Why You Probably Don’t Need To Be On Twitter

twitter hootiePeople are joining Twitter in record numbers – but do they need to?

What was once a niche of social media enthusiasts, PR people and real estate agents (at least in Vancouver) has now grown to include the ranks of talk show hosts, lip synching starlets and pranksters.

The most followed on Twitter used to include Jason Calacanis, Veronica Belmont, Leo Laporte. Check the top list today at WeFollow and you’ll see it’s Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher and Jimmy Fallon.

So the mainstream has gotten hold of this thing – but do they know what to do with it?
… [contd]


On the surface, Twitter looks like a Facebook status update. It’s described as a microblogging platform, but Twitter is less about what you have to say and more about listening to what everyone else is saying.

The list of people following you is not important, unless you’re a brand, or marketer. The list that’s important for twitter users is the list of people you follow.

At least that’s how I use Twitter. It’s a news feed, a live stream of the zeitgeist of the world. It gives me news headlines, product reviews, and feedback on discussion topics for my radio program.


Just look at the Facebook redesign. It has been heartily booed by users since it’s launch. MILLIONS have joined groups in protest for a design that was, without doubt, inspired by the Twitter interface. Facebook is now a real time update of what people are thinking, it’s not a place to just put a sentence about you, it’s now creating discussions. And people don’t like that.

24/7 – 365

I once asked on Twitter “Who should be on Twitter?” and the responses I received indicated that Twitter is best used by those who live their lives online.

That is the point I would argue: you need to be wired in to the borg to effectively use Twitter.

Here’s a screenshot of my desktop:


I have TweetDeck open full screen as I work with Tweets floating in behind. When I’m on the air, I have a Macbook off to the side with just TweetDeck running, it’s my Twitter machine.

I’m guessing people check their Facebook statii few times a day, so popping in to Twitter will have the same sort of usage by people, but that’s the problem between the new and old Facebook and people’s usage. People are not logged in full time to Facebook, they pop in and out. When they do that, they miss things in the live stream. Conversations will just fly by.

Twitter is meant to be instantaneous. It’s meant to be watched.


By saying that the mainstream doesn’t “belong” on Twitter, I’m not trying to be a protectionist. I’m not the fan of the underground punk band that’s about to have a song in a beer commercial and go mainstream, so I’m trying to keep them real before they sell out.

I’m just saying “Twitter is popular, and it’s awesome. But it doesn’t need to be for everybody.”

This argument, however, could all come crashing down if the proliferation of smart phones and mobile twitter apps continues. The ability to be truly mobile and interactive with Twitter is the key, although many in the mainstream will find just as much satisfaction by staying within the walled garden of Facebook.



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  1. April 3, 2009

    Buzz, I love your show, and your twitter feed.

    The thing is, for the past few months, I feel I’ve been inundated by, as I labeled in my own tweet on the subject, “twitter illuminati” who are stating these people are ruining twitter, those people don’t get twitter, these people are getting twitter only cuz it’s trendy.

    Buzz, I’ve been around the internet for a long, long time. My first personal “blog” (long before the term existed) dates back to 1996, and I still have the archives to show for it, mainly because I practiced a rule for myself – don’t post anything you would be ashamed of 5, 10 years later.

    I mention that because I’ve seen this trend before. When there were a few diarists online of note – talking about sites like the Fray, glassdog, Ev, others, there were many amongst that group who started to get leery of more and more people posting their web diaries (which would eventually evolve into blogging around circa 2003 or so); they’d post “oh, look at the posers” and such, and get flustered that the mainstream was taking over their diarying online. Sure enough, it happened. Sites like Gizmodo were born. Taking the web diary to the next level, turning it into what we now know as ‘blogs’.

    Heck, I’ve seen this trend in the coffee world. Trish Rothgeb (then Skeie) wrote a seminal article about “the third wave” and how they were usurping the previous waves of coffee. How a new wave of coffee professionals were taking over from the previous generation and doing new and different things. And while that was true, there were lots of trendoids who tried to ride the wave without really understanding it or getting into the groove – just doing it for the sake of doing it.

    In a way, twitter is like that. It’s trendy, so everyone’s signing on. I say bring them on. We have a saying in coffee – the chaff will separate from the substance; and the same will hold true in Twitter. Those who have great feeds will gain followers; those who don’t; well excepting celebs who twitter, those who don’t will fade away.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, everyone who wants to, should use Twitter. I get all uppity when I hear the twitter illuminati (eg Leo Leporte, Kevin Rose, etc/) bitch about who’s signing up, it going mainstream, etc. I want it mainstream. Then I’ll be able to pick the twitter feeds I want, and discard those I don’t.

    So in a sorta way, I do agree with aspects of what you wrote. But in many ways I don’t. 🙂

  2. Ryan Biggs
    April 3, 2009

    I read these kinds of articles every chance I get because even though I live my life online, I still don’t “get” Twitter. You write:

    > It’s a news feed, a live stream of the zeitgeist of the world. It gives me news headlines, product reviews, and feedback on discussion topics for my radio program.

    My question: are these really things you were having a hard time getting before Twitter came along? It seems to me that the biggest challenge is selecting and filtering the endless variety of content feeds, communication tools, and information sources.

    It seems to me that Twitter is giving you these things through the filter of one very specific demographic: extreme narcissists.

    Think about it – someone who obsessively broadcasts their entire life on Twitter, blogs, and social networks, posts pictures of their outfits and their dinner on Flickr… does that describe a technologist or a narcissist?

  3. April 3, 2009

    The people who obsessively broadcast their own lives are not the ones I follow.

    Sure, there are elements of “I’m going to have a shower now” in everyone’s stream, but those that I follow mostly tweet news stories, technology discoveries, or offer discussion points or opinions on things I find interesting.

    If you’re only following those who do that sort of thing then, “you’re doing it wrong.”

    Yes, there is an element of narcissism in the obsessive posting of photos, videos, ideas and diaries online – but it’s also a form of archiving. I put everything in Flickr not for the world to see, but as another means of backing up the photos of my family, and as storage for posting in my blog.

    We’re all looking for attention, technology just gives us different ways to feed the beast.

  4. April 3, 2009

    As I said on Twitter, this post was really just me “thinking out loud.” I don’t think my argument is fully flushed out, and all of us use the different social media technologies available to us in our own unique ways.

    To say that the mainstream won’t understand or appreciate Twitter could be off base, those people perhaps will only follow the 2 dozen or so people they actually ‘know’ and so the conversations will be manageable. I follow 500+ people, so my usage and experience with Twitter will be vastly different than regular joes.

    I get phone calls to the radio station everyday from people who don’t know what an RSS feed is, have never heard of Google and still use Hotmail addresses for their primary email.

    Twitter is very bleeding edge. It may have mainstream exposure right now, but I don’t think it has mainstream understanding. The mainstream still doesn’t fully get Facebook, and many more are still using MySpace – so Twitter is still a long way from becoming ubiquitous as email.

    Perhaps that’s more my point.

  5. April 3, 2009

    Here’s another thing – I actually enjoy reading the mundane tweets when they do come in. Because of my job as a radio broadcaster, I need to try to reflect the mood and energy of the audience. I’m a cultural anthropologist, so when someone tosses up a tweet about getting a pedicure, seeing a sunset or trying oysters for the first time, it gives me insight into the lives of my audience and I get a chance to better reflect that on the radio.

  6. April 3, 2009

    Very interesting. I agree, I can’t get the use of Twitter that people who are online 24/7 can. I use it to promote something interesting. Or to post an update on my life, to people who I know read it.

    Like Mark above, I’ve been online doing a web diary since 1997. (However I don’t have it all online these days, although I could easily provide it.) I have seen the trends come and go, as they do. everything in life is only as useful as you find it to be – to you. Thus, of course not everyone needs to be on Twitter.

  7. @lynneux
    June 18, 2009

    I saw some of your Tweets today regarding locak businesses following you on Twitter and then noticed you re-posted this so I thought I’d comment.

    I’m not sure I subscribe to such a black and white definition of what Twitter is or isn’t, or who should or shouldn’t use it. I think it is different things for different people, and functions differently within different groups of people. For me this is the beauty of Twitter–it’s very much in progress and there really aren’t any hard and fast rules for the way we govern our usage of it or conduct ourselves within it as yet. For some really interesting thoughts on Twitter I’d check out http://bit.ly/X6iMV or any of the other recent posts on Adrian Chan’s (@gravity7’s) blog.

  8. June 18, 2009

    I agree, Twitter is very fluid. Which is why business needs to tread lightly. Blindly following consumers is akin to sending them junkmail, and I dont want junkmail in Twitter.

    Post your address, let your fans follow, become evangelists and spread the word.

    As a brand, be authentic and trust your evangelists to tell the story. If you post good content, you will be retweeted and if relevant, others will follow.

    The attitude of the bulk following of potential consumers or potential evangelists comes off as sleazy rather than genuine.

    That’s my issue. Will follow with a flushed out piece soon.

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