Five benefits of using Twitter.

Social networking appears to have taken over the world. Everyone is on Facebook it seems, including many who always vowed they would never sign up to the service. The purpose of Facebook is fairly obvious – an online community where people can communicate virtually with friends and family, sharing photos, web links and status updates.

Elsewhere in the world of social networking, the popularity of Twitter continues to grow. But for anyone unfamiliar with the world of tweets, followers and hashtags, the purpose of Twitter and the benefits it can offer are less obvious.

If you have an account but just can’t seem to find any benefit to being one of the 200 million signed up users, there are a number of ways I have found it to be useful over the last couple of years.

To start you off, here’s five.

1. Promotional tool

Got a blog? Uploaded some travel photos? Then share a web link to your followers. If you’re lucky, one of them will like it, and then re-post to their followers. And so on. Before you know it, you could find your work being viewed by millions.

Ok, so that is an extreme case and unlikely for most of us. But as an advertising tool, the potential is there to help draw attention to things we have to offer which are of interest to others.

2. Discuss a common interest

You’ll have to choose your words carefully to fit into a 140 character limit, but it’s still possible to discuss topics with others who share the same interest, and you don’t need to follow them or for them to follow you in order to message each other. Simply start your tweet with an @ symbol and then their username (e.g. “@la_rambler <message>”).

For example, you come across someone who has posted details of the Liverpool FC starting line up for the latest Premier League match. In true football fan fashion, your opinion will be obviously differ to that of the manager’s. Discuss with other fans your reasons for why you think player X should be in the team and player Y shouldn’t be anywhere near the pitch.

It’s no different to the sort of debate which has taken place throughout forums and message boards across the web for years. But now, it’s not just limited to one forum on one website. Everyone in the world can see your post and choose to join the debate. Everyone in the world can see what you think the team should be, and why. And then tell you why you’re wrong.

3. Seek information

Looking for a review of that small village in Italy where you’re going on holiday? Then there’s probably already someone who’s written about it, or perhaps who even lives there. Using the search facility, you might be able to find something to read or someone to connect with and ask any questions you might have.

For a day-to-day example, consider the following. If you’re having problems with your mobile phone service, perform a search for the name of the company in question. If it’s a widespread problem, there’ll already be plenty of people reporting or commenting on similar experiences. You can then rest safe in the knowledge that it’s not just you.

4. Share info and advice

But don’t just receive information, offer it too. Been to a good restaurant lately? Tell people about it! There may be someone in your own city who is looking for that very same eatery, and wondering whether or not to visit. Sure, there’s other review sites on the web which offer far more in depth information on such matters than could ever be collated on Twitter, but for the purposes of finding out something quick from the same place, they may just search for the restaurant name on Twitter, and your views may help someone decide whether or not to venture there. You don’t have to be a food critic to have a valid point.

Equally, you don’t have to be a world renowned philosopher to share a word of wisdom if encouragement. Anyone is capable of it.

5. Connect with everyone

Twitter was not created for privacy. With the exception of a small minority who have taken advantage of a feature which allows their tweets to be hidden by those who aren’t following them, almost everything is visible. Where the rich and famous converse with one another, the comments are visible. What’s more, anyone can join in with that very discussion.

Of course, sending a message to Beyonce or Cristiano Ronaldo is no guarantee that they’ll bother to even read it, let alone respond. But there are plenty who might once have been untouchable who do have time to read many of the comments addressed to them, and will respond if something particularly grabs their interest.

The above example is not one I have any experience of, but I have discussed things with journalists/TV sport experts who have found the time to engage in a series of tweets debating a particular topic. Not only can you read the articles that such people write in their newspapers, but you can now share your own opinion directly with the author themselves and, with intelligent debate, perhaps even throw something into the argument to cause them to think about their view on a topic. Like you, they’re only human after all.

I also saw an instance where one of the most respected sports journalists working in Europe had written a piece containing a factual error. He was put right within minutes, and duly corrected his article, appreciative of the feedback.

Not everyone likes computers, not everyone who likes computers will automatically like the internet, and not everyone who uses the internet will consider social networking a valid use of their time.

Which is fine; social networking just isn’t for everyone, after all.

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