It's clear that over the past couple of years Twitter, the darling of the tech and media industry, has taken the tech world by storm. While it's not the giant Facebook has become, it's importance in the evolution of social media and the synaptic web has been cemented forever.
I signed up for Twitter on November 13, 2007. I'll be honest it took me a while to see the value. In those first few months I sent very few tweets. That all changed the day I loaded up a Twitter client on my Blackberry and connected my Twitter profile to my Facebook account. As soon as I was mobile I found myself sharing thoughts and perusing my social stream in moments where I had a few minutes to kill â€” boring meetings quickly became a favorite.
For me there was always a problem with social networking. I'm inherently shy, it's something I have struggled with all my life and why you'll normally find me hanging back in the corner of the room at public events pretending to be reading my emails. Until fairly recently this also extended to the online world, but my use of Twitter had me starting to poke my head out a bit more and connect with people I really didn't know.
In the summer of 2009 I attended Inbound Marketing University (IMU) with my colleague and friend Lisa Alvey (@lisaalvey). It was a series of webinars hosted by Hubspot with some amazing speakers. The value of the content was amazing but more valuable to me was the backchannel happening on twitter during each session. It took me a while to get going and jump into discussions with strangers but I learned a lot by watching Lisa, who's a natural conversation starter. By engaging rather than just listening I made connections with many new professionals working in social media and online marketing. The discussions and new friends made during those sessions still count today. Most of the people I connected with on the IMU sessions are still "friends I've never met". It's a new type of friend for me but I guess it's been around for a long time if you consider pen pals.
Twitter is only as good as the skills you develop and the connections/friendships you make while using it. The same goes for Facebook and any other socially aware tools that we succumb to. There's no questioning that the company has produced a market shifting product, ultimately driven by their willingness to open up their platform to developers. The openness that we see echoed in public replies and the random thoughts injected into this world has fundamentally shifted the way we communicate online. It's this openness that's the reason reason Twitter has been so successful. It has allowed us to re-engage skills we forgot about while we were too busy doing "real work". We are re-learning how to communicate freely with people everywhere, in any industry of any stature. We are forging meaningful relationships and learning to break down the walls. Twitter has allowed us to be human again, to be social. Instead of battening down the hatches my metaphorical front door is now permanently open and anyone is welcome to stop by for a chat.
As society focuses on building gated communities and protecting our property there's a significant group of people helping to bring down the walls. Together we are using online tools to build real world relationships via Tweetups, coffee klatches and even real time events driven by location aware apps like Foursquare and Gowalla.
In this hybrid world we are required to be as responsible selecting our relationships online as we are offline, and we have to learn skills to converse and create meaningful friendships and associations for business and our personal lives. The good news is that these new tools allow us a better view of other people's lives, their thoughts, their dreams and that helps us make better decisions about how we present our own relationships and personal branding.
History shows that many of the cultural shifts have been driven by advances in technology and tools. But let's remember that these advances have always been made by groups that understood how to use tools to leverage the power of people (for good or bad).
That's why I say forget about Twitter and the hype. Change the focus from the tool to the conversation. Learn to leverage tools like Twitter to build communication skills, spread brilliance and provide value to the community we belong to - online and offline.