Love it or hate it -- Twitter appears here to stay. The popular social networking and microblogging platform, which now boasts more than 100 million users, has become a favorite among celebrities, Justin Bieber fans, even the Dalai Lama (417,000 followers and counting!).
But many businesses are discovering that the rapid-fire medium can be a great way to connect with customers, promote new products and special offers, respond to complaints, and track what people are saying about them -- and the competition.
In fact, the San Francisco startup founded by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone, is increasingly pushing the business applications of its platform, as the tech world continues to question how it will actually make money. "Twitter is a communication platform that helps businesses stay connected to their customers," reads the Twitter 101 for Business guide on Twitter.com. "As a business, you can use it to quickly share information with people interested in your company, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and other people who care about your company."
(For those of you who don't know an "RT" from a "DM" -- Twitter allows users to post messages up to 140 characters from their computers or phones, which are then displayed on their profile pages and sent out to their subscribers, or "followers.")
As you would imagine, the Twittershphere is littered with a lot of mindless chatter, which is one of the primary knocks against it. To tweet is easy. To tweet well is a whole other story. And it's a question many entrepreneurs are grappling with today.
So is Twitter really worth your time and effort? Can it actually help boost the bottom line? Between them, the members of our Board of Directors have nearly 1 million followers -- so they must be doing something right. We asked them to share their thoughts on all things Twitter.
Founder and CEO, The Go Daddy Group
"Twitter is a really interesting phenomenon. It can be very useful or it can be maybe not so useful, depending upon how judiciously you use it. First, I think it's great for businesses to spread the word about what they do, if they are strategic enough to send out quality, relevant tweets and not spam. But if you do quality tweets that are helpful, it can be a no-cost way of promoting your business."
Eric RyanCo-Founder and Chief Brand Architect, Method
"Too many companies are in love with the tool versus the content. Twitter is nothing more than a content vehicle (albeit a short one) and it can be useful if you create the right content -- but few have figured this out."
Founder and CEO, Nfinity
"I love Twitter. It's the most narcissistic social tool out there right now. I think it's funny that so many Americans believe anyone actually cares what they are up to. As for a business benefit, for us, it's mostly about telling our customers where we will be on the road and communicating our successes. But, back to me, if you want to follow me, I am @tatechalk -- and I am about to go to lunch."
Lexy FunkCo-Founder and CEO, Brooklyn Industries
"Ideally, Twitter is Haiku poetry. In reality, it is most effective in promoting, marketing deals, and pointing customers back to content."
Investor and Author of Rule #1 And Payback Time
"At this point, I'm thinking it's pretty much idiotic. I'm on it, and have thousands of "followers," but few who are actually paying any attention. Anyone who is glued to "Twitter and reading the inane and mundane thoughts of friends and celebs has found an absolutely wonderful substitute for television -- something that will occupy the giant spaces in their brain between actual thoughts. You see all the absolute BS being advertised on Twitter. Sometimes, it seems as if most tweeters are hustling something. I'm starting to sort of hate it."
Jennifer HillStartup Advisory and Venture Lawyer, Gunderson Dettmer LLP
(in 140 characters) "Great way to hone your company's voice, let people connect with you, and stay top of mind. Just choose words wisely -- retweets happen fast!"
Clint GreenleafFounder and CEO, Greenleaf Book Group
"I think the jury is still out on Twitter. I like the ability to search tweets for people talking about specific items. If people are tweeting about you or your industry, you could start a conversation with people who might become customers."
Warren BrownFounder, CakeLove and Love Cafe
"Social networking feeds are great to send out a message, but can be a bit of a tax on time -- more of one on mental real estate."
Director, Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas
"To me, Twitter is like visiting your favorite bar and catching up with your friends, only you can do it from your desk whenever you want to. I think this is a good corollary for how business gets done on Twitter too. Would you buy a car or insurance from one of your social friends? Kind of doubtful as a sustainable strategy -- little bit of business bantering works, but try to scale it or turn it into a 'marketing program' and you won't have many friends to catch up with."
Danielle And Jodie Snyder
"Twitter lets us connect with our customers as well as peers in our industry. It is a great way to expose a company's culture to a wide audience and gives brands a personal touch. We not only use it to promote products and company updates but also use it as a platform for people to learn more about what makes us tick -- what inspires us, where we travel, what other brands we love, etc. It is a great way to see what people are saying about our company in real time."
Elizabeth Busch, Anne Frey-Mott and Beckie Jankiewicz
Co-Founders, The Event Studio
"Twitter is a great tool to add to your belt, but it's not a solve-all and it's not going to replace other ways of communicating. If you are willing to engage in conversation with your customers, definitely use it. If not, don't be caught up in the fad."
Columnist and Author of The Small Business Bible
"I have learned, reluctantly, to appreciate Twitter -- and I learned the hard way. Last year, I wrote a column for USA Today where I said, 'Don't tweet!' It received more play than anything I had written in a while. Why? Because it was retweeted so often! So I get that Twitter is an amazing tool for 1) spreading the word and your brand and 2) creating new relationships. Just make sure all the time you put into it is paying off on the bottom line."
Julie JumonvilleCo-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer, UpSpring Baby
"So, I have one follower on Twitter -- and it is my social media guru in the office. Our company tweets contests, when we our products made it to the Ellen DeGeneres Show and it is a quick way to get folks pointed to your website."
Founder, The Relentless Foundation and New York Entrepreneur Week
"Twitter is a useful tool that businesses can leverage to have a 'voice' in the community. It's a platform that provides a unique opportunity to engage various target audiences around the world in a different fashion than Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. A lot of white noise passes through Twitter on a daily basis. But if businesses engage like-minded folks through "following," "DMing," or "retweeting," there is an opportunity to form relationships, which most likely they never would've formed otherwise. In addition, the viral nature of the retweet can disseminate and filter messages faster than any other medium currently housed on the Internet. This will have evermore important (and cascading) implications for how we obtain information."
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 6/9/10.