Those of us who spend significant percentages of our public time talking about Twitter and social media, often hear the same question voiced over and over again. It my seem redundant to us, but it makes overwhelmingly clear what the barriers are: what reason people have to not use Twitter.
On the short list of these questions is: "How can a message constrained to 140 characters possibly have value?"
It takes more than 140 characters to answer it.
First off, the question often reveals a traditional marketer's mindset: How do I get a message out? How do I get people to buy my goods and services in a measly 140 characters.
The answer is that you don't. Twitter does not work well as a one-directional message-sending tool. It is more like a telephone. One person speaks and another listens. The parties go back and forth. The person who started the conversation often finds greater value in what she or he is told, than in the brief words that initiated the conversation.
Second, Twitter is a business tool that is best used in conjunction with other social media tools. It's advantages are that it is very fast for spreading ideas, information or just interesting thoughts. It is broad and shallow, while other tools such as blogs, podcasts or even wikis go much deeper.
Let's compare Twitter to a hammer. Both are diverse in the ways you can use them. You can use a hammer to build a house or perhaps bludgeon a spouse. In either case using a saw to help you with the job will usually prove useful and productive.
That gets me to the third frequently asked set of questions: "Exactly what do I use the thing for?"
The answer they hate to hear is precisely the one I have to give: Use it for whatever you want to do with it. Twitter is not an application. It is a communications tool or platform. You can use Twitter in as many ways as a telephone or email.
Then there is the dreaded ROI question, the one that makes Twitter and social media champions roll their eyes toward the sky with Pavlovian consistency.
There are somethings that have clear value but are difficult to measure. For example, I have elected to wear pants at every face-to-face business meeting I've ever attended. I cannot think of any way to measure the value, but I know it's there. I know in most cases the pants have greater value than say my wearing a skirt or no pants at all.
But I cannot give you the comparative ROI on the investment.
Nor can I quantify the value of a good telephone conversation; a customer whose problem got painlessly fixed by a support technician; a CEO spending five days of company tie and money to speak at an industry gathering; or a holiday donation to a homeless shelter.
Yes, there is a value to each of these things and somehow it translates to the bottom line. Yes, all things in business need to be measured to be understood and to scale. But more and more, measurement has become more complex.
When you understand what it is you want to do with Twitter, then you can find what it is you need to measure. Their are many tools and people who will help you.
And that brings me to the final and most difficult to answer of my frequently asked questions: "Why should I use Twitter."
My blunt answer is: "Whatever you want." Just like that hammer and phone.