For the uninitiated, Twitter is what is called a micro-blogging service. What this means is that instead of writing 500-word blog posts, people write very short updates of just 140 characters or less (called "tweets"). So what can you say in 140 characters? More than you would think. While it is true there are some people who are using Twitter for purely personal reasons, many people are now using it for legitimate business purposes.
The benefits of Twitter are best explained by using an example, so I will share how I have been using Twitter for my company. I started using it about a year ago and I use it primarily to communicate with customers and look for prospects. We have about 50 existing customers who regularly use Twitter and by following these people I can discover what they are talking about. Through custom searches I know whenever any one of the 25 million or so Twitter users mentions my company or a term that I am interested in. For example, as of this writing, in the last 24 hours there have been 18 people who have mentioned "label printing" on Twitter. I can find out what each of these people want and respond accordingly.
A big part of Twitter is sharing information with your "followers." This can be the tricky part and where many companies struggle. I always try and share information that will be of interest to my followers (who are likely interested in label printing), and I find this information by reading blogs and industry magazines.
If you don't know where to get started there are a number of excellent blogs available that will help you get the most out of Twitter. You can also just google "Twitter for business" and find some great resources that way. Here I will briefly review a few blogs that will help you understand and use this new resource.
TwiTip is the brainchild of legendary professional blogger Darren Rowse, who saw the need for a blog for helping users learn how to use Twitter. TwiTip, by far the most popular blog about Twitter, covers "Twitter Tips of all varieties, including Writing for Twitter, Branding, Growing a Following, Corporate Tweeting and a lot more." Rowse rarely writes for TwiTip, he acts more as an editor of submitted articles. This works well because you get a variety of different topics from authors with different perspectives.
As the name implies, Twittercism (Twitter + criticism) is not always positive in its commentary on Twitter. Written by UK blogger Shea Bennett, he takes Twitter to task on many issues. He also provides some interesting commentary on how to get the most out of Twitter. But what is really useful about Twittercism is the excellent Twitter 101 section which has great advice on how to get started on Twitter and use it in a productive way.
Everything Twitter (http://everythingtwitter.com/)
Once you have been using Twitter awhile and are familiar with many of the tools available, this blog is a great way to expand your knowledge. It is certainly not for the Twitter beginner but it is a popular blog for experienced users. The focus here is mainly on third party Twitter tools and how they can add to the functionality of Twitter.
Twitter's Blog (http://blog.twitter.com/)
Of course, Twitter has their own blog. This is not really the best place to learn how to use Twitter, but if you want to know about new developments, this is the place to go. Whenever an update to the Twitter software is made you can read about the details here. Like the previous blog, this is a great place to visit for those people who get hooked on Twitter.
While Twitter is a new phenomenon (it has been in existence only since 2006), it is now one of the most visited web sites on the planet. And it is becoming more popular every month. It really is becoming a legitimate business tool with many companies using it to keep in contact with their customers. You may be able to ignore it for now, but sooner or later I expect that most companies will have Twitter accounts.