Eight Ways Twitter is Useful Professionally

Mat Balez is predicting the demise of Twitter in 2007. He’s not the only one who doesn’t see the value in it: many people wonder just what’s the big deal. We already wrote that though Twitter isn’t necessarily a great way to manage your to do list, it does have a place in the web worker’s cache of online tools.

For those of you who still wonder whether it’s anything more than inane stream-of-consciousness, consider these ways in which Twitter can help you professionally.

  1. Make existing professional relationships stronger and more intimate. I know where Jane’s traveling this week and that Joe’s caught that flu going around. This makes them more human to me and it’s a decent substitute for meeting physically.
  2. Get questions answered. Say you’re trying to put a plugin in your WordPress blog but it gives you errors. Tell your Twitter friends and someone might be able to help you. Now, you wouldn’t have emailed all those people to ask and you wouldn’t have instant messaged them either… but a broadcast message to those paying attention is a lightweight non-intrusive way to do it.
  3. Expand your professional network. By paying attention to @ messages, you see who people you’re working with are working with. If the discussion is interesting enough, you might find someone you’d like to follow on Twitter… and eventually work with.
  4. Promote your blog posts. I don’t tweet every time I post something, but sometimes if it’s one I’m especially proud of or one I want quick feedback on, I’ll post a tinyurl to it.
  5. See what people are interested in. I just looked at my Twitter page and noticed that one of my friends is already trying out Grand Central. Now I know who to talk to to get an opinion on it.
  6. Find out when your colleagues are available for a chat. Nobody wants to bother someone when they’re in the middle of an important project, but IM presence indicators aren’t totally reliable. On the other hand, if someone twitters that they’re “searching for something to do” you know it’s a good time to check in with them.
  7. Create an ad hoc back channel at conferences. Though Twitter’s not ideal for this lacking as it is in temporary groups or any groups at all, I’ve seen it used effectively to bring together conference attendees and conference “watchers” — people who aren’t at the conference but would like to know what’s going on.
  8. Learn important news. I’m much less dependent on my newsreader now because I hear about cool stuff all day via Twitter. For example: I didn’t know that Starbucks was giving away free coffee today until I read it on Twitter.

Twitter’s not without its problems, of course. It’d be great to have Twitter groups, so you could send messages to just a subset of people who are interested in a particular topic. The performance has sometimes been less than adequate as everyone piles in to try it. I suffer from Twitter addiction occasionally, when I compulsively watch Twitter messages roll by instead of doing real work.

Call me a Twitter fangirl if you must — I am one — but don’t let that stop you from considering Twitter as more than just noise. For the web worker isolated from colleagues and interested in making loose connections into productive working relationships, Twitter might be just the thing you need.