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I recently wrote about LinkedIn and why you absolutely have to be on it if you are a professional. Although I am passionate about LinkedIn to the point where I am updating my blog (http://linkedinquestions.wordpress.com) daily and in the process of writing a book on the subject, I have found a new friend recently in Twitter.

"Twitter?" you ask, "I don't get it." Yes, I didn't get it either. And I don't pretend to fully get it now. But, to put it simply, if LinkedIn is about finding and being found, Twitter is about following and being followed. And the implications can be huge.

When I first heard about Twitter, my initial impression is that it was sort of like a group chat application. If you and all of your friends were all on it, you could all keep up with each other in realtime. Cool. But for a professional like myself, SMS + Skype seem to fit the bill. I marginalized Twitter in my mind to be a site for the younger crowd.

How did my impressions change? You hear so much about Twitter, alongside LinkedIn and Facebook, in the media these days that I had to figure out what the buzz was about. So I imported my gmail address book and started to "follow" people, or subscribe to their feeds. I also checked out the default "Suggested Users" and started following some of the more famous personalities and companies on Twitter.

Now, to be honest with you, both LinkedIn and Facebook have a Twitter-like feature that also broadcasts status updates from your network. But this information really gets lost inside all of the other information that both sites provide you. With Twitter that is all you can see. And you are limited to 140 characters a "Tweet" or message posting. So how much valuable information can you include in something that small?

When you first start on Twitter, you are bound to find that there are still a lot of people that are using it just as I had imagined: telling me everything they are doing today. Some people may find value in this, but I couldn't see how just that would create all of the buzz in the media.

After I found a few people who were constantly plugging my Twitter page with these uninteresting broadcasts, I worked on removing myself as a follower of them (which is easy to do) so that I could see who else was broadcasting what. That is when I was able to take a big leap forward in my understanding of Twitter.

It was the tiny URL (www.tinyurl.com). I had seen these URLs, that look like http://tinyurl.xxxxx, on LinkedIn when people used them to shorten their LinkedIn profile pages to make it easy for people to click on them or insert them into a page. But there were lots of posts on Twitter that were utilizing them together with teaser phrases in front of the link to make you interested in looking further. And some of these posts looked genuinely interesting. I clicked a few. And then I was hooked.

With only 140 characters you have to keep your message short and sweet. But you also want to transmit information to others. The tiny URL is the perfect solution to do so. In fact, if I didn't know any better, I would guess that the tiny URL was invented to be utilized on Twitter.

As I had an interest in LinkedIn, I was immediately attracted to what a few people were saying about it, and when clicking these short links I was lead to a plethora of resources on the subject matter. And there were lots of people reporting things in real time. I then realized the virtual treasure trove of subject matter expertise that Twitter could provide you. It goes beyond googling something, because the google results aren't always relevant or new. With Twitter, if you were following the right people, you can be sure that you can get the most relevant information for whatever subject you are interested in.

I wanted to find more people who were twittering about LinkedIn, but I had no idea how to. Other than entering your email account or searching by name or email address, I couldn't figure out how to go about finding people I didn't know to follow. The Twitter user interface is so simple, it really fools people in to thinking you can't do much to it.

But look way below at the bottom of the page. It is easy to miss, but there is a search function. Boom. Up comes a google search-like user interface, and after entering LinkedIn I got a list in real time descending order of what people were tweeting about that included the term "LinkedIn". And what valuable resources I found. I could then look at the profile page of that person and start following them. And as I added more and more of these people to my following list, my home page of broadcasts became more and more relevant to the type of information that I was looking for.

So I see the value in following people to find out more information about subjects that I am interested in, but there's got to be more to Twitter, right? Correct!

The immediacy of Twitter allows you to be able to have real time conversations with other tweeters that you have never met before. It's one thing to invite someone to be your friend on Facebook or a connection on LinkedIn, but being immediately able to jump into an intelligent conversation or comment on someone else's tweet and then receive a relevant comment soon after is very cool. It is a community feeling that goes beyond what I have experienced at the other social networking sites. And because the nature of Twitter is that your comments can be seen and searched by all (which is why you need to be careful about what you say), I have found people to, in general, be open to having people jump into conversations.

Furthermore there are companies using Twitter to attract people. JetBlue was thanking its followers with a 10% discount if you followed the link to their web site. Recruiters are posting ads for the talent that they are looking for. I personally stopped subscribing to these feeds, as I didn't see a lot of value, but I can see the potential for companies to use Twitter to communicate with their customers as well as try to increase sales using techniques to lead people to theit website. And perhaps if you follow the right recruiters you may get the scoop on a job opportunity before it is posted elsewhere.

But there is another reason why it makes sense to create a Twitter strategy: if you want to be followed. If you write your own blog, want to become an industry expert, want to sway people to your way of thinking...intelligent tweeting regularly on Twitter will help you create a fan base of "followers". Now, you may not be the only one being followed by your followers, but as part of your branding campaign it may reap dividends. I am still experimenting with this aspect in tweeting about LinkedIn and trying to lead people to my blog, but so far I have been able to virtually meet a lot of new people who have provided me further insight both into LinkedIn and my own understanding of it. And the people I communicate with all seem so friendly, too.

I know that this blog post may seem to be a bit rambling, but I thought this was the most appropriate way to portray Twitter. Something that seems so simple, but the more you learn about it, the more doors open for you. The more lightbulbs go on in your head. And considering that Twitter APIs are public and there is a growing inventory of Twitter-friendly applications, the sky is the limit for the future of Twitter and its applications. And did I mention all of the different applucations that people use to tweet? OK. I could go on and on but I will stop here. Even if you are a little curious, sign on, and please feel free to follow my tweets: www.twitter.com/nealschaffer And, yes, I do hope to start my Answers to Common Twitter Questions blog soon at http://twitterquestions.wordpress.com, so please check back for updates!

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