Twitter can save your life


It’s safe to say that the majority of the world thinks Twitter is a waste of time. Yes, Twitter is a darling of the New York Times and frequents front pages of mainstream media. But Twitter gets coverage not because the intelligentsia loves Twitter, but because the intelligentsia hates feeling like it’s falling behind.

This post is for all the people who think Twitter is stupid but wish they didn’t. Here are five ways Twitter can save your life:

1. Twitter lets you find people like you.
The core of every career problem is actually loneliness. You don’t change jobs because you don’t have faith in yourself.You don’t ask for more money because you don’t believe in your own value. You don’t quit because you worry about not being associated with a company. Believing in ourselves is the only thing that keeps us going and if we stop believing in ourselves, we get stuck.

Twitter helps solve this problem because you can find people like you. That voice inside your head telling you that no one has your problem? Do a search. Every problem you can imagine is tweeted about somewhere. You can find someone talking about it. The most important reason to be on Twitter is to connect with people, so if one person is there, talking about the problem you have, then they want to talk with you about it.

The more people you find who are like you, the more you can connect with others and feel okay with who you are, and then you believe in yourself and you start to move on. Twitter is a live index of people and the weirdness we harbor, which is a gift to the world of loneliness.

2. Twitter solves specific problems.
You can tweet into the world, and ask for help, and someone will answer. Twitter users ask questions all the time — usually how to. “Where’s a good place to eat near the intersection of in San Francisco?” Or “What adapter do I need to run PowerPoint from my Mac into a projector?” You will get an answer in twenty seconds.

Twitter answers questions so efficiently because there is such an incredibly wide range of top-performers. There’s a directory to find anyone on Twitter, by company or title or location. This means that whatever you want to do with your life, there is someone there who can help you. And you know they want to help, because that’s why people are on Twitter — to connect with people. It’s why so many people use social media — to help others. Social media is about networking, and networking is about helping people. This means that you have millions of people waiting to help you.

But what do you need help with? It’s much harder to ask a good question than get the answer.

Twitter gives you the ability to get the help you need to get what you want. Once you’re using Twitter you have no barrier to getting what you want in your life — except you.

3. Twitter helps you find what you’re good at.
Twitter is a way to let people know what you’re doing. For most of the day, what we’re doing is not as interesting as what we’re thinking. So in the end, Twitter is sort of a window into your head: what you’re doing in your head while you’re doing nothing that’s all that interesting otherwise.

If you force yourself to start tweeting, you force yourself to think about what you’re thinking. Most of us focus on what we’re doing: our to do list, our schedule, etc. Once you focus instead on what you’re thinking, you free yourself to start connecting with people based on what you’re thinking about.

Then, you will learn the best way to communicate what you’re thinking. For some people, 140 characters in Twitter is enough. For many people, Twitter is a way to link to a widely ranging reading list and for some people, Twitter will be a gateway to their longer ideas.

You’ll learn for yourself how to best present what’s in your head. Then you can be more than just a static resume, more than just a list of your contacts. You can be a known for your ideas.

4. Twitter delivers exactly what you want to know, fast.
Twitter helps you get better information and give better information. And, in an information economy, you can’t have a more important tool than that.

Twitter is a way to curate information in a way that makes news useful to you. It used to be that the New York Times told you what was the news for that day. Later, the news of the day because so large that it would fill 10,000 New York Times every day. Or maybe every minute.

Today we cannot read all the news but we need to sort and synthesize at a decent pace, in order to stay useful and engaged in the fast-changing world around us. Twitter is a curating system. You can follow people who are good at finding the news you care about, and then you have a stream of information better than the New York Times — live, updating every minute.

You might think this is crazy, but it’s the reason why all major news organizations have a department devoted to getting the news from Twitter. That’s where news breaks first today. And the inherent crowdsourcing nature of Twitter makes it the most efficient way to tell which news people care about most.

5. Twitter makes you brave.
Maybe you think all this is stupid and misguided. But let me tell you something. I am not an early adapter. I resist new technology until I think it’s proven. I hate learning new contraptions, and I don’t even know how to program my expensive-because-it’s-programmable coffee maker. Sometimes I can’t even understand what’s going on in my own social network, Brazen Careerist.

But even with my technoskepticism, I know that you have to try Twitter. Because bravery begets bravery, and trying new things keeps you fresh and interesting, even if you are trying new things that you don’t believe you really need to try. It’s why I went to the rodeo, it’s why I worked on that chicken farm, it’s why I read car and driver magazine when I’m getting a manicure. You have to force yourself out of your comfort zone if you want to grow. (And for starters, you can follow me :)

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  1. Phil Buckley
    Phil Buckley says:

    This is one of the best Twitter explanations I’ve ever read. I love the part about finding people you like, because that’s the easy first step, the awesome 2nd step is the ability to connect with people even though you may never meet them.

    For example, I found this post because of a Twitter link I saw from @lisabarone who I may never meet, but admire from a twistance. Her insights have helped me become better at what I do, and now I have a feeling reading this blog will also help me.

    Thanks :-)

    • Kat Wilder
      Kat Wilder says:

      like anything else, Twitter is how you use it.
      If you follow people who blather on about where they are every second, yawn.

      If you follow people who have something to say (like you, Penelope – no, I’m not sucking up), then you can learn something, as I often have.

  2. Brendan
    Brendan says:

    2 and 4 are much better served by Aardvark than Twitter. Problem with Twitter is how much work you have to do getting followers before you can get questions answered. The general timeline and topics are useless these days because there are too many people, not enough of them will ever see your msg unless you are followed.

    • Adam
      Adam says:

      Agreed. Folks with hundreds/thousands of followers do have access to a wonderful “oracle” but 99.9999% of twitter users don’t have the same experience.

    • ReaderX
      ReaderX says:

      That’s a key point. What’s described in the blog post is a pollyanna outlook on an experience most folks do not have. Get a couple hundred followers — real ones, not reverse marketers — and maybe just maybe you’ll get an answer or two about this or that, but expect it to be infrequent and possibly of poor quality.

      Of course, the first point seems to be true. People who spend much time on Twitter do seem to be rather lonely.

      • Jane Jordan-Meier
        Jane Jordan-Meier says:

        Twitter has proven time and time againg that it really comes into ist own in a crisis. I am writing a book about crisis media management in the digital age and woudl love to include your twitter comment. May I/ If yes please let me know how you like me to attribute you. Thanks, Jane

  3. Nicole Crimaldi
    Nicole Crimaldi says:

    This morning around 4am my family experienced the mild earthquake that was near their home in the far west Chicago suburbs. They freaked out and wondered if a tree hit the house, if there was a terrorist attack, or an earthquake. They couldn’t find anything on the news, but my sister jumped on Twitter to find out tons of people in the burbs were experiencing the same thing. Twitter had compiled the news from the source instantly, way before any large news outlet would ever be able to get to it. In case of an emergency, I think that’s pretty darn cool!

  4. LuckyK
    LuckyK says:

    I get the value of all social media except Twitter. It serves no purpose that isn’t served by something else. I don’t see how it will ever generate revenue. The perceived value, hype and participation is all predicated on this wave of fear. Fear of being left out or left behind. Eventually someone big and and influential will end their Twitter experiment and move on to some other platform, and the dominoes will start to fall.

    • Veronica Sawyer
      Veronica Sawyer says:

      What dominoes?

      See all the other examples in the comments of specific information Twitter provides that can’t be had elsewhere as quickly.

      Here’s an example of revenue generation: A new pub opened in my town and I started following their twitter feed before I stopped in. 3 times I have visited just because of their tweets (trivia night, new menu items, specials). They don’t even have a functional website yet, but they have at least one customer because of Twitter.

      So that’s revenue generation for the user but for the site itself, how is it different from any other social media with a huge user base and no way to make money directly from them?

  5. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    Thanks – I must admit I was skeptical.

    As a test, I tweeted “What is the best german restaurant in rochester,
    new york?”

    “20 seconds” was an overstatement, but within 7 minutes I got “JohnFrame
    @jensfiederer Apparently Rohrbach’s is fantastic. 3859 Buffalo Road”

    I have no idea why I am following JohnFrame or what made him see my question.

  6. Sketch Country
    Sketch Country says:

    I created a twitter profile page two weeks ago.

    In much the same way as you might build a life-size wicker elephant, stand back and think “Well, what do I *do* with it”, I’m now standing back and thinking “Well, what do I *do* with it.”

    Having read all the great things, including Penelope’s post, that you can do (nay, *should do*) with it – actually beginning that process is no longer as clear to the novice as it would have been to the early adopters.

    At the moment the hundreds of sister-sites and apps available mean the twitter-scene is like a magic-eye drawing – lots of things to get your attention, but no clear way to see the ‘real’ picture.

    Can anyone suggest a place to start?

    • Kellie Flanagan
      Kellie Flanagan says:

      I can tell you how I started: find a friend who you know is on Twitter and follow them, look at who they follow, find people who sound interesting and follow them, find out who they’re following and follow their interesting followees!

      I do searches from time to time on my pet subjects (business analysis, sewing, bollywood :]) but you get a lot of noise with subject searches. By far I get the biggest value from people whom I know or have gotten to know over time as offering interesting, reliable and timely information on matters that interest me.

      I have around 190 people I follow, and a small group of followers, and that has built over time, and always changes. Finding the ‘right ones’ is an constant process. As a commenter further down the list commented, it’s not something you can rush.

      Penelope, thanks for the insight on how best to use Twitter: I agree, the more interesting Tweets describe what a person’s thinking, far more so than what they’re doing.

  7. Alexis Grant
    Alexis Grant says:

    Penelope, my favorite bit from your video conference on this was about how Twitter allows you to make connections, and then it’s up to you to bring those connections OFF Twitter. I’ve “met” people on Twitter who are really helping me guide my career. Yes, at first it’s just tweeting. But then, if you try, you can turn that connection into a real relationship.

    The people who don’t get Twitter are usually the people who haven’t bothered to try it.

  8. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    My tweets automatically go to my Facebook status, and I got two responses there as well:

    1) confirming Rohrbach’s
    2) from a fellow in Serbia, probably no expert on Rochester restaurants: “it’s a trick question … who has ever heard of a good german restaurant? unless you’re a sucker for a homemade Blutwurst :P”

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Haha. That’s funny. You’re right. I don’t actually use twitter in a completely normal way. But I love writing on twitter. So you can follow me to get your feet wet, but you’ll need to follow a bunch of people. There are some links in this post to people you can follow. It’s sort of like following blogs, though. It doesn’t matter what you start reading. Eventually you’ll stumble onto something you love.


  9. chip
    chip says:

    Posts like this are exactly why I read your blog (other than for the humor value and your unique perspective on things. I toyed with Twitter a while back when it was still fairly new but never found a use for it in my life. I think I’ll go check it out again now.

    One of the best things I have learned from you is to think about a subject after I think I’m done thinking about it. .


  10. JillPR
    JillPR says:

    Another thing to love about Twitter: You can ask impolite questions.

    A friend of mine who recently started blogging used Twitter to ask what others’ blog stats were like. It’s a slightly impolite question that wouldn’t sound great in a personal email, like asking how much money someone makes. But he got some thoughtful responses from fellow bloggers and he was able to get perspective on his own stats.

    So using Twitter he got his answer without risking offense, because he posed it to a group. And of course, in true Twitter style, a bunch of helpful people came to his aid.

    (Got an IE error first time I tried commenting 40 min ago, so sorry if this is a double.)

  11. Janee
    Janee says:

    It’s great to read your new insights about Twitter. I joined a few years ago when you announced that you were Twittering. No, I’m not one of your cyber-stalkers :) Like a lot of people, I took a break from it after the enthusiasm wore off. Only recently have I begun to the find real value of Twitter in all the ways you just mentioned. The key for me was when I stopped just Twittering and started connecting. Thanks for introducing me to this now valuable tool.

  12. dava
    dava says:

    It surprises me (but shouldn’t) when people are almost hostile about Twitter. There is no “quick start” way to get involved. You just have to find people with similar interests and follow them. You read what they say and respond if it’s interesting to you. Lots of people think that they have to read everything in their Twitter stream, but it’s not necessary, just like listening to every conversation at a party is not necessary.

    I’ve never been terribly comfortable in social situations, but Twitter has made it easier. If I go to a gathering and there are people there I’m connected to on Twitter, we instantly have something to talk about. And I have met most of the local people I’m connected to, in large part because I AM connected to them.

    Twitter hasn’t saved my life, but it has certainly made it more interesting.

  13. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    It took me a while to figure out how to use Twitter. In the end, I have two accounts: one that is professional and uses my real name, and one that is personal and pseudonymous. (Neither of these accounts is KateNonymous, BTW.)

    The professional one focuses on marketing–generally things I see in ads and wonder about, and the personal one is random things I see or experience.

    Both have allowed me to make contact with people I’d never otherwise encounter, like a favorite author who lives in another country (she’s actually replied to me on Twitter, when there would be no opportunity to do that without it).

    I have one friend who often decries Twitter. But he has a blog with entries so brief that he could in all seriousness use Twitter for that purpose.

    No one has to use Twitter. No one has to use any tool. But the level of criticism seems absurd to me. Don’t want to use it? Great–then don’t.

  14. Kristie Ryan
    Kristie Ryan says:

    Hey there Penelope,

    I think this post has definitely pushed me to the point of realization that I MUST start using Twitter. I have a personal account and one for my new blog, but just haven’t been able to muster up the energy to use it with everything else I am doing. I’ve been told about tweetdeck and I’ll definitely be trying that out.

    I really appreciate your post because I think it will help me find people I can connect with on Twitter and may be interested in my blog.

    Thank you!

  15. Amber Sosa
    Amber Sosa says:

    Great post! I was just recently introduced to Twitter and I love it. I was introduced as part of a personal branding project and it completely changed my perspective of Twitter itself. Before I was someone who hated the idea of what Twitter stood for but it was simply because I couldn't see how it could be used as a tool, as a place to inform and help myself and others rather than just "me-form" and miss the two way element of communication. This post is great to help others realize the potential of Twitter and hopefully make them see it as the powerful tool is can be if used correctly!

  16. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    This was interesting. I know that I’ll join Twitter eventually – it’s inevitable. I like the idea of twitter, but I can see myself joining, following a few people but not forming any real connection with anyone and then quitting a few months in (this has happened on other networks I’ve joined before).

    My problem is that I don’t get social networking online. I’m fine with face-to-face networking, or even over the phone, but when it comes down to the internet I’m lost. Basically, the etiquette of interaction in real life is innate to me, but I am stumped online. I’m working on this now, but it is a struggle. So if I were to join Twitter now, it most definitely would not save my life. In fact, it’d just make it harder.

  17. Chickybeth
    Chickybeth says:

    I love your tweets the best out of everyone I follow because they are funny and honest and it makes me feel like I know you. At first, I didn’t “get” Twitter either. It felt fake and weird to send updates on myself. Over time, I have learned not to tweet exactly what I am doing, but what I am thinking about. I love that I can post links to all sorts of wonderful, educational, political, funny, sad, etc. things and everyone I know can choose to look (or not). If I had to email everyone every time I saw or heard something kick-ass, people would be annoyed with me and just stop opening my emails! With Twitter, they can glance at a post, decide if it interests them, and follow the link or move on. Their choice.

    Twitter makes me feel less pushy with ideas while still allowing useful information to be spread out to the people I care about.

  18. Jay
    Jay says:

    I know what you mean about the “comfort zone,” Pen. I’m getting out of mine a little more each day. Oneo’thesedays, I’m’a just dive right in!

    One thing that makes Twitter daunting to me is the syntax as in this retweet from Jens earlier: “JohnFrame
    @jensfiederer Apparently Rohrbach’s is fantastic. 3859 Buffalo Road”

    So, I’m inferring that tweeter’s handle always shows up first, and tweetee is always referred to as @soandso? This is 100%? As a writer/editor, I always want to cut this out, but I guess it’s just source referencing I need to gloss over as I get to point.

    And the hash tags thing? I remember using them earlier this year (school year), late Oct, to associate my tweets with Brazen, but probably mistyped somewhere along the line and haven’t used since.

    Consider this fodder for tonight’s webinar.

    As I don’t have unlimited messaging, Twitter is not something I use too often from my phone, and am just getting around to tweeting from online.

    Interestingly, your not being the typical Tweeter is what makes you the only Tweeter I allow to penetrate my 200 messages per month.

    Love them three-sentence stories, Pen!

  19. Jay
    Jay says:

    And how ’bout all those cool backgrounds people have? How hard are they to set up? Can’t be too, but when you’re an atechnophile, seems like such a hassle.

  20. Anca
    Anca says:

    I don’t think Gen Y has bought into Twitter, at least not for most of the purposes you list. My friends and I keep our tweets locked in private mode. We want to be able to express ourselves without having to worry that our mothers/bosses will read and react negatively.

    And as for “2. Twitter solves specific problems”, anyone too lazy to or use to find restaurants/etc is not someone I’m going to bother to help, on Twitter or anywhere else, unless they’re planning to pay me.

  21. Sergey Alekhin
    Sergey Alekhin says:

    I get the value of all social media except Twitter. It serves no purpose that isn’t served by something else. I don’t see how it will ever generate revenue. The perceived value, hype and participation is all predicated on this wave of fear.

  22. Simon Thompson
    Simon Thompson says:

    I’ve had numerous Twitter pages and could never find any use for any of them. Thanks to you, now I have an idea as to how to best utilize Twitter for my small business.
    In one of your previous posts you had mentioned that you were worried about how long it was going to take for you to become an expert, but I don’t think you should worry about that, just keep giving good advice, I come here for some everyday.

    Thanks again P.

  23. Tom
    Tom says:

    I see a lot of overreactions to Twitter that border on the fearful, frankly. People can dislike something and not react with the kind of ridiculous scoffing that they do to Twitter. It’s the same kind of reaction I remember seeing to the original Iphone, and, looking back at forums, to the original Ipod (it remains to be seen if the reaction to the Ipad will prove ridiculous, but I think it will.) People fear things they don’t understand, and for some reason, they won’t even dare click through to read some of the more thoughtful tweeters out there (and there are many.) Instead, they parrot what a few said early on – that’s it’s just people talking about what they had for lunch, one of the dumbest things I’ve seen written about Twitter as I have rarely seen anything like that in any of the people I follow, at least.

    Twitter’s power, both in usefulness and entertainment, is in who you follow. If you choose to follow mindless idiots, you’re going to read mindless crap. If you seek out intelligence, you’re going to find it. It’s there, and way more of it than you think. Be as wary about who you follow on Twitter as you are about everything else on the internet.

  24. Tony
    Tony says:

    I didn’t get Twitter until I realized the key was following other people. Now I have fantastic folks I’ve never met who are curating large bodies of information for me that I don’t have time to synthesize and select from myself. It’s incredibly useful for an info nut like me. (P, you’ll notice I attempt to do the same for you: winnow out a very small # of links that you might like and forward them on once in a blue moon. Many of those I originally found on Twitter.)

    Two other social media platforms I’m playing with right now are, which I’ve found useful for getting questions answered in a way that hasn’t quite worked yet for me with Twitter; and the newly launched, which is a social media platform for crowdsourcing the funding of small creative projects. (Full disclosure, I know the RH founders personally.)

  25. JenG
    JenG says:

    What I love about this post is that it not only encourages me to do one thing I find hard (learn Twitter), but tackles the broader problem of overcoming personal fear. I’ve done a lot of self reflection lately and realized what holds me back from doing things is not laziness (the excuse I usually use), but in fact fear. Thanks for the nudge! This is the first blog I’ve started to follow–one more thing I am learning to do.

  26. Felicia Shelton
    Felicia Shelton says:

    Thank you for answering all of my question on the webcast tonight and this post about Twitter has sold me on the importance of Twitter as it pertains to my work as a photographer.


    Felicia S.

  27. Evee
    Evee says:

    Yeah twitter is really useful, The whole following and being followed thing is about knowing what others are into and letting them other know about you too, a tru social netork indeed.

  28. Kristen Bennett
    Kristen Bennett says:

    I think that creative communications people should focus more on using twitter as a medium, versus as a tool.

    I recently finished a project to see if I could recreate “The Breakfast Club” using hashtags, without the stream being interrupted by spammers or twitter prowlers. It worked!

    Check it out:

    Imagine the creative possibilities!

  29. Stephanie M
    Stephanie M says:

    This is a great post. I especially love your last point. I’m not an early adapter either and my good friend pushed me towards Twitter, which I attempted to resist, but eventually gave into peer pressure. Now, as corny as this sounds, I don’t know what I would do without it. The amazing people I’ve gotten to talk to and share with is awesome, and no one understands it, no matter how much I explain it to them.

    I am definitely going to share this post with others! Thanks!

  30. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    My first thought was to post a comment saying something like “that oracle thing good advice only for people who have a horde following them”, but I decided to try it first – and did get a response even though I have only a few dozen followers, most of those being spam.

    Mind you, I got more responses on Facebook, but no more useful ones.

  31. Mojgan
    Mojgan says:

    Twitter really DID save my life!

    Last year I got invited to go snowshoeing on Mount Seymour ( For whatever reason I thought this would be a leisurely activity and that we would be walking across the mountain and not up hill. This was mistake #1.

    We were walking up hill, and let me tell you, with snow shoes on, this felt like walking up with high heels! The group of people I was with came with poles, carries babies on their back and so hardcore, and right when we started, I looked up and couldn’t spot them any more. For someone whose only form of exercise is when she is beating eggs for baking, this was not a good idea. Mistake #2.

    Finally, I just could not walk anymore. I decided to stay behind while they finished. They could pick me up on their way down. Well, as soon as the group left, I realized I was wearing all white and surrounded by snow. What if they couldn’t find me? I don’t know how to survive in the wild. Panic set in. I noticed animal prints all around me. What do people do to survive in the wild? can you eat snow? oh my gosh… I’m going to die! And then I realized, I better get on Twitter and let everyone know where I am. So that if I can’t make it back, the search and rescue team can be notified.

    After a stream of tweets, my friends did find me, and the animal prints turned out to be my own foot prints and I made it back okay. BUT as a result, the North Shore Search and Rescue team is now following me on Twitter! I can rest assured that no matter what adventures I go on in the wild, they have my back.

  32. Mike
    Mike says:

    I’m fairly new to twitter but i have also used it to find out information and have had a great respond. But it is hard to find followers that share the same aspects as myself. Love the article, thanks for sharing!

  33. Loribeth
    Loribeth says:

    I’ve never figured out how to use Twitter. I have an account, but it seems that unless you have a huge amount of people following you, there is very little value. I twitter, but no one reads it… It’s hard to find people, because real names are not used.

  34. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    best line ever written about the current obsession with Twitter:
    “Twitter gets coverage not because the intelligentsia loves Twitter, but because the intelligentsia hates feeling like it's falling behind.”

  35. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    I knew I needed to do it eventually, kind of like I knew I needed to get a cell phone eventually before I finally did in 2001. Thank you for nudge. It’s not nearly as bad as I thought. I still don’t understand how anyone besides the NY Times has time to post every three minutes, though.

  36. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    You said:
    (ask a question) “You will get an answer in twenty seconds.”

    That’s not my experience to questions asked on Twitter.
    Maybe it works better if you have a lot of followers waiting breathlessly for you to breathe something out but I don’t (I have around 1100 followers).
    If you’re a mere mortal like me and want immediate answers to questions I suggest you use LinkedIn “Answers”. You’ll find them under “More” on LinkedIn’s Main Page.

  37. Shelley Gable
    Shelley Gable says:

    One of the best descriptions of Twitter I’ve read. And I think that some people forget that if they’re curious, it’s okay to open an account and slowly feel it out. If after a few months, they get into it, fine…if not, the account can be deleted.

    Personally, the first few months I was on Twitter, I used it to follow local people and organizations to see what was going on in the area. I rarely posted anything myself. Later, I came to realize how it could help me develop in my career, so I expanded my network to other topic areas and started contributing myself. And really, I’m only spending a couple hours a week on it…sometimes not even that much.

    Good post!

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