Let’s all tweet on

Facebook? Wouldn’t go near it. But Twitter is another matter, says Adrian Shaughnessy, who has fallen for its effectiveness and is now merrily passing on weblinks to his followers

To tweet or not to tweet? When I first heard about Twitter, I scoffed and made up my mind, as I’d done previously with Facebook, not to go near it. But having successfully resisted Facebook, I’ve now succumbed to Twitter. Twitter is about as much fun as you can have with a computer, an Internet connection and 140 characters.

It was the recent Trafigura case that turned me into a true believer. Here was a powerful corporation using the courts to silence discussion of their activities. Thanks to Twitter, however, their efforts were rendered futile.

But putting aside its occasional public interest function, is Twitter anything more than a frivolous waste of time? And does it have any serious applications for designers and business in general? The answer to both questions is a qualified yes.

It’s easy to make the case against Twitter. You only have to look at the vast numbers of tweets by people with a compulsion to tell the world about the muffin they are having (note the present tense) for breakfast. This sort of self-absorption is the equivalent of being stuck on a train with someone conducting a decibel-rich phone conversation with no lack of intimate personal detail.

I use Twitter to follow 20 or so people I’m interested in/ people with something to say and links to share. I also use it to send tweets, but I restrict these to professional and commercial matters. My ’followers’ seem to be entirely composed of graphic designers – although I’ve had one or two Russian ladies telling me they are lonely and if I’m willing they will generously consider marriage. I confine my tweeting to passing on weblinks that will be of interest to graphic designers, and I try not to tweet without including a weblink.

But it’s the business applications of Twitter that make it such an effective communication tool. I have a small publishing company (target market: graphic designers) and Twitter is by far the best way to let people know what I’m doing. I use it as a sort of village noticeboard. Except this noticeboard spans the globe.

What I’ve discovered, though, is that the number of followers you have is almost irrelevant. It’s the number of people willing to pass on your tweets that matters; it’s only then that you hit the really big numbers. But it’s worth remembering that people will only pass on what they find interesting.

It’s a view corroborated by marketing guru Seth Godin. Godin describes himself as ’a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change’. He has a Twitter page with more than 25 000 followers and claims to run ’the most popular marketing blog in the world’.

In a recent post he noted, ’In one experiment I did, 200 000 followers led to 25 clickthroughs. Ouch.’ Godin wisely cautions against thinking that it’s numbers that count. It’s not. It’s ideas. ’A slightly better idea defeats a much bigger, but disconnected, user-base every time,’ he says. ’The lesson: spend your time coming up with better ideas, not with more (faux) followers.’

It’s this inherent quality control mechanism that I like about Twitter. Brands and and individuals can have 200 000 followers, but unless they are
saying something interesting their followers are inert – or, as Godin calls them, ’faux’ followers. So my response to my opening question – ’To tweet or not to tweet?’ – is ’tweet on’. Just leave the muffins out if it.

Adrian Shaughnessy is an independent designer, writer and broadcaster, and co-founder of publishing company Unit Editions

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