Ten ways in which Twitter can be a productivity tool, and ten ways that it can be a time waster.

There are two schools of thought to the Twitter value debate. For the uninitiated – or those who tried Twitter once or twice and just didn’t “get it” – Twitter is a nonsensical waste of time. For the Twitter converts, and dare I say “addicts,” Twitter is an essential part of their daily communications and work process, a can’t-work-without tool.

In this post I’m going to look at 10 ways Twitter can really help your productivity, and 10 ways that it can waste your time.

Here are ten ways Twitter can be a productivity tool:

1. The Brevity – Twitter only requires you to read 140 characters or less per tweet, which usually translates to under 30 words. A good Twitterer can pack a lot of punch with those few, carefully chosen words so you get easily-digestible chunks of information.

2. The Filtering – Some of the best Twitterers do little more than telling you what they are reading that is of interest. They are like human filters for any number of areas and can be extremely helpful when it comes to sifting through the noise to get the information needed to stay on top of your industry.

3. The Live Answers – For me, nothing is more helpful than the speedy responses Twitter provided to any technical question I have. I’m rarely stymied for long about issues with WordPress or questions about Facebook. One of my followers or friends knows the answer, or at least knows someone who does.

4. The Reminders – A simple Twitter application like Timer on Twitter can send you helpful reminder tweets any time. Send a direct message to @timer, and the program will tweet you back with a reminder after the time you specify. For example, send  “d timer 35 go to meeting” and you’ll get a message reminding you in 35 minutes to get to that meeting.

5. The Alerts – Need to keep up with what people are Twittering about your clients, your company or you? Set up alerts on Twilert to notify you of the results of key word searches. I set them up to arrive at the end of each day and often the results lead to additional business contacts as well as new fans, followers and potential customers for my clients.

6. The Network – There is something special about my Twitter network that is hard to define. The feeling of connectedness and immediacy on Twitter is far greater than on Facebook or LinkedIn, for example. Even when it comes to touching base with my virtual team, Twitter seems much more direct than even email at times (for those members of the team who have embraced Twitter, of course).

7. The “Viral-ness” – Have you felt the power of the retweet yet? When it comes to spreading the word about something, you can often do it more quickly and efficiently by simply requesting a retweet and then watch your message go viral. For greatest effectiveness, you need to be willing to return the favor, as appropriate.

8. The Multiple Platforms – There is something to be said for the ability to access Twitter in many different ways. While many of us stick to a single platform for the majority of our Twittering, the fact that it is so portable (on my iPhone), so flexible (like the way you can access multiple accounts at once with an app such as Twhirl), so dashboard-like (with an app like Tweetdeck), so mobile (via plain vanilla SMS), and so easy (via the Web) makes Twitter a pervasive tool that you don’t ever have to be without.

9. The Integration – As more applications use Twitter in clever ways (like the project management tool Joint Contact) or develop Twitter-like tools (like Yammer), just by knowing how to use Twitter effectively you are developing a new skillset that will be useful beyond Twitter.com, and help ease learning curves when adopting new applications.

10. The Love – Feel the Twitter Love. You feel it when you tweet a link to your latest blog post or podcast. You feel it when you ask your followers for support on a project. Twitter is full of love that can ease a web worker’s workload (quickly identifying outsourcing talent), can ease a web worker’s frustration (nothing better than a good sounding board), and ease a web worker’s soul (like ego-stroking tweets from twittering fans).

Just to be fair and balanced, here are 10 ways Twitter can be a time waster:

1. The Brevity – Trying to compose a meaningful message in 140 characters or less can turn into a chore. Especially when you end up slicing and dicing your tweets with surgical precision, trying to shave off a character or two and not change the meaning of your tweet. (Don’t worry: eventually, tweeting becomes second nature.)

2. The Mindless Chatter - Yes, some people tweet what they had for breakfast. Yes, some even tweet when they are in the bathroom. No, you don’t have to listen.

3. The Antics – People on Twitter like to have fun. Whether it is Stripper Fridays, or some other avatar-changing wave, or retweeting a link to watch the Shiba Inu puppies, there are those who love playing on Twitter. You can ignore them or unfollow them if their game-playing and fun-loving tweets really become disruptive to your work flow.

4. The Following Emails – I have a love/hate relationship with the emails that tell me who is following me. I get a charge out of seeing the diverse people who chose to pay attention to my tweets and find several interesting new people to follow in the process. But going through those emails is a big time suck. Whatever you do, don’t subscribe to Qwitter to see who unfollowed you and when. Those emails will drive you crazy and inevitably batter your ego to a pulp.

5. The Firehose – If you follow a lot of people, there is no way you will be able to pay attention to all the tweets you receive. Don’t even try. Come up with your own way of digesting the Twitterstream, or pare down to just the handful of Twitterers who you really care about or who have the information you need to know.

6. The Vaccuum
– There is nothing worse than putting out an important Tweet to which you are hoping to receive a response and then getting nothing back. When there is nobody responding to your questions or requests, you can just feel time ticking away with nothing being accomplished. At times like those, it might be more efficient to send out a LinkedIn question instead.

7. The Compulsion – If you are the type of person who is constantly checking emails just in case you received another one, then you may be the type of person who compulsively keeps check for replies. Has someone @’d you? Has someone DM’d you?

8. The Sea of SMS – Note to everyone just starting out with Twitter: do not turn on SMS to receive tweets. If you do activate SMS, do so with the greatest of care and only if you have an unlimited SMS plan. SMS’d tweets can cripple productivity by interrupting you every other minute. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

9. The Fail Whale - Even though Twitter does seem a lot more stable of late, there is nothing that puts a damper on the immediacy and speed of Twitter communications than the dreaded – but awfully cute – Fail Whale. While it is hard to fathom so many of us putting up with that kind of failure, somehow we all work around it.

10. The Hate – When there is negativity on Twitter, the speed of retweeting and Google pickup can suddenly thrust you into the non-productive realm of crisis communications and reputation management. Paying attention to what is being said about you on Twitter and throughout the social media-sphere is smart, but letting the bad stuff get to you and drag you down can stop you getting important things done.

Which side of the Twitter value debate are you on? Is Twitter good for your productivity or a waste of your time, and why do you feel the way you do?

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  1. both!

    Though http://monitter.com is an awesome addition too.

  2. Mike Gunderloy Monday, February 9, 2009

    A small plug for the way I’ve been using Twitter as part of a productivity tool: http://trackdailygoals.com .

  3. I like Twitter for the ‘reach and and touch someone’ aspect as well as the headsup on interesting posts.

    Data points, Barbara

  4. Troy Peterson Monday, February 9, 2009

    I’ve been experimenting with using twitter and other lifcasting apps as an “organic about us” page.

    In addition a small bio about who you are and what you do, by incorporating a twitter stream or a friendfeed into your about us page, it also gives a snapshot of who you are at any moment.

    This obviously can go both ways… good and bad.

  5. Twitterst du noch oder arbeitest du schon? | >Freyheyt Monday, February 9, 2009

    [...] einen sehr guten Artikel über Twitter zur Produktivitätssteigerung bzew. als [...]

  6. Awesome post Aliza! We started using Twitter early last year (08) as a trial. I can honestly say that Twitter has helped us to connect with our customers, expand our brand and prove ourselves as a growing company who incorporates new ideas and communication methods. Check out our blog post when you have a moment.


  7. twitter is a dumb waste of time for dumb people with too much time.

  8. ‘To Twitter’ or ‘Not To Twitter’ Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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  9. When it comes to Reputation Management, a term batted about by most if not all SocMed peeple I have this to say. Reputation management starts on Twitter. I’m amazed at what people who are looking for their next gig will tweet about. I’m follwing a SocMed type who is lookign for work, yet every night he is tweeting from a bar and evey morning complaining of a hangover. Note to self – what goes on on twitter hangs around for a long time.

  10. iLibrarian » How Tweet It Is Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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  11. Spreadin’ the blog love – The PDX Experience Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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  13. I’m one of the folks that have an account but just don’t get it. My clientele is 62 and up. I don’t think this group has tweeted (that correct) see I don’t know the language.

    Any suggestions? Thanks

  14. Business Blogging Tips For Building Your Home Business – 10 ways you can use Twitter to improve productivity and 10 ways it can be a time waster Wednesday, February 11, 2009

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  15. Technology is great,but it all depends how we use it. Anything in excess will yield some negative effects. Moderation is the key.

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  17. Very good article. I’m still a newbie to Twitter and this really helps. Thanks.

  18. Librarian(‘)s Matter : Teaching Twitter to Teachers Wednesday, February 11, 2009
  19. Thanks very much for your thorough into to Twitter…
    see you around.

  20. I’m an addict, and I don’t care who knows it.

    I found this article this morning on 10 ways to make Twitter even more productive. In case anyone is interested.

  21. Thanks for these great tools and insights! I was especially intrigued by Qwitter, which will be useful to my corporate account as we find out what kinds of Tweets are well received and which ones cause us to lose followers. You may want to update the link — I found that it was at useqwitter.com. Qwitter.com takes one to a page of mug shots.

  22. Thanks for sharing. I laugh as I think about how, even though I use Twitter daily, I still can’t explain it to people who don’t!
    For the most part, I find that it’s helped my productivity more than hurt it (not that it isn’t good for the occasional mindless perusing), but I’m relying on it more and more as a way to get great information. I actually addressed the social-media-as-productivity-booster topic myself not too long ago: http://thehiringsite.careerbuilder.com/2008/10/30/latest-tip-for-boosting-productivity-may-surprise-you/ While I mostly focused on Facebook, I think it definitely applies to twitter (if not more so).

  23. Good article! Nice to know about the timer facility in twitter.

  24. Twitter is like e-mail on steroids when it comes to distracting you.

    It’s good if you want to send announcements to a bigger audience though.

  25. Twitter is a decent office water-cooler. Not as good as in-person, but better than chat. Chat implies immediacy. Twitter is “Check when you need a break.”

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  31. Great Post! I agree with you on qwitter. Whew- it can beat you upreally good. And this is a great content-just found your site. Will become a regular reader.

  32. Good pros and cons. Thanks. I’m turning into a believer day by day.

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  35. thanks for the great post, i just linked to it via a post. my experience with twitter is that if used from a generosity perspective and truly wanting to connect with people – it is an amazing tools and opportunity.

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  38. The feeling of connectedness and immediacy is what underlines Twitter’s popularity i think. I am sure even the creators didn’t envision the ways in which Twitter would be used.

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  41. Personally, I’m on the side of Twitter being a productivity tool. As a busy student with a short attention span, it’s great to have access to a wealth of information in the form of short tweets. When I’m in a hurry to complete a project, I can easily sift through tweets to find those that are of particular interest to me. I don’t have to spend hours doing searches and reading long articles to find the information I need.

    I’m currently working on research of social media portfolios for students. I’m interested in all types of questions: What are PR pros looking for in student portfolios? What websites exist to publish portfolios to the web? Should students continue to print a hard copy of their portfolio for the job interview? I can use Twitter almost like I use Google, but I get more tailored results. Because the people in my network consist of PR pros and people interested in social media, I am able to find the most up-to-date information from professionals who work in the field. This is information I would not be able to access just doing a simple Google search for “PR portfolio.”

    Because Twitter is a social tool as well, I am able to interact with the people I get information from. I can ask questions from students, professionals, and professors I follow. They are usually more than happy to provide me with useful links and resources.

  42. Claire Wagner Monday, March 1, 2010

    Thanks for the excellent and succinct commentary. I did not know some of the tools – you have already boosted my productivity. I disliked Twitter as a personal communication tool but now love it as a business tool. I learn important facts & read interesting perspectives every day through it. All it takes is some good list management aligned with my priorities.

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