It’s still up for debate: how much social media is too much? Which parts of it, if any, are a complete waste of time? Twitter tends to come under fire a lot during these conversations. For critics, it’s the epitome of self-aggrandizement. A symptom of a grotesque new world where individuals see fit to broadcast the most banal updates of their lives, all in 140-character fragments.
But advocates of the Twittersphere don’t see it that way. Rather than aggrandizing the individual, Twitter takes people down a peg. Through the site, it’s not uncommon for public figures and celebrities mingle with the locals, so to speak. And sometimes these interactions give an unprecedentedly raw glimpse into the true personality behind well-known figures with impeccably crafted public images.
Let’s not forget the role of Twitter during the Arab Spring, either. As government crackdowns stifled traditional avenues of news media, individuals near the protests turned to Twitter for updates, often through mobile devices. In this case, everyday bystanders had information-driven power, but not necessarily for their own glory — rather, they were circumventing existing power structures to keep their community abreast on current events.
From a commercial standpoint, many companies find that using the site is a solid time investment. It offers a platform for announcing promotions, developing business relations, shaping your brand, and monitoring customer activity so that you can stop problems early, and swiftly fix that ones that have already happened.
When is Twitter a Waste of Time?
Not everything is rosy in the world of tweeting. While there is much to be gained by using the site, it can also be a huge waste if you fall into these two time-squandering habits.
Sitting on the sidelines: Twitter should be an interactive thing. Sure, you should read updates, but you should be producing updates, too. Even if you’re not a regular updater, that’s not stopping you from reaching out to people on your feed who recently posted something you liked. Too much time watching from the sidelines means you’re investing all your time in observing, which usually comes with limited rewards.
Not defining a purpose: If the only reason you use Twitter is to chat with friends, and you do this for hours on end, then yeah — you’re wasting time. But the same thing applies if you spend every waking hour partying rather than getting work done. However, if the site serves a purpose for you — it’s a way to drive traffic to your website, for example, or it’s an integral aspect of your networking strategy for securing a new job — and your activity is in line with that purpose, then keep at it, especially if you’re seeing results.
In short, Twitter seems like it’s a complete waste of time for anyone who stays in the role of a bystander, and those who use the website without predefined purpose.
For tips on how small businesses can use Twitter effectively, check out my next blog post, What to Write About on Twitter if You’re a Small Business.