Still Don’t Get Twitter? Maybe This Will Help

by Paul Gillin on April 16, 2009

twitter-logoIt’s okay to admit it. You’re among friends. You’ve been on Twitter for a couple of months now and you still can’t figure out what the heck all the fuss is about. It took me a while to “get” Twitter, too, but now I find it an indispensable part of my toolkit for gathering information and promoting my work. Here are some things to think about.

The 140-character limit is liberating. Writing blog entries is a time-consuming task. I’m not the type who fires off one-sentence posts, so I like to put some thought into what I say on a blog. In contrast, Twitter’s 140-character limit lends itself well to quick thoughts that I believe are worth sharing with others but that don’t justify a full-blown blog entry. Very little of what I tweet makes it into my blog and vice versa.

The 140-character limit can also be frustrating. If you have ever engaged in an e-mail exchange using Twitter direct messaging, you know it can be disjointed. At some point, you need to jump to e-mail. That said, 140 characters does force you to focus your thoughts and to write succinctly,

Public conversations. Twitter gives everyone the option of making discussions public. You can’t do this with e-mail, and it’s difficult to accomplish on a blog. If you believe that your exchange with others would benefit from public input, or if you just want to expose the discussion to others, you have that option. You can always take things private via direct messaging if you wish.

Immediacy. When you just can’t wait for information, Twitter can’t be beat for getting your question to a large group. It’s impractical to do this with e-mail. People’s inboxes are already cluttered with spam and you have no way of getting your message to people you don’t know. Also, through “retweeting,” a message can reach a large number of people who aren’t on your follower list. This brings new perspectives to the conversation and gives you the opportunity to discover people you wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Retweeting. While we’re on the subject, don’t underestimate the power of the retweet. When someone picks up your message and forwards it to their followers, it magnifies your reach and often recruits new followers in the process. Sending provocative messages that others retweet is a great way to build your following and your contact list for information-gathering and promotion.

Discovery. Twitter is the most efficient mechanism I’ve ever seen for discovering interesting information. I could literally do nothing all day but monitor the “All Friends” feed in TweetDeck and read interesting articles that others recommend. If it weren’t for Twitter, for example, I wouldn’t have known that Travelocity has hotels in Las Vegas for $22 a night. This discovery process is not unlike scanning the pages of a newspaper, but it’s much faster and more encompassing. Also, you know that comments and recommendations from certain people will be of particular interest to you, so you have the option of drilling down on individual profiles to see what they’ve been saying recently. Chaotic? Sure, but that’s part of the discovery process.

Searchable. If you want to find out what people are saying about you right now, services like Twitscoop and Monitter enable you to instantly track mentions of your company, product, industry or whatever and to save them as RSS feeds for later browsing. You can do the same with Twitter Search. Google Alerts currently doesn’t index Twitter feeds, but Filtrbox does.

Twitter is a deceptively simple idea with remarkably powerful applications. People are only beginning to tap into its potential.

Paul Gillin is an author, speaker and writer who advises businesses on online marketing. He is the author of The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to Social Media and the newly-published Secrets of Social Media Marketing. He blogs at

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Stuart Foster April 16, 2009 at 10:42 am

Twitter is great, because the barrier for entry is so low and it is completely customizable. You can use it for any purpose, reason, or marketing strategy. You really can’t fail with the service (unless you spam people incessantly).

Great points Paul. I’m hoping more will read this article…and finally see the light.

katelynjane April 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Thank you! There was a few things here that I didn’t know! Thanks for the links too, I’m going to check those out right now (:

Edward Krebs April 17, 2009 at 10:53 am

Be aware the term “Discovery” in this topic is the end user value proposition use of the term. As enterprises delve into various applications of the new tools, including internal, business 2 business and of course social marketing, one of the top concerns is the ~other~ primary use of the word “Discovery” in business – essentially the legal and compliance definition regarding what ESI (Electronically Stored Information) is where, how can it be gathered for litigation or audit, etc. This can be a real concern for companies, and will hold many back from adopting these tools if we aren’t openly discussing and dealing with the realities of a litigious society.

mandy April 24, 2009 at 6:13 am

gr8 tips

rockyamericaninistan April 28, 2009 at 1:43 am


Judy May 4, 2009 at 10:47 am

It doesn’t get much better than this. Sharing is Caring, Judy Reynolds

Logan Paulson May 8, 2009 at 11:05 am

Good article. I’m not quite there yet – some days I think I totally get it, and then I have days where nobody responds to me and I don’t get it at all.

Renee May 24, 2009 at 11:29 am

You still didn’t explain. On what instrument is twitter done. How is it sent? Does it go to people on your mail list? It seems to go to the world in general and the person who is interested must somehow get the message.
Please, when you explain something consider that the asker doesn’t know the answer at all.
Answer the question. What is twitter, on what is it done, how is it accessed.
Plain and simple.

Subir Saha June 11, 2009 at 7:53 am

Great tips for twitter..

Subir Saha June 11, 2009 at 7:54 am


Tonya September 25, 2009 at 1:08 pm

So… can you “talk” to other people with this? Can you subscribe to someone’s tweet and then be able to send them tweets? I’m confused!

Paul Gillin September 25, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Each Twitter user has a personal “news” feed of tweets from the people they choose to follow. Your tweets will show up in the news feed of anyone who follows you. All tweets (other than direct messages) are public and searchable by the world. “Following” is a means of narrowing down messages to a subset of people whom you choose to follow.

shubham agrawal May 15, 2010 at 2:47 am

it is the marvellous way to attach with the person who is far away, in just 140 words.
The person who is misguide about twitter they must come and have a glimps of it.

suchet October 26, 2010 at 9:30 am

totaly confussed………………………………….

Mark November 3, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Hmm, I still don’t “get” it?

Just like send 140 char. and people can see it from around the world or what? It’s basically what a website does anyway and what wikipedia does – but at a local level. Still don’t see what all the fuss is about too be honest.

frank kelly November 16, 2010 at 8:22 pm

does twitter reach around the world,uk and europe in particular?

KK:D December 22, 2010 at 1:29 am

This seems stupid. Facebook seems more pratical in my perspective :)

Cheryl G December 27, 2010 at 9:17 pm

I’m kind of getting this thing. It is a lot. But I think for sure it will be a useful tool for getting the info. I need quickly

Tom G A March 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I think i understand a little about your explanations. But not totally.I think some “for example” would be helpful.

Terence Tan June 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Can twitter make my PetFood ingredients software be more reachable by all?

Jackson Petrl July 12, 2011 at 7:26 am

looks like people with no much else to do.

yoska August 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm

i am not getting of any thing fact meaning of twitter please give me simple and easy info about the fuss thing

yhoubíššš December 12, 2011 at 4:28 am


yhoubíššš December 12, 2011 at 4:31 am

i am not getting of any thing fact meaning of twitter please give me simple and easy info about the fuss thing

Judy February 12, 2012 at 3:55 pm

this still didnt answer my question and I still remain as confused about it as I was when I asked about it. Does it cost anything to send recieve tweets or sign up PLEASE answer in plain ENGLISH.

kurian February 15, 2012 at 3:23 am

pls give me more plain what is Twitter ?

Scarlita Townsend February 24, 2012 at 3:52 am

What is the difference between Twitter and Tweeter? Confused.

vemuru tatarao July 18, 2012 at 7:01 am

Twitter is wonderful. Email is useful to send messages to a select group, whereas twitter is open to the world .

Kakar August 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm

tweeter is a bit interesting activity. I use it frequently but it is still not very common. due to this it does not help us, so we should make it public.

Jamila August 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I just don’t get it, but really want to understand……

Janet M. Jensen April 1, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Is this a joke? People really want to know all (or as much as possible) about Twitter. No one answers them. Perhaps the Twitterites are all in an asylum. Those who do not understand should be grateful for their freedom. Rejoice, non-twitterites!

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DB November 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I still find it useless. 148 characters of nonsense and irrelevant garbage. It just goes on and on and on. I’d rather turn it off and read a book…a paper book. I think Twitter dumbs down our society to bits and blurbs. It shortens attention spans and breaks down linear though. I deleted my FB account over a year ago and I do not miss it or the privacy violations. I created Twitter account today and got bored with it in about 90 seconds. Follow interesting people? The suggestions were a joke,,,,Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres….I mean who freaking cares about pop culture. All Twitter does is enable itself. If you think you are making “friends” or “contacts” on Twitter, dream on. Same as FB…who actually has 200+ friends that they actually know and care about. January 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

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