How I’ve Discovered Twitter Can Be a Resource, Not a Waste of Time

11/1/10

“If you’re so busy, why do you spend so much time on Twitter?”

So asks a member of my household who shall go unnamed here. Well, here’s why. Twitter has become my primary source for news, my point of contact with the important people in my life, and my connection to a rich and growing professional network. I no longer bother to collect the morning paper from the driveway. Instead, I open my Twitter app to find out what went on during my all-too-short night of sleep.

I know what you’re saying. Twitter? What can you possibly say in 140 characters? And who cares what people are having for lunch or that they’re going out to walk the dog? So let me dispel what I consider to be the two biggest myths about Twitter.

Myth #1: There’s a lot of crap on Twitter. Actually, that one’s partly true. As of February of this year, tweeps like me issued these brief missives at a rate of 50 million a day, 70 percent of which are never acknowledged and probably never read. But here’s the thing: You don’t need to see them either. Twitter is an opt-in, opt-out system. You choose whose tweets to receive and never see the rest. When you discover someone with interesting things to say – and, believe me, there are plenty – you can add their tweets to your account. When someone starts boring you, delete them and you’ll never hear from them again. By tending this garden of tweets, sowing new seeds and yanking the weeds, your Twitter experience becomes precision-tuned to your own arcane set of interests, serving up nonstop nuggets of relevant info to you all day long.

Myth #2. It’s another inbox to manage. Wrong metaphor. Twitter does not nag you. You don’t need to check it if you don’t feel like it, and you don’t need to zero it out at the end of the day. Twitter is a stream – on some days, a fire hose. When you’re thirsty for information, dip in and drink up. When you’ve had enough, move on. Twitter will happily and quietly stream by, never asking for your attention, until you’re ready for another dip.

Twitter’s pleasures are not confined to the 24/7 delivery of stuff you ask it for. Its rewards grow exponentially when you make contributions of your own. Whether it’s a story you read online, a picture you just took with your phone, a song that boosted your mid-day energy, a half- or fully-baked idea that you’d like to share – that’s when Twitter shines. Other folks will find your tweet, perhaps pass it along (“retweet”) or respond directly to you. They may even choose to follow you, adding your tweets to their incoming stream. Think of them as pen pals, people with whom you share ideas, opinions, news, whatever. You may never meet them in person—although increasingly I do. But even if you never meet, they become valuable connections nevertheless.

One thing I’ve learned from building a company is the critical importance of the network. This is the rich ecosystem in which we work – all the folks out there with skills and experience you lack, who can act as sounding boards, help you solve a problem or refer you to someone who can, whose insights can spark new perspectives in your own brain. It’s equally important to nourish the network, to provide the same help and support to others. Twitter is a wonderful way to give to and receive from the network, a platform for exchanging information and insight with the community.

How do I use Twitter? I maintain three Twitter accounts – at least that’s all I’m willing to own up to here. I’ve got two personal accounts: One (http://twitter.com/Michael_Gilman) is largely professional in focus, whereas the other (http://twitter.com/wristshot) is for the concerns that occupy me when I’m not thinking about fibrosis or raising money. I figure that people who are interested in the business of biotech are not necessarily as obsessed as I am with hockey or heavy weather nor are they likely to be interested in my political leanings, so why inflict those things on them? On the other hand, they’re welcome to follow both accounts. I’ve also segregated the folks I follow, so that the incoming streams are mostly distinct.

I also maintain an account for my company (http://twitter.com/Stromedix). I’ve found that useful for disseminating information that is important to share but not press-release-worthy: mentions of the company in the media, conference presentations by team members, relevant scientific publications. It has also helped us develop relationships with patients and advocacy groups. More trivially, I’ll occasionally share photos from road trips and other grist from the startup mill.

Lastly, let me say how much I relish the intellectual challenge of composing a fully-contained cogent thought in 140 characters, a goal I achieve unreliably. Nevertheless, it’s a valuable discipline that forces you to consider with care each word in a tweet and how it contributes to meaning. It actually sharpens your ability to converse the old-fashioned way and may even prove useful for those Mars-Venus conversations at home.

Michael Gilman is the founder and chief executive officer of Stromedix, a venture-backed company focused on developing novel therapies for fibrosis and organ failure. Follow @

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  • http://www.gtreilly.com Dana Bottorff

    Wow! Thanks for such a cogent, meaningful explanation of how Twitter not only “fits in” to your life, but expands your opportunities. I will convey your thoughts to some of our people who are reluctant to jump into the tweetisphere.

  • http://www.research2zero.com Steve Waite

    Good post. I discovered the same thing.

  • Jules Pieri

    I don’t often think “I wish I wrote this,” but I just had that reaction to your piece.” I’m going off to Tweet exactly that reaction, with the link, natch.

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