To say I received a little feedback on my column regarding Twitter and business last week would be a vast understatement. Let’s just say I didn’t rave about Twitter, and in return, a lot of people did not rave about me.

The Twitteratti were in an uproar.

They were convinced that I am some old-school moron who doesn’t get the value of social media in general and Twitter in particular.

So let’s get this out of the way up front: I like and very much appreciate social media. I write about it in the latest version of The Small Business Bible, last year, I named it the #3 most significant small business trend, and two years ago, it came in at #1 on my annual list.

I also have checked out Twitter plenty, like it well enough, but admittedly, I am no Twitter expert. So I get why not a few Twitter users thought I missed the boat. By the same token, I still think that my distance gives me a little perspective that they may not have.

Could we both be right, and wrong?

First, where I was wrong: What really surprised me about the column was just how much play it was getting. I had never had so many people comment on a column. Then one of them explained that it was because the column had been transplanted onto Twitter. Aha!

So I saw firsthand what a powerful tool Twitter can be for spreading a message and creating instant feedback.

Mea culpa. I did not get that before. Score one for the Twitter nation.

I was impressed and wanted to learn more. My friend Rieva Lesonsky uses Twitter plenty, and she offered to hook me up with the charming Gini Dietrich, the CEO of Arment Dietrich, a PR firm in Chicgao. Gini had had great business success with Twitter.

So I called Gini up to see if she would be willing to show the enemy the error of his ways. She was more than happy to oblige.

Gini told me that after the market crash last fall, her business started to tighten up (as it did for everybody) and she became “scared and depressed.” But rather than let events run her, she decided to learn more about social media, as a way to prospect for new business.

Net result? Her business is up 21% this year thanks to Twitter. Dietrich’s firm does a lot of work with franchises and so she began tweeting with other franchise folk. This in turn created new relationships that led to new business.

She says that what ‘ol Strauss didn’t get is that Twitter is a fantastic tool for networking, building a brand, and prospecting. “Twitter is great for creating intelligent conversation, leads, and tips,” she says.

Score two for Twitter. Used properly, I see now that Twitter can be a great business-building tool for the right business.

Now it is my turn. Notice that I said for Twitter to work 1) It has to be used properly, and 2) It has to be the right type of business.

There are plenty of wrong uses of Twitter, and tweeting improperly will not only not make you any money, it can actually hurt your business. Members of Congress tweeting during the State of the Union address is an example of Twitter gone very wrong. Looking inattentive and shallow is not what we want, right?

And that leads to another potential danger for small businesses and Twitter: It is instantaneous, public, and written. What you say gets published, period. Sure you can delete, but still, bad tweets will reflect badly on you.

Last week, as I spoke and corresponded with people who disagreed with my take, I asked two questions:

  • Are you making any money with Twitter?
  • Why should my dry cleaner use Twitter?

A few, like Gini Dietrich, said that they are indeed making money with Twitter, but the vast majority could not say that. Sure, they were marketing and networking and branding. Yes, that is great, and yes, that takes time.

But I still think I am right in this regard: In this economy you better be darn sure that your use of time is paying maximum dividends because there is little room for error. If all of your tweeting is not impacting the bottom-line, that is something to consider.

Indeed, to be effective, Twitter is not an insignificant commitment.

Finally, I still don’t see why my dry cleaner should use Twitter. “To announce sales!” was the most common answer, but really, why would I ever follow my dry cleaner on Twitter to learn of a sale? This is one place where physical reality still trumps virtual reality.

In the end, I see how, if people are willing to take the time, Twitter could be of benefit, especially service oriented businesses that traditionally benefit from networking. But the local coffee shop or mini mart? I think not.

Bottom line: For many small businesses, Twitter can work, but for just as many, it is not worth the effort.

In any case, thanks to those who took the time to share their thoughts, whether you agreed with me or not. I say, let’s call it a draw and declare a truce.

Today’s tip:
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Twitter: A Mea Culpa

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