I came to Twitter late in life. While I've had an account since 2009, I rarely engaged in the Twitter community. I didn't fully understand how it worked or what the benefits even were for having a Twitter handle. After all, I was already on Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Wasn't I being social enough?
Today, there are hundreds of online social communities to engage with. There's Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter to name a few. New social networks continue to pop up and show no sign of slowing down. With so many options, how do you find the right ones for you?
I asked myself this question last year as I was redesigning my professional website. During the redesign, I was thinking about which social networks to feature on my site. I wanted to engage with professionals within the design community, as well as strengthen my network. I also wanted to begin a blog, and was thinking about the best way to grow my audience through social media. As I begin reviewing my options, I first settled on LinkedIn as an obvious choice. I had been a member of it for a while, but like my Twitter account I hadn't fully used it. I then thought about Facebook. While I do interact socially through Facebook, it's more for personal engagement. I could post to it, but I didn't believe that audience would generate the effect I was going for. This brought me back to my dusty old Twitter account.
I decided to do a little homework and try to understand how to fully utilize Twitter. I had always thought of it as an outlet for people to vent their frustrations and tell you what coffee shop they were at. As I delved into it further, I found that Twitter is actually a very useful tool for delivering and receiving timely news, as well as branching out of my social audience safety net. With Facebook, I had always interacted with people I had already met in person, rarely trying to meet new people. When I started tweeting, I was initially timid about following people I didn't know or seeing other unknown people following me. Would this be considered rude or stalker like behavior? I eventually realized the different etiquette for connecting through Twitter. Twitter is about engagement beyond your initial set of contacts. Twitter allowed me to share my updates with a broader audience that I hadn't attempted to reach before.
Once I got into it, I found that Twitter is a great way to find news on topics I'm interested in, that I can also share with others. This helped me build a larger following, as well as providing me with relevant information in my field.
Don't get me wrong, Twitter is still that social place where people tweet about the most mundane daily activities and outrage. But it can also be a tool for finding relevant content, broadening your network and increasing your SEO. The moral of the story, for me, is that you can't jump on every social media bandwagon that springs up. However, don't dismiss something out of hand just because you're unfamiliar with it. Research it's intent and potential use and make a decision on what your goals are. You may end up as surprised as I was to realize you had a great tool in front of you that was wasting its potential.