"I just don't understand Twitter."
That is the reply I get most often when I talk about Twitter to friends and family. "What is Twitter?" they will ask. And when I explain the basics of how Twitter operates, they ask, "Why would anyone use Twitter?"
It's actually a pretty good question.
Twitter is a Miniature Blog
Micro-blogging is defined as a quick update usually containing a very limited number of characters. It is a popular features of social networks like Facebook where you can update your status, but it has become best known because of Twitter.
In essence, micro-blogging is for people who want a blog but don't want to blog. A personal blog can keep people informed on what is going on in your life, but not everyone wants to spend an hour crafting a beautiful post about the vibrant colors seen on a butterfly spotted in the front time. Sometimes, you just want to say "went shopping for a new car but didn't find anything" or "watched Dancing With the Stars and Warren Sapp sure can dance."
So what is Twitter? It's a great place for keeping people informed on what you are up to without the need to spend a lot of time crafting an entire post on the subject. You just say what's up and leave it at that.
Twitter is Social Messaging
While Twitter may have started as a micro-blogging service, it is grown into much more than simply a tool to type in quick status updates. So when asked "What is Twitter?", I often describe it as a cross between blogging and instant messaging, though even that doesn't do it justice.
Put simply, Twitter is social messaging. With the ability to follow people and have followers, and the ability to have interact with Twitter on your cell phone, Twitter has become the perfect social messaging tool. Whether you are out on the town and want to coordinate with a group of people as to what hot spot to hit next, or keeping people informed of developments at a company-sponsored event, Twitter is a great tool for quickly communicating a message to a group of people.
Twitter is News Reporting
Turn on CNN, Fox News or any other news-reporting service and you'll likely see a news ticker streaming across the bottom of the television set. In a digital world that is relying on the Internet more and more for news, that streaming ticker is Twitter.
Outdoor festivals like the South-by-Southwest festival in Austin, TX and major events like the E3 conference have shown what a great resource Twitter can be for quickly reporting news to a huge group of people. Faster and more immediate than a blog, Twitter has been embraced by the "new media" of the blogosphere and has slowly won acceptance among traditional media outlets.
Twitter is Social Media Marketing
Twitter has become a favorite target for social media marketing. This new form of getting the message out has been used effectively by Barak Obama during his Presidential campaign, and is used by everyone from magazines to movie stars as a quick way to connect with an audience.
What is Twitter?
This brings us back to the original question. What is Twitter? It is many different things to many different people. It can be used by a family to keep in touch, or a company to coordinate business, or the media to keep people informed or a writer to build up a fan base.
Twitter is micro-blogging. It is social messaging. It is an event coordinator, a business tool, a news reporting service and a marketing utility.
There. That wasn't so hard, was it?