The Real Power of Twitter is Link Sharing

Posted on Jul 17, 2009 | 6 comments


linksThis is the fourth posting in a series I’m calling Twitter 101 for all those that say “I don’t get it?”  If you want to see the full outline click on the Twitter 101 link.

In the second post I talked about Twitter being like Instant Messaging (IM) and text messaging (SMS) and that is the reason for the 140 character limit.  Many people I speak with mock the 140 character limit as it was even parodied by Maureen Dowd in this much mocked Op-Ed in the NY Times.   I actually think that the service would be slightly more useful if it was a 250 character limit but I do like the brevity imposed by a having a limit so I tolerate 140.

But the main point of this post is to point out to people who “don’t get” Twitter why the 140 character limit isn’t the problem they imagine it to be.  The usual comment I hear is, “what can anybody usefully say in 140 characters.”  The point that this comment is missing is that the most powerful use for Twitter is “link sharing.”

In the best Twitter posts people will write a little bit of text commenting on a topic and then provide a link to an article for the reader to learn more.  A couple of days ago I posted a link to a NY Times article talking about the budget crisis in California.  I pulled out the one bit of the article that I was most concerned with and sent the Tweet, “California’s education budget likely to be cut another 3%. Lovely. http://bit.ly/13ISMt but the article wasn’t primarily about education and if you wanted to learn more you could read more.

A friend of mine in LA posted this yesterday, “Jumbo squid invade San Diego shores, spook scuba divers http://usat.me/?35664766 “.  Ok, so not relevant for my business life but what a great diversion for me.  I used to live in San Diego and my mom still does so I’m down there often.  I clicked on the article (you should to – it’s pretty interesting).   At breakfast this morning I was talking with a guy who lives in San Diego and he knew about the squids.  Just like that I was “part of the conversation.”  I can’t imagine I would have known about this squid phenomenon if it weren’t for Twitter.

This morning I posted a link on both Twitter and Facebook to my favorite venture capital / start-up cartoon that ran in the New Yorker back when I was a struggling first-time CEO trying to raise VC.  This really is awesome so be sure to check it out.

Twitter is filled with useful links like this – some business, some political, some news related and some just plain funny.  In writing this post I went to Jeff Cohn’s update page www.twitter.com/jeffcohn because I knew he was the guy who posted about the squids. (side note: if you’re twitter name is something like jeffcohn make sure you list your name as Jeff Cohn – with space in between – because on Twitter if you search for Jeff Cohn you won’t find the one above due to his minor error).  On Jeff’s update page I saw this very interesting Tweet ” Clearstone Venture Partners Jim Armstrong’s – Top 10 Board Meetings Dos And Donts For CEOs http://tinyurl.com/l9r3uf ” which I just now went and read.  Jim is a fellow SoCal VC so it’s interesting for me to know what he’s writing.  Without Twitter I simply wouldn’t have know that Jim had written this blog post.

So sharing links is what I believe the real power of Twitter offers for both people who want to communicate a message and for those that log in to check out what’s happening.  Without link sharing Twitter is just group IM or group chat in my opinion.

bitly-screen-shotIf you look at the link I’ve posted above you’ll see some from Bit.ly and tinyurl.  The need to restrict posts to 140 characters has created a “URL shortening” phenomenon since most URLs are quite long.  I personally use http://Bit.ly , which is the most popular now for Twitter.  The reason I use it is that I can track a bunch of analytics about my links (or other people’s links)  that tell me things like: total number of people who clicked on my link, break-down by geography, which application people used to click on the link (e.g. twitter.com, Facebook, Outlook, etc.) and when they clicked.  From this you can learn many things.  For example, you can begin to learn which times of day are best to send a Tweet.

Whenever I write a blog post I send out a Tweet with the topic and the link to the posting.  I am not so presumptuous as to think that people think about checking out my blog every day to see whether there is a new post or not.  So the Tweet helps me to make people aware of the posting and if they find the topic interesting then presumably they’ll decide to click on the link and read the post.

This leads me to a related side topic  I write most of my blog posts late in the evening when only the night owls are on Twitter (but by the way, this is a great time to build relationships with these people since less people are Tweeting) and I don’t want to sent my Tweet announcing the blog posting at midnight when nobody’s reading.  For people with very few people that they follow they’d probably still see it by morning but if you’re following 100’s of people my Tweet would have fallen off of your radar screen.

So initially I would blog in the evening and then Tweet about it the next day.  But this was a hassle because I’m usually pretty busy in the day and it’s a pain to remember to do it.  So I started using a product called CoTweet (www.cotweet.com), which has a lot of functionality but primary benefit for me is that you can time schedule your Tweets.  So I simply send the Tweet at midnight and CoTweet will hold it until the time and the day that I specify and it will Tweet it for me.  Problem solved.

In summary, Twitter has taken off because it has captured the zeitgeist of the youth driven world of IM & text messaging and made this even more valuable through a link sharing.

This has created a whole new marketing economy, which I’ll cover in my next blog post.  Twitter, it turns out, is driving business in a big way.

Link sharing on Twitter has created a whole new marketing economy, which I’ll cover in my next blog post.  Twitter, it turns out, is driving business in a big way.