Twitter is the Brush, Not the Painting

On one hand, twitter offers a positive change in business landscape, a brave new world of business possibilities, and you’re crazy to ignore it. On the other, it’s just a distraction, a shiny new thing, that gets in the way of the real business.

Can both hands be right? Yes.

The one hand: I spend hours every day now watching, playing, posting, and reading twitter.  That’s gotten me mentions in Business Week and The New York Times. I find myself speaking up for social media on public forums, spouting phrases like “changing business landscape” and “you’re crazy to ignore it” and “great new low-cost road to market” or “marketing tool.” Twitter is essential to my blogging. Its a window to what’s going on and who’s doing and saying what.  It’s great for my business.

The other hand: You can use it to send useless text clutter to nobody. You can use it to pretend you’re working when you’re just watching the world go by in cute sayings, headlines, and interesting pictures. It can be a total waste of business time.

The synthesis: Twitter is the brush, not the painting. It’s a tool for a new kind of self publishing with a different kind of reach. Talk of business benefits of Twitter are like talk of business benefits of the telephone, or of conversation, or of advertising. It’s all in how you use it. Who or what are you trying to be in Twitter, and what does that have to do with your identity, your message, your business, your self.

Tools enhance power. What matters is not the tool, but what you do with it.

(Image: enhanced from a photo by Victures/Shutterstock)

8 thoughts on “Twitter is the Brush, Not the Painting

  • I’ve been following Twitter as a technology for several years. I still don’t get its purpose outside of letting people share inane bits of pointless minutiae.

    As a business what do you do with Twitter that you can’t do any other way? As far as businesses are concerned, how or why is Twitter any more effective than a blog?

    • Charles, I don’t get “inane bits of pointless minutiae” on Twitter. I get serious points of view, links to information, quotes, and (most valuable to me) links to interesting blog posts about topics that I follow on purpose. The key to twitter is that you get content only from those people you choose to follow, so what you get is pretty much up to you. It’s almost like choosing channels. And then, when you get past that first hurdle, there’s a lot of value in quick posts limited to 140 characters each.

      What makes it more effective than reading blogs is that it’s a lot like scanning headlines in a blog reader, but better, because 140 characters is enough to include the equivalent of a headline plus a link.

      And I don’t consider it more effective than blogging in terms of what I write and publish; as an outgoing medium, it’s an addition to blogging, reaching more people with smaller pieces. It can also be more tailored and personal than a blog, with messages to a specific person or group of people. But it’s not a straight either-on comparison, twitter and blogging are different media.

  • Hey Tim,

    Using lists is what made it more practical for me.

    And, when you send a tweet to Tom Peters or Steve Case… and they reply… well, you’d be limiting your options (read: dumb) not to see the opportunity it offers.

    PS – Your team in the UK have been very good to me recently and v helpful. Should be adding your products to our site once we get the redesign in place. Alan’s been great fwiw.

  • Man, for a minute there I thought you were going to break out with a chorus of “Tradition” from Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof – all that “On one Hand”, and “But on the other hand”. Point well made; in fact, I thought your reply to Charles Robinson provided more clarity and reason to your point of “use it, but don’t abuse it” (in this case, maybe it’s don’t be abused by it).
    My problem is being selective. Being new to Twitter, I find myself spending long periods of time trying to find something that “fits”. Afterwards, I often feel “what a waste of time, I could have been writing something on jamesluther.com and enjoying my efforts. But then the dilemma sets in: “Why write, if your readership numbers remain so low that you feel no one is reading your stuff?” So it’s back to Twitter (and others) to try to build some volume.
    Good news; I have found a few sites from Twitter that I enjoy and believe may help. That fellow Tim Berry seems to have his stuff together. (I’m not sucking up – I have enjoyed the posts that I have had a chance to read and, as time allows, I’m working my way back through your recent posts).
    Thanks.

  • You cannot “watch” twitter and expect to gain anything…business or otherwise. Just as the brush will not paint until the painter picks it up and begins to apply paint to the canvas.

    It’s all about participation. I used to feel like Charles…boy was I mistaken. Using Twitter has been huge for the Rotater.

    Thanks, Tim 🙂

  • Couldn’t agree more. Twitter is just a marketing tool – the brush, not the painting. I’ve found it useful to interact with people in my niche from around the world. I also like finding new blogs that other Twitter users have recommended.

    I don’t like the pointless updates that some people make and the amount of spammy updates that others post. Then again, it’s easy to unfollow those people.

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