Mike_Gualtieri_Forrester Twitter is the social media darling of 2009. The micro-blogging machine was the fourth most visited site after Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube for the week ending June 27, 2009, according to Hitwise. Chances are that you are using it. I am and so are another 44.5 million people (according to ComScore June 2009).

In the several months I have been using Twitter, I have gone from being a skeptic to becoming a tentative fan. It is useful because I can follow colleagues and clients. It is fun because I can follow political uprisings, writers such as Peggy Noonan, athletes such as Lance Armstrong, television series such as Mad Men, and of course, William Shatner.

There are many questions that have to be answered about Twitter. Is this a valuable use of my time? Is this an efficient way of communicating? The navel-gazing, cheerleading social media experts (you know who you are) think they have the answers, but these are salad days for social media Web sites and especially for Twitter.

I do think Twitter is here to stay. It will add new features, gain even more momentum, and perhaps be gobbled up by an Internet giant such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo. So, use Twitter, but use it wisely. To avoid wasting time on Twitter:

  1. Use a Twitter client such as Tweetdeck. If you are still using http://www.twitter.com for all of your Twitter activity, then you must download a free Twitter client such as TweetDeck right away. Why? Because TweetDeck lets you create groups to follow a subset of friends or colleagues, search for relevent tweets, and manage multiple Twitter accounts. TweetDeck even offers an iPhone version. A Twitter client with these features will save you gobs of time since you can view simulatenous filtered streams of Tweets from a group of colleagues, people who Tweet about you, and a subject (hashtag) that interests you.
  2. Be discerning about who you follow and don't be afraid to unfollow. Twitter is the great Speakers' Corner of the Internet. As such, anyone can spout any amount of blather in any frequency that their brain synapses will allow. Don't follow nutcases, loons, or weirdos (unless you are one too). Worse than crazies though are the scrourge of all Internet humanity – the spammers. Yes, the spammers have found Twitter and they are out to sell us free credit, foreign companions, cheap prescriptions, and products that overcome our genetic deficiencies.
  3. Don't trawl for followers. I know, I know. You think if you follow them, then maybe they will follow you and then you can say "I have umpteen followers!" You can spend huge amounts of time trying to find people to follow - hoping that maybe they will follow you. Some trawling is ok, but don't get caught in an epic battle like Ashton Kutcher and CNN who competed with each other to see who could be the first to get one million followers (Ashton won and now has 3,397,799 followers).
  4. Make your Tweets count. Why do you Tweet? Are you just experimenting, trying to promote your personal or organization's brand, find out what is going on in your field of interest, or just connecting with friends? Twitter famously asks "What are you doing?", but it doesn't mean literally like many newbies think. "Taking out the trash" or "Sugar high after eating swedish fish" can eat up your time and be uninteresting to followers. Try to make your tweets about something that is relevent, interesting, or perhaps humorous to your followers. Having said that, it is perfectly reasonable to reveal some of your personality in your tweets and to add an occasional serendiptous tweet such as "Why do birds sing?". Check out Twitter's best practices for businesses.
  5. Assign someone to Tweet for you. This is not as ludicrous as you might think. If you are using Twitter as a corporate tool for public relations, promotion, or marketing then it may be quite rational to pay someone (there may already be a rogue tweeter in your organization) to Tweet about your company news or to further your marketing goals. Feature films District 9 and Inglourius Basterds used Twitter to boost buzz that some say resulted in stronger openings. But, remember, you also need to find out about who is tweeting about your company and listening takes time too. It may be much more cost effective to make it someone else's job to tweet and monitor twitter than to soak up your valuable time.

Please share with us how you use Twitter and any tips you have for using it.

Follow me on Twitter.

Mike Gualtieri

Senior Analyst, Forrester Research