Twitter for your Mom: Explaining the Value of this Social Network

I spend a lot of time explaining Twitter to people and the value they can get out of this one social network. And this relates to personal use of Twitter and business use of Twitter. Everyone can get something out of Twitter, they just need to have an approach that works for them. So today Oprah joined Twitter in a highly publicized event that celebrated Ashton Kutcher reaching 1 million followers before CNN. That has no bearing on this post other than that it was the cause of Oprah starting her Twitter account.

With the explosive growth of Twitter in the past six months the only thing that has changed is that more people have heard of Twitter. But most people still have not heard of Twitter. If they don’t listen to NPR or watch cable news, this is not surprising. To those in the know, Twitter seems to be everywhere. But TV sitcoms stars do not highlight their Twitter addresses in the credits. Neither do Jay Leno or David Letterman. Jimmy Fallon does, but his viewers are probably already on Twitter. Many who have heard of Twitter don’t know what it is or why they should care. They might know it’s a way to share short messages about what you are eating for lunch or that you are stuck in traffic on the 405. But they don’t know how it relates to them.

All that changed today when Oprah sent her first tweet (in all caps). “HI TWITTERS . THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY .” Is this as revolutionary as the first telephone call? No, of course not. But the number of people who heard about Twitter today on Oprah (approximately 6 million based on an average of 5.4% rating) is two-thirds as many as US Twitter users (9.3 million according to comScore). That is huge. And if her book club endorsements are any indication, many of these viewers will want to follow Oprah to Twitter.

So this weekend expect a call from your mom asking you about Twitter. She’s knows you are on it, but never quite understood the social media space that you live in. Why tell people what you are doing? Do they really care? And you can tell her that yes, they do care, as I have, but Twitter is much more than that. The first thing you should tell her is that Twitter has moved way beyond the “what are you doing” question to a point where people share information over Twitter. Not just what they are doing, thinking, eating, but what they are reading and watching and sharing.

If you have are having this conversation with her over the phone you probably don’t want to go into the importance of real-time search. This is gathering information about what people are saying on the internet right now. What is on Oprah’s mind, right now. This is why rumors swirled around the internet last week that Google was interested in buying Twitter. They had talks, but people talk all the time. Knowledgeable people speculated that since Google’s search results are cached, meaning they are from a couple days ago, or even weeks ago, Twitter would bring real time search to the table for Google. They were just talks and Twitter will continue to do what it’s doing. And one day they will let us know how they are going to make their fortune, besides selling out to Google.

But you can tell your mom to set up a Twitter account. Walk her through it over the phone, but tell her not to worry about who to follow (other than you, of course). Tell he to go to search.twitter.com and put one of her interests in the search box and hit search. Whether her interest is gardening, photography or boxing, people on Twitter are talking about it. Right now. And the best part about search.twitter.com is that it updates live. It tells you that there are more tweets and you click refresh. Easy as pie. If you tell you mom to watch these twitter searches for 30 minutes a day for a week, she will understand the power of Twitter. Understanding what’s out there is the first step. And next week you can explain following to her.

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