Twitter - Terrific Tsunami or Tiny Trickles?

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Incubated and hatched just three years ago, Twitter was then a little chick in a nest, struggling to find its way in the world of social media dominated by giants. Today, it is huge, with staggering growth rate of 1,382 percent a year (compared to 228% for Facebook).

Founded by Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey (Williams was also the developer of the highly popular Blogger application), Twitter is a service that allows you to send short messages of 140 characters to your followers, and this can be done both online or via a mobile phone. Unlike SMSes though, messages can be embedded with links to websites. You can also retweet messages to your followers, and this is where the Word Of Mouth and buzz qualities of Twitter comes in.

More and more people are hopping (or flocking) to the Twitter microblog wagon. In fact, Twitter is the social media application of choice amongst Fortune 100 companies according to a recent study from Burson-Marsteller (from Their study cited that 54% of the Fortune 100 companires have a Twitter presence, compared to 32% with a blog, and 29% on Facebook.

Twitter has grown so huge that there are more than a thousand third party applications developed for it, most of which have adopted the prefix Tw - Tweetdeck, twistory, twhirl, Mr. Tweet, twitterholic, twinfluence, We Follow and God knows how many more others. Blogs like this have also been established to purely track, analyse, report and comment on the state of the state of the Twitterverse.

The latest developments in Twitter are money making advertisements or sponsored tweets. One of the company's name is just that - Sponsored Tweets - and it provides a pay per tweet service (read more here). Others include Magpie and local player Nuffnang's latest foray called ChurpChurp. has an interesting take on this, which you should read here.

Some businesses have been twitterific. They include sport e-tailer which was recently sold to for a cool $928 million - and all its management will stay intact. Its CEO Tony Hsieh has more than a million Twitter followers.

While much of the news appear rosy, cracks are already appearing in the Twitterverse. Some naysayers are already predicting its death, saying that its too crowded. In fact, Oprah Winfrey (with almost two million followers) has already abandoned Twitter.

For a start, most twitter followers are not friends, and the authority of Twitterers based on just followers alone is questionable. Like blogs and facebook accounts, most of the people on Twitter are sheeps - 80% have 10 followers or less each. Like other social technologies, 90% of tweets are generated by 10% of users according to a Harvard study.

Many Twitterers are also quitters, with 60% quitting within the first month. This compares badly to its competitors Facebook and Myspace, which have bigger retention rates. I suppose this could probably be attributed to the amount of effort needed to set up a Twitter account compared to a Facebook or MySpace account, which are seen as more personal profiles. Easy come, easy go?

Like other social media applications, monetising the platform is also a contentious issue. A major challenge is the 140 character platform which makes it difficult to put disclaimers in there. Plus, I bet the click through rates for links on tweets are going to be a lot less if you are following 10,000 Twitterers.

So should one flock chirpily to Twitter in that humungous aviary?

Well, there are lots of ways to use Twitter. They include providing a customer feedback channel, disseminating "live" news quickly, providing conference updates, sharing jokes, quotable quotes, making new friends, setting up meetings... the list goes on. You can also be connected to Twitter online or offline (through the mobile), so its a (God forbid!) truly 24 by 7 channel that you can bring around.

However, one needs to tamper one's use of Twitter with realism. Unless you are a celebrity, a president or a hardcore Silicon Valley insider, you are never going to have a hashtag that spreads to millions (unlike #michaeljackson, #obama and #sexscandal). Finding the right followers who are believers of what you have to say may be superior to having a gazillion followers who barely knows who you are.

Do beware of twitter spamming others - there is a huge backlash against folks who use their Twitter accounts purely for selling purposes. If you really want to broadcast all the time, try television.

Remember to also keep it personal and individual, even on corporate Twitter accounts. People like to relate to another person with their quirks, idiosyncracies and emotions. Otherwise your tweeter account will feel like its operated by a faceless, nameless bot.

Like blogs and Facebook accounts, the principle of reciprocity works here. So if you retweet me and recommend me (eg on #followfriday for instance), the likelihood of me doing the same is high.

Ultimately, like many other social media platform, Twitter is about cultivating relationships and providing information or resources of value to one's followers. That's where its true value may lie.

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