I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. On one hand, I find it a colossal waste of time: it sucks me in with links to interesting-looking stories, distracts me because I end up having conversations with distant colleagues, and makes it far too easy for people (some of whom I don’t know) to message me.
All of which stops me from doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
On the other hand, it’s an amazing source of stories, allows me to have animated discussions with distant colleagues, and it’s a great way to connect me with people (some of whom I don’t know).
You see, perhaps, what I mean about the love-hate thing.
Ultimately, the only way I can cope with Twitter is to switch it off when I don’t want to be distracted and switch it on when I’m actively looking for distraction. On my laptop that’s pretty easy; on my phone, I tend to switch on “do not disturb other than phone calls and alarms” for most of the day.
So, what is the point of Twitter? Here’s a handful of things it’s great for, with many caveats, along with a few handy tips for taming the beast. Got other tips? Great, share them below or, heck, tweet me.
Keep up to date
If something’s happening, you can be sure it’ll flare up on your Twitter feed within minutes. I know news editors who use Twitter as their main source of news.
Feed your passions
If you have a hobby/interest/passion, Twitter is your friend. Search out lists of people and companies who share that passion, then create a column in TweetDeck (or Hootsuite, it’s a free world) dedicated to that interest.
Talk to friends
Twitter is really like a huge discussion group, with the amazing advantage that you can zoom in to whichever conversation you like and – assuming it’s happening in public, rather than private via direct message – take part yourself.
Talk to celebrities
Twitter is unique in the way it removes barriers between celebrities and us, the dirty unwashed public. Some celebrities are more likely to react if you tweet at them than others, but if you have something interesting to say to that person you admire then why not pipe up? They’ll probably see it, even if they don’t respond.
Even if you don’t want to “talk” to your favourite celebrities, you can just follow them quietly, of course.
Build a career/get work
I’ve commissioned work from people who’ve got in touch via Twitter before (I’ll probably regret saying that). What have you got to lose from sending a message explaining you’d love to work with someone on Twitter, or asking for advice, or whatever? Twitter is an open medium, so it’s quite easy to build up a shortlist of people you’d like to work with and go from there.
Distract yourself from work
Bored? In need of ten minutes of distraction? While Twitter isn’t as good a source of cat videos as Facebook, something is always happening, whether it’s a friend posting a link or a breaking story.
Look outside your echo chamber
Facebook is one of the best ways to reinforce your own political views – I lean to the left politically, and I rarely see a right-wing post unless it’s there to be vilified. You can use Twitter to challenge this status quo, to see what people who you may not agree with are saying. That’s got to be healthy for the soul.