Who is REALLY using Twitter??

Recently, I was giving a presentation to managers and CEOs that make up an executive committee for a non-profit organization. As the communications director for this committee, I mentioned that I had recently put the organization on Twitter and had been ‘tweeting’ information and success stories. Almost immediately, I heard snickers of laughter. When I asked about it later, I was told it was not my presentation, rather the idea of Twitter as a practical promotional tool.

It was clear that the people in the room not only did not use Twitter, they didn’t even have a respect for what Twitter is, does or is capable of. I thought it may have been just a generational difference (according to a PEW study done earlier this year, only 11% of the online community over the age of 45 uses Twitter). However, a couple weeks later, I was at a party with some Generation Y’ers – working in jobs ranging from school teacher to lawyer – and when the topic of Twitter came up, again, snickers of laughter.

These two occurrences bring up a larger point about how this social networking platform is perceived. I, and others in my field, have started to take for granted that people use Twitter as the way to communicate information in near real-time, and even if we don’t like using it ourselves, we at least respect that others do like using it as their primary means of learning, and therefore, have taken the time to study its nuances and develop strategies to harness its abilities.

But while the use of Twitter is commonplace in certain industry circles, there is still a large percentage of the general population that would not even consider registering on the website.

Why is that?

In my opinion the reason occurs on several levels. The first level consists of people that perceive Twitter to be used not for information, but rather for a new term called “meformation.”

“It is so self absorbed. I mean do people really care what kind of cereal I’m thinking of eating this morning,” said a friend of mine who is a woman in her early 30’s that is not only not averse to social networking (she maintains several accounts online) she created and maintains her own website.

The truth is that she, along the people that make up this level, are not wrong. In a recent study done at Rutgers University, 80% of “tweets” sampled were used to explain what individuals are doing, thinking about, or thinking about doing, while the remaining 20% consists of distributing news on topics or subjects not directly related to the writer.

An attorney I know sad it this way. “If people want to know what I’m doing, I will tell them. Anymore than that is just bragging or complaining for the sake of bragging or complaining.”

However, there are some people that don’t like Twitter, but can get past the meformer philosophy, primarily because they use Facebook, mySpace, Friendster and others in the same manner. This second level consists of those that prefer social networking sites that offer more diverse options, such as the ability to upload pictures, play games, instant message, and perhaps most important, communicate without restrictions on how many characters they are allowed to use.

“With Twitter, you have to learn a whole new abbreviated language to get a point across. It is like learning a second or third language, except that I would feel dumber if I knew how to speak ‘Twittereese,’” said a friend that works as a real estate agent and also in the retail industry.

Again, these people do have a point. With technology and innovation offering so much more in the way of…well…almost everything, the general public is confused on why, when it comes to communicating or reading news, they should have to take a step back in how they do it.

Social network professionals would have the business community believe that a presence through Twitter is borderline mandatory, but if your customer base is represented by the certain percentage of the online community that simply refuses to use the site because of perception or spite, the time and effort required to keep your Twitter account updated may be better used elsewhere.

MakeMeSocial sees this situation as having two possible solutions: Change the perception of Twitter or change the perception your stakeholders have of Twitter. The first solution is more difficult (but MakeMeSocial continues to work at it). However, if an organization wants to use Twitter as their source for information sharing, then they may need to do more than just register and create a page. Organizations should proactively promote their reasoning for using the site, and from there, encourage their stakeholders to take advantage of the platform. This can be done in any number of ways, which will be discussed in future blogs…


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