste their time on such banalities, you wonder?
But stick around long enough on Twitter and you, too, will get sucked in.
Mixed in among the short updates from friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or people you'd like to get to know, you start to notice patterns. You start picking up small clues about their personalities, about their priorities, and about events in their lives. It's a mosaic, a backdrop that helps you understand how they tick. You become more engaged in them and in their work precisely because you learn some details of their personal existence. You start to care more about them on a personal level. Thus, you care more about their work and become a more engaged member of their community.
Not everything on Twitter is trivial, either. Look close enough and you'll find that many are using Twitter for business purposes. They're mixing in personal trivia here and there -- but underneath it all business is getting done.
I asked a deliberately provocative question on Twitter, 'Why are people abandoning blogs for Twitter?' And I got some interesting answers.
Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com replied in typical abbreviated Twitter fashion: 'I'm not sure people are abandoning blogs for Twitter (although some casual bloggers may be). It's more like augmentation.' And it's true that most bloggers seem to be doing both: writing on their blogs but also twittering in between as a way to stay connected, communicate with others, and learn what's going on behind the scenes.
Paul Chaney of Conversational Media Marketing replied at more length -- ironically, on his blog. He pointed out some of the business benefits of Twitter, such as how you can use it to get an audience with well-known figures in the business and tech world, such as Guy Kawasaki or Dave Winer via Twitter. You can use Twitter to network; to broadcast announcements about an upcoming event or a new post on your blog; to share resources; and generally to build relationships.
Lee Odden of Top Rank Blog has conducted a reader poll asking how people use Twitter. The top three uses of Twitter as I write this are:
Sharing links to items of interest to your network (34%)
- Networking for new contacts (18%)
- Reinforcing current network contacts (16%)
Should we anticipate bloggers giving up their blogs and writing on Twitter instead? Not so fast. Oh, I've seen the occasional blog here and there that now consists of nothing more than the writer's Twitter stream imported in. Without the variety of seeing other people's Twitter messages mixed in, those single streams of Twitter messages are crushingly boring. And like those leftovers forgotten in the back of the refrigerator, it's not long before stale Twitter messages become unappetizing.
Twitter is best enjoyed when the messages are fleeting, ephemeral, and allowed to fall off your radar screen quickly (although just like with instant messages, there is a permanent record of your tweets, so watch what you say).
Blogs, on the other hand, being longer and taking more time to write, tend to be a more lasting way of communicating.
In the future, I expect to see a combination of both. Entrepreneurs and business owners will continue to write on their blogs, providing the kind of great content that we value so much from blogs. But we'll also have the added context that comes from these short-burst Twitter messages. We'll be able to read a blog and then jump over to Twitter to layer in the context, in a real-time fashion, of what the blogger is thinking and feeling and doing each day behind the scenes. And that just might make our interest in reading their blogs grow.
Anita Campbell is a writer, speaker and radio talk show host who closely follows trends in the small business market at her site, Small Business Trends.