Hot rod at Wintersun Festival, Coolangatta 2009This post about Twitter is the first on a specific social media platform promised in my Social Media Tune Up post last month.

Different Twitter users have different reasons for being on Twitter and different ways of behaving there. Why I am there and how I use Twitter may be quite different from why you are there and how you use it. Hopefully a few of the thoughts shared here will help you anyway.

Today I want to explain my general approach to Twitter and my aims in using the platform.

Tomorrow I will follow up with some of the particular strategies and tools I use.

But first, a word on the difference between the “pop media’ story about Twitter and the business story.

The business story about Twitter

As a social media strategist I need to be active on Twitter, but from what I know about how Twitter can help a wide variety of businesses I know also that if I were just focused on, say, my coaching business, I would still be an active Twitter user.

At the same time, I meet plenty of people in business who can’t see the point.

Which is what some of them say – “I can’t see the point”.

Others say things like “I’m not interested in knowing what someone had for breakfast”.

At such times I’m inclined to say something like, “That’s interesting. Did you know that Dell Computers have racked up over 3 million dollars in sales just from being on Twitter?”

Or, “Did you know that Comcast used an active engagement with customers on Twitter to help get their customer “positive sentiment” rating from a very uncomfortable 70% up to a more acceptable 90%?”.

Twitter birdIn other words, there is a pop media story about Twitter, ranging from “fun” through “boring” to “shocking”, and there is a business story, which talks about such issues as customer relations, alternative sales possibilities and brand recognition.

I use Twitter primarily for business, so that is crucial to how I use it.

Benefits I get from Twitter

Key benefits I get from using Twitter are:

  • awareness of key issues being discussed, especially in my fields of social media and coaching
  • getting great ideas, insights, links and tips from others in my fields of professional/business activity
  • building thought leadership capability by contributing to discussions, for instance by posting a reply to someone’s tweet, or by following a link from a tweet to a blog post or Facebook page and contributing there
  • being in the loop – knowing what my colleagues and friends are doing, their achievements and their challenges
  • having a virtual water cooler – I work from my home office, so some social banter, exchange of jokes and “how are you” type tweets are valuable for my being in the good humor that helps me do business better, etc etc

Occasionally, and probably under the “water cooler benefit” heading, I tweet about things that have nothing directly to do with business, but are things I would like to share about my day and may or may not be of interest to others.

Such as sharing that on walk on the beach one morning I saw dolphins, or a whale.

Or sharing a cheery or gloomy comment on the weather.

Or commenting on what someone else has done or said, which may have nothing to do with my business.

But my primary focus is on business.

Which means I do not tweet – or do so very sparingly – about some things I am interested in but could get me into conversations that are “off topic” as far as my business focus is concerned.

Such as politics.

More about that, and other things I do and don’t do on Twitter, tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you aren’t following me on Twitter yet and would like to, you can do so at @deswalsh

Want to share how you approach Twitter, what you find works for you and what doesn’t? Please comment.

(Update: see also Part 2 and Part 3 of this series on Twitter.)

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).