Twitter: Productivity Tool or 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, 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 (s goog) 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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