When Twitter first hit the Internet, not many people knew what to make of it. Now it's a publicly traded company valued at billions of dollars with hundreds of millions of users across the globe, all taking advantage of the micro-blogging site.
It's fuelled scandals and influenced revolutions. It can offer insight into everything from the most complex economic news stories of the week to the most mundane details of your aunt Judy's day.
Recently, Richard Silver, Senior Vice President at Sotheby's International Realty Canada, hit 8,000 followers on Twitter.
"I am an early adopter of Twitter," says Richard. "I've been using it for a long time."
There are a number of things that attract Richard to the service, not the least of which is how to-the-point it forces the author to be.
"You have to get a point across in one hundred forty characters and for me, it's become somewhat of [an adjective] because I'll say to people, you know, 'can you give it to us in a Twitter-able phrase?'"
It was just two years after the launch of Twitter that Richard became aware of how powerful the service could be. In 2008, 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out a series of coordinated attacks across the city of Mumbai. The attacks that killed 164 people and injured many more drew condemnation from across the globe.
"I'd been to India and seen those hotels and stayed in one of them and was pretty much horrified by what was happening," says Richard. "But I was in an airport and I was watching CNN. Then I sort of went to Twitter and I would see a tweet about what was happening in Mumbai and I was getting the tweet 10 minutes before I saw it reported on CNN."
The 140-character limit of Twitter has become ubiquitous to the program and many a micro-blogger has struggled with boiling a concept down to its most basic building block.
"Sometimes I will get wordy and go on and on and on, just as I'm doing now, but you want to be succinct," says Richard. "'Here's what I'm thinking,' 'here's what I need,' et cetera, et cetera. So that's part of what I like about it. It's not just so you can go on and on and on."
It's all part of a bigger picture for Richard, what he calls his "spoke and hub theory." He'll write a blog for his website, and then use Twitter to let people know the blog is there.
"I'll write something that I think is going to help them in the process of buying or selling, a great place to eat in Toronto, or talk about different technology. I'm a bit of a technology hound, so I always like new things and what's happening. What I'll do is I'll find an article and tweet it out to my friends and to people who follow me. So it's been very very good, because you know, strangely enough a lot of people they do follow [me], they want more information. And it allows people to think of you as a source of information as well."
A source of information who, let us not forget, is a realtor and who sees Twitter as an invaluable tool of the trade.
"Richard and his team are at the leading edge of their profession in using these tools to communicate in a more relevant way," says Ed Layton of Twitter Canada. "Twitter targeting enables [zeroing in on] a specific geographic area, and it means that a realtor is able to communicate to buyers and sellers within specific neighbourhoods."
"Twitter provides a fantastic real estate marketing solution," says Layton. "As a mobile media that networks on an interest, it is well placed to communicate to realtors and those looking for a home."
Richard remembers one specific home he was selling where Twitter came in handy.
"It's one of those properties that's absolutely amazing. It's got all the bells and whistles and even then some. The pictures just cannot describe it properly. They don't do it justice. Being there is really something. So I was trying to convey it more and more. You know, 'here's a picture, here's the view from the rooftop,' because it has this thing where it looks like a widow's walk where you can climb up to the top and you can take photos and you can see the city. It's up in Caledon which is about 40 miles, 50 miles away from the city. But you can see right downtown. It's pretty amazing. It gives it an immediateness. And as well, I wanted to attract people up to experience it as much as possible. I was trying to let people know where I was going to be and at what time and to come and take a look at it. It had a pretty good turnout and actually a couple people said 'I saw your tweet' and somebody else came and said 'I saw you on Facebook this morning, and that you were going to be here.' So it did work in that way."
It's certainly a far cry from the horribleness of Mumbai, but it does serve to demonstrate just how widespread Twitter's appeal can be and the different roles it can occupy in society. But it's not all work tweets and business talk on Richard's account.
"Every once in a while I'll tweet out something that I think is funny or that I've heard and that gets passed along a bit," says Richard. "Just things that are self-deprecating or make you realize some days you're the statue and some days you're the pigeon. So, things that make you take life a little less seriously."
Twitter began in March of 2006. Created by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass, the service launched in July of the same year. Just seven years after its inception, Twitter is one of the 10 most-visited websites on all of the world wide web.
The cultural impact of Twitter is yet to be measured, but Richard is excited to see what will be sowed from the seeds planted in 140 character installments.
"I think it will be interesting to see the writers that we see coming out of this next generation who grew up on Twitter and try to be more succinct in their prose."
And be they statues or be they pigeons, Richard is sure the next installment of authors will have a more immediate sense of prose.
"It's a little bit more [about] not having the urgency to write 500 words when you could say the same thing in three or two."
And what was Richard's first tweet?
"At the Inman Real Estate Connect"
Professional and succinct. Just how he likes it.
HOW TO TWEET SUCCESSFULLY
- Always engage with people! If you're just posting tweets without mentioning anyone, your Twitter feed becomes a stream of only your thoughts and you won't get any feedback. But if you engage and mention that follower you know would have something to say about the topic, you're building a relationship.
- Reply, favourite, and retweet other people's tweets! Be social—it's called social media for a reason.
- Combine text and photos. Yes, Twitter was all about words until recently, but a picture does say a thousand words, and when you have only 140 characters to spare, it's a great way to share your message.
- Use hashtags, but don't go overboard. Hashtags are for keywords.
- Don't just share your listings. It will make your account look overly promotional and no one likes that. Mix it up with some fun content, and make it as personal as you can. People like to know the person they're doing business with.
- If you're trying to build new connections, tweeting is a lot like flirting. You start by learning as much as you can about a person, which means you also need to ask questions, then you share something you know they'd like and voilà—you get a date (or a retweet).
- Look into using Hootsuite, Followerwonk and Topsy. Hootsuite will help you schedule your tweets when you don't have time to be tweeting all day, but you still have something important to share. Be careful though—you don't want your tweets to look automatized. Followerwonk will allow you to track your followers and their activity. Best thing about it is that you can sort them according to their location, number of followers or their interests. Topsy will show you how many people have tweeted about your website posts.
- Always make sure you actually have something to say—something that other people might find useful or entertaining. With time, you'll see what your followers like and what they don't and it will become easier to keep them engaged.