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By Thomas Baekdal - June 2009

What the Heck is Twitter?

There is a bazillion articles and videos, trying to explain what Twitter is all about. There is also a ton of surveys, most noticeable a recent one telling you that only 10% of all Twitter users actually post tweets on their own. But here is the thing... They are all giving people the wrong ideas!

Twitter has changed tremendously since it was first invented. At first it was merely a place where you could tell people "what you are doing", like when you told people that you were "sitting at Starbucks having coffee". But that is not what Twitter is about anymore.

Twitter is not a traditional social network. Twitter is not a community. Twitter is not a place where everyone has to say something. Twitter is not anything like Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace. It's not even close.

So what the heck is Twitter?

Well, Twitter is...

a place where you can follow interesting people

You can follow business leaders, trendsetters, people who invent stuff, or create things. People with brilliant ideas. People with a passion. Famous people like Lance Armstrong. Astronauts in space. ...or just some of your friends.

You follow what they think, what they do, what they find, what they like you to see, and how life is working out for them.

It is a place where you can follow companies or communities

You can follow companies you care about, follow how things are going while something is made. You can follow what groups are trying to accomplish, taking part in the journey towards their goals.

You can tap into the collective conscious of the world

You can see what people think about the election in Iran. Get live reactions from any sporting event. What they think about the new iPhone, or you can see if you are the only one having problems with a new product.

You can literally get instant feedback about anything, anywhere - from real people like you and me.

BTW: This is the single most important reason why companies should use Twitter

So, Twitter is is not anything like Facebook. It is not a place where you setup your social profile, and then become friends with people you knew in high school.

Twitter is really a social news channel, where you can get news from anyone - big or small. Unfiltered, directly from the source, and in real-time.

And you get to decide who is important to you. You get to decide who you want to be influenced by. You don't follow people who only talks about when they are having coffee, or whose main activity is to see what kind of fish they are.

That is why, on Twitter, only 10% produce tweets, and 90% listen. Because this is not a social gathering, where everyone is talking. It is a place where you come to listen, contribute and connect to people that matters to you.

But this is only half the story. Twitter is a social news channel. That means that you are a part of the experience. In fact, you (and people like you) are the ones who make it all work.

This means that...

You can be the interesting person that other people follow

If you are passionate about something, if you have something interesting to say, or if you are doing something special, then you can be the one that other people follow. You can be the person that other people care about, and want to connect to. You can be the leader.

It doesn't matter if it is a small personal project, that is only relevant to a few enthusiasts, or a big idea that you are trying to explain to the world.

Twitter is not a celebrity contest. It doesn't matter how many people who follow you. What matters is, that you do something that other people might be interesting in knowing.

You can also take part in the experience

Twitter is an active real-time media. Which means that it is not about something that happened yesterday. It is about what is happening now. What do you care about - now? What do other people think - now!

When somebody tweets about a topic, you can respond by saying "I know what you should do, and here is why". You can reach out to people you follow (or anyone else for that matter), and help them, share something with them or provide feedback about how you feel about it.

You can help them by spreading the word, pointing other people to places that are meaningful to them. And, you can say "thank you, what you did was just amazing", and motivate them to move forward.

You can ask for insights

You can also reach out to other people. Ask them if anyone got any ideas how to solve a problem or what people feel about a topic? You can ask a person directly what she would do or think.

If you do these things, then other people will respond to you. If you ask a question or reach out to someone, then you are very likely to get a reply. And by that, you are connected to the people you care about.

...or to put it really simple.

Twitter is about all the interesting things in life, from interesting people - including you. And it is the conversation, that emerges because of it, that makes it so exciting.

Evan Williams (CEO of Twitter) on listening to Twitter users


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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