Warren Buffett started using Twitter today (you can follow him @WarrenBuffett). And a few weeks ago, Bill Clinton began tweeting too, with a little help and prodding from Stephen Colbert. (Clinton's handle, formerly @PrezBillyJeff, is now @BillClinton.)
This news raises the question: If you're not on Twitter yet, why not?
That’s a question many who aren’t yet tweeting find themselves asking as they consider whether to join the Twitterverse and start using the social network on their computer and smartphone.
Believe it or not, only 9 percent of Internet users age 50 to 64 use Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center.
Some people stay away from Twitter because they think it’s a trivial waste of time — but that couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Shahrzad Arasteh, a career counselor and Twitter specialist in Edgewater, Md.
“They have this perception that all people do on Twitter is talk about what they had for breakfast,” Arasteh says. “It’s really a much richer medium.”
Twitter Can Boost Your Career or Business
Connections forged on Twitter can be especially helpful in your career.
As Next Avenue has noted, a recent Jobvite study showed that 92 percent of U.S. companies use social networks, like Twitter, to post job openings and find talent. “There is a huge sea change away from big job boards and toward niche job boards and social media,” says Barbara Herzog, a career counselor in Washington, D.C.
(MORE: How to Use Social Media to Find a Job)
By “following” people in your field (signing up to get their tweets) and sending your own tweets to showcase your expertise (in under 140 characters, with a Twitter handle that starts with the @ sign), you can also make new contacts and stay current on developments in your field. Doing so could make you a stronger candidate when you apply for a position.
Being a regular Twitter user can help fight the impression among some employers and recruiters that older job seekers aren’t as tech savvy as younger ones.
If you’re an entrepreneur, Twitter can be a huge help in spreading the word about your business or nonprofit, says Linda Cassell, an executive coach in Washington.
Tweeting your insights and following the tweets of others can also be a fun way of expanding your social network.
Twitter Can Be Tough at First
But getting started with Twitter can be confusing because it has special rules and terminology you won’t find at Facebook or LinkedIn.
Just ask Brenda Jones of Vincentown, N.J. She was trepidatious about Twitter when signing up in 2011 with the user name @HugWraps. But the 55-year-old breast cancer survivor was committed to figuring it out because she wanted to promote her nonprofit, Hug Wraps, which makes flannel hospital gown alternatives (called “wraps”) for cancer patients.
“In the beginning, instead of posting things when I didn’t know what to say, I followed other people,” Jones says. “You start acknowledging what other people say and when you get more confident, you start posting. Then people answer you back and you think, 'Oh, that’s fun!'”
Jones says Twitter has proven to be a great way to boost her nonprofit’s income and visibility. With nearly 1,000 followers, her Twitter connections have led to donations, requests for more than 200 Hug Wraps and a TV appearance on the NBC-LXTV home makeover show George to the Rescue.
“I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, but nothing has opened doors like Twitter,” Jones says.
Sharing Your Passions and Personality
Allen Stairs, a philosophy professor at the University of Maryland, has roughly 1,400 followers. The 61-year-old Stairs (@allenstairs) uses his Twitter account to connect with people worldwide (including a well-known country singer) who share his interests in everything from quantum mechanics to politics. Thanks to a Twitter connection, Stairs was even invited to a conference in Norway.
(MORE: The Impact of Social Media on Relationships)
Bruce Johnson (@BruceJohnson9), the weekend anchor at WUSA 9 News in Washington, D.C., uses Twitter to break and share news. But he believes that more than 8,000 people follow him because he uses the social network to showcase his personality in a way he often can’t on the job.
Getting Started on Twitter
The best way to familiarize yourself with Twitter is by reading the guidebook about the social network on the Mashable site and visiting Twitter.com, where you can find its “Twitter Basics” in the help center. Once you’re ready to join, it’s free to sign up.
First, create your username, which is generally a combination of your first and last name or a professional brand or company name. Then, click on "Me" at the top of the screen to upload a photo and write a short bio. Next, start looking for people to follow by entering their names in the search bar.
You can search on Twitter for recent tweets on common topics by using what’s known as the hashtag, which is the # symbol followed by a key word or phrase. For example, #retirement will show you the latest tweets about retirement.
To follow someone on Twitter, find the person or business by doing a search on the home page, then click that user’s "Follow" tab with the famous blue bird icon. You’ll automatically get every tweet this Twitterite sends.
Over time, the more you tweet, the more people will follow you and the more Twitter will become a useful way to network.
You may also want to do what Next Avenue blogger Kerry Hannon does and connect your LinkedIn updates with your Twitter account stream. Hannon says this lets her keep current with social media more quickly. Since LinkedIn updates can be more than 140 characters, you'll want to get your gist within that length in order to make the Twitter connection useful.
Hannon also advises adding your Twitter handle to your e-mail signature, so anyone getting an email from you will know how to find you on Twitter.
Twitter and Job Searches
If you want to use Twitter to help find your next job, Herzog recommends reading The Twitter Job Search Guide by Susan Britton Whitcomb, Chandlee Bryan and Deb Dib. The book provides real-world examples of how Twitter users have navigated the social network to find jobs as well as tips to enhance your search.
(MORE: When Networking Isn’t Working for Your Job Search)
As Gwen Moran wrote in her Next Avenue article “How to Use Social Media to Find a Job,” websites like TweetMyJobs.com and TwitJobSearch.com can also be smart ways to find work through Twitter.
With TweetMyJobs, you enter the type of job you're looking for and where you want to do it. Potential matches will then be sent to your Twitter account. Search for work on TwitJobSearch and you’ll receive tweets from businesses with appropriate open positions.
Tweeting for Fun
But most of all, when exploring Twitter, don’t forget it can be a great source of fun.
“Yes, it’s a professional and personal development tool, but it’s also a social connection tool,” Arasteh says. “Take the opportunity to cross paths with people you would never otherwise have the opportunity to meet. On Twitter, you can develop great friendships and find wonderful opportunities, too.”
Jennifer Davis is an Emmy Award-winning reporter based in Washington, D.C., whose work regularly appears on television, in magazines and on websites.