I still run into too many business people who roll their eyes when I suggest they get on Twitter. They think it's one of those things that are only used by teenagers to let people know how awesome their lunch was today.
By that logic, of course, they should also give up their phones, Internet connections and Blackberries.
Twitter is all about being part of a community. Like all good communications media, there are two aspects to it: Talking, and Listening.
"Listening" means following other people on Twitter. When you follow the "tweets" of business colleagues, industry experts, competitors and channel partners, it's like joining an exclusive club: you get up close and personal insights into what they're doing now, what they're seeing and learning, and where they're going next.
Twitter is also viral and transparent. You can quickly see who the people you respect are following on Twitter, and you can choose to follow as many of them as you like.
And if a Twitterer you follow isn't offering you value, you can just stop following them. Easy as that.
By compiling your own list of interesting people to follow, you create a unique, personal community of confidantes, informers and pundits - available to you anytime, 24 hours a day.
In other words, you don't have to Tweet to get a lot out of Twitter.
The "Talking" part of Twitter is making your own regular tweets. This allows you to tell people what you are doing or thinking. In business, this means you get to promote yourself, free, to the Twitterverse, as often as you want, in as much detail as you desire.
Big deal. If no one is following you, who cares?
But here's where the magic begins. When you start Twittering, your audience appears. (It's very Zen-like.)
Slowly at first, one by one, people who are interested in what you say start finding you, through keyword searches or by accident. They sign up to follow you. And slowly it builds.
When people see people they respect following you,they will check you out, and may follow too. The more you Tweet, the more people will find you. And when you say something particularly intriguing, people will "Retweet" you - they'll forward your Tweet to their followers, giving you credit and additional exposure. And thus your community builds.
(There are also, alas, spammers who will seek you out to follow you as a way of promoting their own selfish or sordid interests. But you can identify them readily, and banish them quickly.) (But not for the first week or two, when you want all the followers you can get.)
Businesses big and small are now using Twitter to show off their human face, announce sales and special deals, provide information their customers need, raise awareness of industry issues, and so on. All in 140-character bursts that are easy to write and easy to read.
Go to www.Twitter.com. Sign up to start following people. Don't be a Smuggite, snidely putting down the latest trends just because you don't understand them.
Start building your community today.