You know you’re doing something strange and new—or at least something new—when every time the activity comes up in conversation at a social gathering, the barbs come out. “Why do you waste your time with such nonsense?” people ask. And so it is with Twitter, the social networking thingamajig which we have both lately adopted with a degree of enthusiasm that surprises our friends and family and, well, even ourselves.
Over the past few months, we’ve really come to love Twitter. We’re not saying we believe that it’s going to transform the world, as some of its proponents will tell you, but we certainly understand its business potential. Indeed, if Twitter continues to expand at its current rate, twittering might well become an extremely valuable tool to help companies to brand themselves and micro-target consumer groups. It may also be a good tool for managers who need another way to interact with their people, and vice versa.
But this doesn’t explain why we find ourselves tapping away at our keyboards in 140-character bursts ever so often. OK, three or four times a day.
We tweet because we can’t stop.
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Why? Well, not for the reasons we first thought. In fact, one of us (that would be Suzy, @suzywelch in the lingo) started tweeting for good, old-fashioned marketing purposes. Suzy had a book coming out, and everyone who was in the know kept insisting, “Social media is where it’s happening.”
That proved to be excellent advice. Twitter’s accessibility, informality and reach helped to Suzy land several great interviews (mainly with bloggers), generate crowds at book signings, disseminate dozens of reviews, drive traffic to the book’s website and, best of all, create a warm and encouraging community for the book’s readers. On @suzywelch, Suzy started calling this group her “twiffers”—Twitter friends— after many of them replied sympathetically to her Easter tweet, “Just been informed by family I will not make the mashed potatoes this year. What do they mean, ‘Too much butter?’”)
Eventually, @suzywelch became such a Twitter booster (read: fanatic) that @jack_welch decided to Twitter too—albeit with the caveat, “I just don’t get this thing.”
But within 24 hours, he did. Every time he opined about the Red Sox or Celtics, dozens of sports enthusiasts opined back. It was the same for politics and business, and this launched dozens of fascinating mini-debates about everything from US President Barack Obama’s economic policies to the Chrysler, and now GM bankruptcies.
Twitter allows you to attend the world’s biggest cocktail party, and to join the diverse and (typically) very civilized chatter. Some of what you hear (and say yourself) will be frivolous. But most of the chatter will provoke, inform and otherwise engage you in a way that you simply cannot replicate offline.
Best of all, at least for us, Twitter helps you to test—and improve—your ideas. A few weeks ago, for instance, @jack_welch tweeted that two events might be the “green shoots” of a new bipartisan movement in the US. The thoughtful pushback—yes, even in 140 characters—certainly contributed to the column we wrote on the topic.
Similarly, when @suzywelch was preparing to interview financial guru Suze Orman (@suzeormanshow, by the way) she reached out to Twitter world for input. One comment—“I love Suze Orman, but I’m not sure she’s walked in my shoes”—ended up being the spark for Orman’s much-discussed “Are you kidding me?” response.
Let's not get carried away, though, regarding Twitter’s usefulness as a work tool. Any boss would be annoyed by how much time we fritter away on our new toy. To wit: Writing this column took about twice as long as expected because we had to keep checking for reactions to the “What’s so good about Twitter?” query we had lobbed out there.
In typical Twitter fashion, the answers came fast and furious. People told us they tweet “because it’s fun,” “to feel more connected in a disconnected world,” and to “communicate with staff”.
All good reasons, for sure. But this message really resonated with us: “I have tried to explain to people why I tweet,” it read, “but the best I can come up with is: Start tweeting yourself and you’ll figure it out.” That’s exactly what happened to us. We stumbled on to a conversation that seems to be just getting started. We think we’ll stick around.
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Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at firstname.lastname@example.orgPlease include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.