There's a strange phenomenon that happens almost every time someone joins Twitter. They hate it. At least at first.
But many of the people who once hated Twitter -- or at least, didn't quite get it in the beginning -- are now many of its most active users and raving fans. So what's going on here?
There seems to be four natural stages that the average Twitter user goes through from the point of first trying it until the point of fully embracing it and making it a part of daily life. Obviously, not everyone sticks with it and becomes a Twitter devotee, but there's definitely a growing cadre of people who believe that there's some magic happening in the Twittosphere
You can find me on Twitter at @jasonhiner
Because I think Twitter can be used as a valuable business tool, it's worth talking about the four Twitter stages in order to help recognize users in these stages when you're choosing who to follow and to keep new Twitter users from getting discouraged and missing the opportunities available on Twitter. So here they are:
1. Confusion and indignation
When a person first signs up for Twitter, the first challenge is figuring out who to follow. Twitter now has its "Suggested Users" feature to help people get started. I've put together a list of technology personalities worth following on Twitter to help new techies when they sign up for Twitter.
However, even when they find some people to follow, new Twitterers usually look at their Twitter stream and start wondering, "Why would I care what my colleagues are eating for lunch?" or "What's interesting about a software engineer posting that she's walking her dog?"
That experience usually leads people to shake their heads and not come back to Twitter for a few days, or even weeks or months.
2. The first "Aha!" moment
Eventually, the user comes back periodically to check Twitter out of pure curiosity. During those casual forays, the person often has a first "Aha!" moment, where they find something really interesting or timely on Twitter that wasn't available from news, RSS feeds, or word of mouth from their friends.
This could be a piece of news that someone reported on Twitter before it actually hit the wires, it could be a rumor about something that a company like Apple is doing, or even something like NFL teams announcing their picks for the draft on Twitter before they even went up to the podium to make the official selection.
3. Remembering to tweet
After the first "Aha" moment, the user typically starts checking Twitter more often, but still tends to post very infrequently. The next stage of Twitter initiation comes when the user reads something useful online or makes a mental observation about something and then thinks, "I should post that Twitter!"
At this point, the user is still relying mostly on the twitter.com homepage to access Twitter but is starting to go there at least a couple times a day to check on the latest buzz, and has typically found a good mix of friends, news feeds, industry celebrities, and thought leaders to follow.
4. Thinking in 140 characters
Once the person becomes a daily Twitter user, it's over. The person is almost always hooked, and is now on the path to becoming a power user. This is when most (though not all) users switch from using twitter.com to using a desktop Twitter client like Tweetdeck or Seesmic.
Meanwhile, the user also often has a mobile Twitter client like UberTwitter (for BlackBerry) or Tweetie (for iPhone) in order to stay connected to the Twitter stream on the go. Those that don't have smartphone often use Twitter via SMS text messages.
At this point, the person is a Twitter power user who regularly adds new people and brands to follow and also regularly unfollows people who post too many inane messages about their meals or just doesn't post enough useful stuff.
The power user also tends to regularly think about and look for things to post on Twitter throughout the day, to the point of self-editing thoughts for brevity in order to fit into Twitter's 140 character limit.
The beauty of Twitter is in its simplicity of use and the direct connection it provides to people whose activities and opinions you care about.
Apple recently wrote a case study about Twitter because Twitter uses a lot of Apple products. In the article, Apple wrote, "Twitter's meteoric rise to ubiquity is proof positive that the world, in all its complexity, is eager to embrace simplicity."
As I've written before, I think Twitter can be an very useful tool for business and technology professionals. For more, see:
- Techies: 2011 directory of who to follow on Twitter
- The four stages of a typical Twitter user
- A quick Twitter guide and glossary for business users
- 11 reasons to use Twitter for business
- 10 tools that will make you a Twitter power user
- Best practices for putting your business or brand on Twitter
- Video: Twitter CEO predicts future uses for the service
And here are a couple external links worth looking at:
- How Twitter replaced my RSS reader (CNET)
- Ten Twitter mythconceptions - stuff people believe about Twitter that isn't true (Technologizer)
If you use Twitter, which of the four stages are you in?
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.