My friend Deborah Kaufman (creator of the excellent Mobilized TV) sent me a post from the blog of mobile marketing company Cellforce that predicts the imminent demise of Twitter. The blogger makes a compelling case, citing figures that indicate a decline in Twitter users and noting that a majority of Twitter accounts are poorly maintained and even more poorly followed. “40% of Twitter account holders,” the blogger writes, “have NEVER twitted even one Tweet.”

The blogger has a point. Many of my clients and business associates are unenthusiastic about Twitter and disappointed in their experience with it. Often this is a result of a misunderstanding of what Twitter is. Some companies think of Twitter as an extension of their sales and marketing outreach and use it as a medium to broadcast news about their newest product or latest achievement. They are then disappointed when they find that few of their clients or potential clients are active Twitter users, and few of them are listening. They feel as though they are shouting in an empty room. And they are.

In my view, Twitter’s value is not, primarily, as a sales lead generator. It is as a networking tool. It is a great way to connect with people, especially people whom you do not know and may not encounter any other way. I find it is much easier to connect with interesting strangers on Twitter than on Facebook or LinkedIn, because all you have to do is to click “follow.” No approval necessary.

I follow people not because I’m hoping to win their business (although that would be nice), but rather because they have valuable information to share. Virtually every time I review my Twitter feed, I come away with a few ideas that I can immediately apply to my business.

And that suggests the central point to understand about Twitter: it is more important to listen than to speak. (Although speaking, too, is vital so that others can benefit from your special expertise.)

The Cellforce blogger goes on to predict that Twitter is being made irrelevant by the growth of Facebook and the emergence of Google’s Buzz. Both services have their strengths and may have more appeal and usefulness than Twitter for some people, but I believe it is more likely that all three services will vanish or evolve, superseded by some new communications/networking/search tool that builds on their model.

In any case, in my view predictions of Twitter’s death are premature. All those unused Twitter accounts are not a sign of the service’s ill health, but rather of its untapped potential.

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