Twitter: For the Birds?

To be honest, I was dubious about Twitter at first. Because technically, when you’re writing about what you are doing- you’re actually ceasing whatever activity you were engaged in to type on a computer. Even birds do something while they tweet, right?

Besides, those limited posts are not exactly conducive to elegant prose.

But rather than be a killjoy, thought I’d delve further into the phenomenon of Twitter. I started by asking one of the savviest technical guys I know, a certain M. B., what appealed to him about Twitter.

What he stated made absolute sense. To boil down his much more eloquent and in-depth comments: it is quick, convenient and can be used with your phone- you can take it anywhere and you don’t need to lug along a laptop. (And, if you think about it, that’s what’s been happening in Europe and Japan for years. They have been making much better use of cell phone technology for years. But North America is getting there….finally.)

That’s just in the case of the average user. Apparently Twitter has also been a boon to the Los Angeles Fire Department in terms of communicating during disasters- that’s striking in its cleverness – especially as municipal agencies aren’t exactly quick to embrace change, technological or otherwise.

Now what about Twitter’s use for public relations? Think about those two words- you’re relating with the public – and this is a new way to do so. It’s also a great way to give companies a human face and to connect to their key audiences. Innovative companies are using Twitter for customer service purposes and gaining credibility boosts for their efforts.

The best (and best-known) example of this is Zappos. In fact Tony Hsieh, its CEO, has created a handy and well-written starter guide and tutorial for Twitter.

And Twitter may change the way the industry intereacts with clients. The nifty blog PR 2.0 pointed out just last week the use of a new application named TwitPitch. For this year’s Web 2.0 Expo, social web application expert/author Stowe Boyd was only accepting TwitPitches for meetings with companies. No e-mail proposals at all.

TwitPitch (which may be named ironically- think about it) takes the idea of the conciseness and clarity required of good PR writing to a whole new level. You have 140 characters- go! It will be interesting to see to what extent this catches on and what it means for PR practitioners.

In the meantime, Twitter will have its more mundane and narcissistic uses. But as one of our profs noted, it must be remembered that it’s not the technology that’s stupid, but the way that some people use it.

So for every idiot out there who is going to bars with “Twitter walls” and posting what they are doing so they can see their posts up on that wall –You’re in a bar texting that you’re in a bar texting. Way to go — there’s someone else making good use of the technology.

Maybe those who really want to feather their nests should get tweeting….?

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13 comments so far

  1. Brian Humphrey on

    Abby,

    Thanks for your kind mention of the Los Angeles Fire Department on Twitter.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  2. Jets Fan Brad on

    What the heck is Twitter? And when are we going to hear about how Joe Girardi should be fired! More sports!!!! Oh, and HEADLINE rules!!

  3. thatsroger on

    Abby, thanks for posting all those interesting links! Gave me some neat stuff to read up on. I’m happy we are learning to use these tools like del.icio.us and soon we’ll be super bloggers to share information with each other.

    Like you, I first thought Twitter was pointless but now understand its importance. I’m interested to find out if/when it’s going to go mainstream. Nobody in my circle of friends uses it and I wonder if they ever will. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter it’s been around for nearly two years now.

    When I run for president I will do so entirely on Twitter.

    Sarah

  4. Orwell on

    Twitter is sent from the Devil to destroy us. In all seriousness, I hate it. It is a system designed to not talk face to face. It also allows you to stop whatever you are doing and find someone. It’s the next step in never having to be alone. No wonder we are so dependent on one another…we can’t be alone.

  5. Ironic on

    I agree with Orwell (or Mr. Blair).
    I teach, and too many of my kids have social groups like Facebook and Myspace, but they also have Twitter as a way of talking without texting.
    It is also the ultimate act of narcissism. Here are my thoughts as of right now. Sure, the fire department can use it for positives, but what’s faster: Twitter a cop or call 911?
    As a blogger, I am aware of how This sounds hypocritical, but it’s true (and that is man’s greatest luxury).
    Twitter is a boon, but it is also a bane.

  6. bibliothecaire on

    It’s being used in media, too — the Bryant Park Project has a twitter feed. Some libraries are exploring the idea, but have a hard time getting over the hurdle of finding a way to get people to subscribe to it.

  7. abbymartin on

    Whew! Lots of catching up to do.
    Ironic: I hope my blog will be as enlighting for PR as yours was (and I wish I could use is- your blog is missed very much) for teaching. I think Twitter is bane or boon depending on who is using it and how. As my prof said elsewhere on this wide web, it’s an extension and a mirror of who is using it. And that’s true for any platform.

  8. abbymartin on

    Bibliothecaire

    Thank you for bringing awareness of some of the other uses of Twitter. People may not be subscribing now but I think they will with time- service is having a lot of hiccups as of late because the user base is expanding so rapidly. Soon it will be more mainstream and as people get more comfortable with it, subscriptions should rise.

  9. abbymartin on

    Orwell

    Yes, people may be too connected in some sense these days. But all this interconnectedness can be a godsend if, say, you are far away from family and friends and can have an experience that is more of an interchange. Phoning is better but also more expensive and not always possible.

    Love the handle BTW.

  10. CVerhulst on

    I think the world is missing the point in technology – The fire departments using twitter is good use – the idiots in bars are just that, idiots.
    Soon the good old handshake and a smile will be a lost art.

    So, just what do birds do while they tweet besides tweeting?

  11. abbymartin on

    Welcome CVerlust- nice to see you posting here.

    I agree that there is too much electronic connection and not enough person to person connection.

    And I think that technology and how it is used reflects the user quite a bit. Like the Force- can be used for good or evil, depends on the wielder.

    I think birds lay eggs, forage and/or fly while they tweet, don’t they?

  12. John Nick on

    Hi all!

    Nice site, Abby! Here’s a terrific article about Twitter in the mainstream — an American student used it to alert his college that he’d been arrested and imprisoned in Egypt.

    I did Twitter for awhile, but didn’t stick with it. Tried it on, it didn’t fit, I moved onto other things.

    I’d not categorize it as the work of the devil. I reserve that characterization for American Idol. With Twitter if you don’t like it you can ignore it.

    It’s basically this conversation:

    Twitterer: I’m doing this; do you care?
    Twitteree: Sure, why not. I’m interested.

    The fact that it’s limited to 140 characters per message often results in haiku-like succinctness.

  13. abbymartin on

    John Nick

    Thank you so much for the article and the comment.

    I liked your summation of Twitter- it struck me as funny because it is so often true. You do get a lot of posts like “I’m buying shoes. whee!” But for some purposes it is fabulous. The Obama Twitter feed keeps you updated about what he is up to and where he is and I imagine if you are a journalist,it’s handy.

    BTW- agree with you 100% on American Idol. (shudder)


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