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Is Twitter just about one-way traffic?

News of the recent sale of the apparently essential Twitter management platform Tweetdeck to Twitter for £25 million got me thinking about this form of social media, how it is used and how useful I’m finding it. And I must confess that after two years of tweeting, I’m still have some misgivings. My key problem is that, as a communications channel it seems very binary: it’s either about listening or talking. Even using Tweetdeck its difficult to do both at the same time effectively. And I find this a bit frustrating.

Personally I have two objectives from twitter:

* To follow key contacts/opinion formers to understand what they are saying and hence key trends in the market.
* To extend B2B marketing’s audience and reach as far as possible, and use Twitter to drive traffic to our website.

I can do the former by following key opinion formers and notable people in the industry, scanning their tweets for any particularly choice nuggets of information, and using this to further my knowledge. In this respect, it’s doing pretty much the same thing as email, and personally I would say less effectively, as the character limit often gives authors little option but to ‘tease’ interest with enigmatic posts, inevitably requiring a click to view the full story. I find this frustrating – I don’t want to have to click twice to know whether this post is relevant to me (yes, I’m fully aware that makes me sound lazy and like I have quite a short attention span).

Whilst I personally prefer email for my inbound content as it is flexible in terms of the information it delivers, I can see that following can be a good way of keeping track of a limited number of key individuals, allowing you to respond quickly to their behaviour.

The problem comes if you’re also trying to use Twitter to push out content, as I am. To do this, you obviously need to create a significant base of followers, and I’m reliably informed that the best way to do this is to follow anyone you can find who might be interested in your content in the hope that they follow you back. This is all very well, but it generally means you ratio of followers to those you are following is pretty even, and that consequently the sheer volume of updates that you will receive in your ‘friends’ column will become simply overwhelming. If you are following several hundred people, you will have no time to filter, read or let alone absorb what is coming in, and as a result you’ve effectively destroyed your ability to use Twitter as inbound information tool.

Of course, there are lots of clever things you can do around hashtags and searches in different columns, but I find it odd that users effectively have to make a choice between either one of these two primal Twitter objectives (talking and listening) – at least as far as I can see. Perhaps I’m missing something – if so, feel free to point that out, whatever it might be.

In the meantime, I would hope that this kind of functionality might be something that the people at Tweetdeck (now part of Twitter) could think about for their upcoming releases and enhancements. After all, this management platform will have to maintain its steep evolution curve if it is to justify the hefty price paid by Twitter, and ensure it remains the defacto tool.