For my hands on play this week, I took a closer look at Twitter. I’m not really a big fan of social media in general, and up until now I had avoided Twitter, so this was a new experience for me from the moment I first set up my account. In my time spent playing around, I discovered that it is ridiculously easy to make an account and get started. You only have to supply a minimum of information (name, email address, password), and then the site will guide you through not only the account creation process but finding people and organizations to follow. The process is both easy and fairly straightforward, plus the service is free, so right away I could see how this could be a powerful tool for making librarians seeking to make connections with users and other libraries and librarians.
At the same time, however, I believe it’s important to be aware that there are drawbacks and limitations to the service which should be taken into consideration. For example, although it is extremely easy to start following others on Twitter, getting users to follow you is an entirely different story. It seems easy on the surface, but it’s more complicated once you realize that you’ll need to create a fairly steady stream of high quality, interesting content if you want people to follow you (and keep following you), much less share your tweets with others. This means that library and event marketing often isn’t the best way to go on Twitter. And while some libraries (like the New York Public Library) can sometimes rely on “star power” to gain followers that are not even users of the library, most smaller libraries will have to try a good deal harder to gain a following.
Which is not to say that I don’t think Twitter is worth it. It is. There are few ways to reach out to the community at large that are cheaper and easier than Twitter. And as far as social media and technology go, it’s very well-known and very widely used, which means that you can potentially reach a very large audience very easily. But it does pay to be aware that Twitter isn’t the be-all, end-all of anything. It’s a very useful tool, but you have to make it work for you.
Overall, I could see why the Twitter platform has become so popular in spite of its 140-character limit on messages. It’s very easy to use, fairly user friendly, and it allows for connections (and outreach, in the case of libraries) to be made easily and spontaneously.