Why do you use Twitter? A week or so ago MarketingProfs CEO Allen Weiss asked on Twitter, "Sitting here with my wife trying to figure out what motivates people to use twitter....any ideas?" Allen had just returned from a few days of meetings with me and the rest of the MarketingProfs managers in Santa Barbara, and perhaps my constant yammering about how interesting Twitter is inspired his question to his followers.

I read a lot of blog posts and articles about "how" to use Twitter to productively market, promote, converse, or network. I read a lot about Twitter etiquette and about how to get followers, or provide value to followers, or be interesting there.
But I hear less about the "why": Why use Twitter at all, when there are already so many other distractions to your workday, or your home life? Why bother talking to people you won't ever meet, when you have real-world friends to keep up with? What kind of relationship can you hope to form on Twitter, anyway? Is there something wrong with you? Do you have ADD? Are you lonely, anti-social, weird? Or are you just needy?
I spent an unusual amount of time offline the past few weeks, first traveling and then recovering from minor surgery. And I found I missed Twitter -- maybe not quite as much as I missed eating solid food, showering, and walking unsupported, but I missed it nonetheless.
So I started to wonder about Allen's question. I started to wonder what it is, exactly, that I like so much about Twitter. I follow about 12,500 folks on Twitter, and most of them follow me back. But why? What's its value? What role does it play for me? And, to Allen's point, "Why do I use Twitter, anyway?"
I came down to four reasons:
1. Twitter gives me an immediate pulse on news and events, and what people are talking about, often before any news outlet. maybe it's the former journalist in me, but I love getting sense of things as they are happening, real-time, before they are picked up by the news sites and wires.
While I was offline last week, USAir flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River. Janis Krums from Sarasota, Florida posted the first photo of the floating plane on Twitter from his iPhone. Thirty-four minutes after Janis posted his photo, MSNBC interviewed him live on TV as a witness. His kind of "citizen journalism" has happened before, with the Mumbai attacks, the California wild fires, Sarah Palin's debate wink, and more.
My sense is that Twitter's usefulness will only improve as news outlets begin to figure out ways to harness that immediacy: Last week, Yahoo engineer Vik Singh created TweetNews, a mashup of Twitter and Yahoo that takes Yahoo's news results and compares them to emerging topics on Twitter, in effect using what's most popular on Twitter as an index for determining the importance of news stories. In other words, Wired says, "TweetNews uses Twitter to rank stories that are so new they may not have enough inbound links for algorithm-based ranking systems to prioritize them."
2. Closer to home, Twitter gives me a pulse on how MarketingProfs is being received, or what people are saying about us. Most folks love us here at 'Profs: When we released a new product called a SmartTool this past week for our Premium members, I heard lots of great feedback reverberating through Twtiter. Like this:
melgallant: @MarketingProfs i love, love, love the smarttools blog marketing toolkit. definitely demonstrates the value of membership. thx!
evansmom @MarketingProfs Just downloaded blog tools AND email report; I love being a Premium member *preens*
sschablow: @AaronStrout Thanks for the heads up on the Sony case study. I love my MarketingProfs subscription.
Meryl333: @MarketingProfs Just signed up for another Premium year of MarketingProfs. Gets better every year.
lynnelle: @Meryl333 I agree! @marketingprofs premium membership a good
But sometimes I get negatives comments -- people complain that we charge for some of our content. Sometimes we get accused of sending too much email to our audience.
I take both the good and the bad. Either way, I get a chance to see it and respond to both praise and criticism directly. Is there another tool out there that allows me that same kind of immediacy and access? Is there another tool that offers our audience direct access to us?
3. Twitter broadens our reach to a wider community -- and lets me learn from them, too. I've connected with people on Twitter who didn't know a whole lot about MarketingProfs, and who now are subscribing. If they are not, they at least know we exist. Granted, the 12,500 followers I have on Twitter are mostly social media types, so its weighted heavily toward a particular profile of reader or potential subscriber. But still.
I get lots of ideas and feedback from folks on Twitter, and I learn a lot there.
Can I tie my Twitter usage to real ROI? Well, yes. Sort of. There were five or six people who came to our Digital Marketing Mixer in Scottsdale last fall because of the pre-conference buzz about it on Twitter. But I can't claim that was only because of the MarketingProfs presence there: lots of our speakers and other attendees were also talking it up on Twitter.
Tying results too precisely to a specific tweet or two makes me a little uncomfortable -- , and makes me recall what Rohit Bhargava said to me once, "What's the ROI of social media? Well, what's the I, exactly?"
From my perspective, it's enough for me to know that there are many people who know about MP now, who didn't previously. And some of them put their butts into seats at our conference. And Twitter helped.
4. Twitter is my water cooler, of sorts. I didn't invent this metaphor, but it's an apt one. Twitter gives me a chance to take a break and chat with folks informally, about serious and not-too-serious stuff. Sometimes that's about business or marketing, sometimes it's not.
Some of the folks I connect with on Twitter I'll eventually meet. Sonny Gill, Donna Tocci, Beth Harte, Amber Naslund, Frank Martin, Pam Martin, and Frank Eliason all came to the Scottsdale event, and I met them first on Twitter or Plurk, another microblogging platform, but many other folks I might never meet in person. Nonetheless, Twitter allows me to "meet" them just the same, which in some ways is the allure of online generally, for me: it connects me with people, cultures, businesses, events outside of my physical world.
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So how about you? Are you on Twitter? Why?

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image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author who recently published Everybody Writes 2. She speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.