5 Top Twitter Myths Busted

Twitter is a website, owned and operated by Twitter Inc., which offers a social networking and microblogging service, enabling its users to send and read messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the user's profile page.

More people are using Twitter than you may think. The stats from Nielsen Online report Twitter usage grew 1,382 percent from February 2008 to February 2009, and more than 7 million new U.S. users signed up in February alone [source: Ostrow]. Even with such impressive numbers, Twitter's audience retention rate is at about 40 percent [source: Wayne].

With such interest in Twitter, it's no surprise there are various myths swirling around about it. Who's perpetuating them? The media, twitterers, maybe even you. We're going to look at five of the big ones here.

5: Twitter Is Only Status Updates

Status updates might be Twitter's life blood, but there's much more to do on the networking site.

Of course Twitter is status updates. The very thing it asks of you when you use it is, "What are you doing?" Naturally, most people just answer that question.

Twitter, however, is what you make it. It is status updates. It's also searching (Twitter Search), photo sharing,mashups (a combination of Twitter data with information from another Web site such as a news organization), open API projects (TwitPic, for photo sharing, was one of the first), hashtags (a tag appended to a tweet that makes it searchable by that tag) and a marketing tool for celebrities, politicians and businesses.


4: Only Celebrities Have a Lot of Followers

Yes, celebrities have a lot of followers. But isn't that true outside of Twitter as well? As of publication, Ashton Kutcher has 2,286,717 followers on Twitter. That's more than CNN Breaking News (1,866,804 followers) and Twitter (1,485,347 followers).

When you sign up for Twitter, anyone can read your tweets and choose to follow you (or not). If it's a lot of followers you're looking for, you'll need to work for it. Fill out the bio, share photos, use hashtags and keep on tweeting. Tweet about what you love, not what you think your followers want to hear. They're following you because they find you interesting, not a fake you. Retweeting (RT) will also help spread your name around.

Some Twitter users don't use the tool this way and choose to keep their tweets private. With a private account, you select who may or may not read your tweets; it's sort of a velvet rope you use to create your own private twitter feed. Who says a lot of followers is a good thing, anyway? Shouldn't it be quality over quantity?


5: There is a Right and Wrong way to use Twitter

A right way or a wrong way to use Twitter seems like saying there's a right or wrong way to have a conversation. There are social rules, yes, but no one can tell you how you should or shouldn't use a product, and with millions of tweets per day, people are bound to use Twitter any way that works for them.

Take for example following and followers. It's not rude if you don't read every tweet your followers send. The more followers you have (hundreds, thousands) the more difficult this becomes. It's also not rude if you don't follow everyone who chooses to follow you. Maybe you do, maybe you don't -- it depends if you find someone's twitter feed interesting or not.


2: Twitter Doesn't Make any Money

Well, yes, this is actually true, though it's not such a bad thing. How and when will it actually earn any money? Twitter's venture capitalists aren't worried about it yet. To hear the co-founders and investors tell it, Twitter's emphasis right now is on building an audience and the revenue streams will come second to that -- an "if you build it they will come" (or "pay" in this case) sort of scenario.

And that myth that Twitter will be acquired? Twitter has had courting parties. In 2008, Facebook expressed interest in acquiring Twitter for $500 million of its stock plus a cash component but was turned down. In 2009, rumors swirled that Google would acquire Twitter. Co-founder Biz Stone, however, posted on the Twitter blog that the "goal is to build a profitable, independent company and we're just getting started".


1: It's Only Mundane Details

Sure, sometimes you might want to let everyone know about how you're standing in line to get coffee, but Twitter has become what Time calls a "medium of the movement," growing as an important communication tool and way to quickly network people and information. Twitter has a few things in its favor to make it so. It's free and it's available on more than one mobile platform, including the Internet, instant messaging and SMS. This combination has sparked users to go beyond the coffee talk.

In 2009, for example, Iranians used Twitter to organize government protests -- and in 2008, twitterers kept the world updated on the attacks in Mumbai. They did so by creating searchable tags, such as the hashtag #Mumbai, on Twitter to get the word out around the world.