Unless you’ve been paying zero attention to the newspapers, TV and web over the last few months, you must’ve heard of Twitter. The ‘microblogging’ site has received loads of press – helped by people like Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross who’ve enthusiastically taken to the service. We’ve now joined them, and if you already use the service, you can follow us online here.

In a nutshell, Twitter is a free social media network that lets users shout short messages, called ‘tweets’, to the people that follow them. You can access the service directly through the Twitter website, as well through other programs installed on your computer, mobile phones, email, instant messages and even Facebook.

Rather like Facebook’s ‘Barney is…’ function, Twitter is an effective way to keep your family, friends, and co-workers connected and up to date on what’s going on your life in real time. But that only really scratches the surface of what it has to offer.

It’s a great way to form connections with new people or companies you’re interested in – and because people frequently tweet about interesting things they’ve read or seen online, it’s a good way of discovering new things that you’re interested in.

How it started

Twitter started out in 2006 out of a “daylong brainstorming session”. It grew slowly to begin with, but by February 2009 Compete.com was ranking it as the third most used social network and Nielsen had it showing 1,382% growth, year on year.

Why is Twitter so popular? The San Francisco based company reckons it does well because it’s so simple. By asking just one question, “what are you doing?” and only allowing 140 characters to respond, you’re limited to including only relevant information.

That makes it a perfect opportunity to find out what all your mates think of going to a concert or telling the world how much you enjoyed that new film. And it’s just enough space to include a few words about an interesting article you’ve read, with a link, or to ask for help with something you’re struggling with.

Plenty of power

It can be tricky to understand Twitter’s many uses without actually using it for yourself. But don’t underestimate its power. For instance, the first news headlines and photos of last year’s devastating terror attacks in India weren’t broken by Sky News, CNN or the BBC. It was people on Twitter who got there first.

And if you run a business, listen up. Twitter isn’t just stop about keeping in touch with your friends; it’s also a great way to publicise your company and its activities. In fact, it gives you a new way to interact with customers, by offering a more personal, two-way, conversational approaches to communication.

The two-way bit is key. With Twitter, business and organisations can build stronger relationships with their customers (and potential customers). But to make the most of it, you have to be ready to listen to what your customers have to say – and respond to them. This is not a medium where you can broadcast whatever you like and ignore the response.

The opportunity to utilise Twitter goes beyond building better relationships. There are now hundreds of ways you can use Twitter, from offering support to customers to running promotions and competitions.

And there are lot of applications to help you use Twitter more effectively too. Mr Tweet can help you find people you might be interested in following, and Tweet Later lets you send automatic or scheduled tweets.

There’s lots more to Twitter, but the best way to figure out the service is to start using it yourself. You can head on over to Twitter and sign up now. Once you’ve done that, remember to follow us too – you’ll find us at twitter.com/123reg.

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