Those of us who spend a fair amount of time online love our shiny new toys. We seem to always need something new to try out. And one of the shiniest toys these days is Twitter.com.
But the question I get from other entrepreneurs and business owners is, "why"? Why bother with social media tools like Twitter in the first place?
Well, today I came across a good business reason for using Twitter.
That reason: to get and give word of mouth referrals. That reason proved to me the value of using a tool like Twitter.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is one of the hottest social media sites around. It is like a string of instant messages that others can read and respond to.
Twitter messages are very short. You're limited to 140 characters per message -- about one sentence. You don't get bogged down writing a lot, because you literally cannot write anything long.
One of the reasons I find Twitter a bit addicting is that it gets people talking to one another. It's designed to be fast -- encouraging quick back and forth repartee. It's also designed to be social -- it encourages people to communicate with one another.
I liken Twitter to having a conversation with a group of people at a big lunch table in the company cafeteria. People come and go as their schedules permit. One person leaves, and another person sits down in his place and joins in. Multiple conversations are going on at once. You join in this conversation thread or that one, depending on whether you have something to add. Some of the conversations are purely social. Some are business related. Some are nothing more than a little office gossip. The main difference with Twitter, though, is that you're conversing online in short text messages, instead of verbally in person.
By contrast, writing a blog post or a forum post can seem solitary -- it's just you, your thoughts and the keyboard. It may be hours, days ... or never ... before someone responds back to your blog post. Don't get me wrong -- blogs are great or I wouldn't spend so much of my time writing on them. But they are designed for longer, more in-depth thoughts, and not for rapid back and forth communicating. Blogs serve entirely different purposes.
Word of Mouth in Action
So, back to Twitter.
Most of us don't have the luxury of time or extra staff to spend on things that may be nice to do, if they don't add to our bottom lines.
A social media site had better have a good solid business purpose.
And that purpose is what I ran into today, with Twitter.
A business colleague emailed me and asked if I knew a graphics designer. This is a colleague who does not use Twitter. In fact, he happens to be a Vice President of a company that may well have a need for ongoing graphics design work. Who knows, it could turn out to be a beneficial long-term relationship.
I went over to the Twitter.com website and posed the question: "Business colleague is looking for graphics designer who takes on smaller projects: headers, banners, etc. Know anyone?" (I used 118 characters, well within my 140-character limit.). Within a matter of minutes, I had 6 referrals. A few hours later, I had 4 more referrals, for a total of 10 different referrals.
I was able to pass on those referrals to my colleague.
And since my network on Twitter contains both local contacts as well as International ones, several of the referrals were to local designers -- something my colleague may prefer.
It took me about 15 minutes of time to compose a short message on Twitter, copy and paste the responses into two emails I sent to my colleague, and respond back to those who sent referrals with quick "thank yous." And for that, I was able to get 10 word of mouth recommendations.
Imagine if I had tried to do that via telephone or individual emails. I'd still be waiting for responses -- and I would have spent considerably more time.
Oh, and all the responses were positive ones of recommendation. No one wrote back and said "whatever you do, so and so was terrible so don't use her or him" as they might have done on a consumer review site. Why? Because for the most part we know who the other people on Twitter are. They are not hiding behind anonymous fronts and who-knows-what agendas. It was straight-forward word of mouth.
My experience is not unusual. I see such word of mouth referrals taking place regularly on Twitter among others.
That single experience with word of mouth was worth it with Twitter. So if you need a reason to justify using social media such as Twitter, just think about how how word of mouth works online. Word of mouth -- the ability to share it and spread it -- is often one of the most valuable benefits of social media sites. It could help you identify and sort through vendors, service providers, resources, and other needed information and recommendations that will help you run your business.