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January 2, 2009

15 Innovative Uses for Twitter (That You Probably Haven’t Thought Of)

Those of us who are daily Twitter users already grok the power of the application and it’s potential. But there are still a lot of Twitter critics out there, as well as those people who just don’t understand how to use it.

I recently saw this comment on a blog: “I’ve been tweeting but… from what I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, it’s either a ‘look at me’ or a ‘look at this’ arena.”

Sure Twitter is a great communication channel and as such, you do find a lot of self-promotion and name dropping. But there is so much more to Twitter. The comment got me thinking, would the critics feel the same if they could see more innovative ways to use it?

So I decided to put together a list of some of the more unique and inventive uses for Twitter. Some already exist while others are my own ideas.  Here goes:

1) Community Help Desk – I’ve already used Twitter several times to investigate an issue I’ve been having with my computer, or a problem one of my clients has come across. Just yesterday I was able to pinpoint the source of a domain redirect issue because my followers in other countries could reach the site even though I was being redirected.

2) Write a Collaborative Book – you and a bunch of your favorite Tweeps could write a novel, one sentence (tweet) at a time. The results could range from hilarious to Shakespearean. I thought of this while reading about the popularity of Japanese novels composed via mobile text messages, but it turns out that some attempts have been made at this already e.g. 140 Novel and Good Captain. You could do a similar thing with song lyrics.

3) Live Webinars/Tutorials – you could create a new Twitter account with protected updates and ask invitation-only participants to follow you. Then you could hold a *closed* webinar at a pre-arranged time using Twitter for delivery instead of expensive webinar solutions. Twitter allows you to live chat, post links, photos, videos, audio files and text so there is no need for any plug-ins. You could even use a Twitter buffer like Twuffer to space out the content of the webinar via tweets over a specific timeframe.

4) Free Market Research – Who needs to pay expensive market research companies to learn stuff about your latest product? Just send a link, a free sample or a short survey to your followers and watch the feedback flow in.

5) Online Reputation Management – Twitter is ideal for tracking what people are saying about you, your company or your product. You can use Twitter Search to enter keywords or hash tags. Or you can use purpose-built widgets such as TweetBeep which work just like Google Alerts and send you regular emails containing any discussions involving your chosen Twitter accounts or hash tags. These work well for competitor tracking too.

6) Laugh a Day / Therapy – I’m consistently amazed how many long-term Twitter users fail to use the favorites option to bookmark tweets that they like. Whenever I read a tweet that makes me laugh out loud, I favorite it immediately. Then, whenever I am feeling a bit flat, stressed or sense a bad mood coming on, I turn to my favorites list knowing I will be giggling in no time. You can also rely on your followers to sense when you’re down and cheer you up.

7) Competitions – Companies like Zappos and Hand Bag Heaven have been holding competitions on Twitter for a while now. You basically elicit a response from your followers in exchange for the chance to win something. You could ask a question about one of your products or ask followers to find something on your site to win a gift certificate. But with a bit of ingenuity, you can be even more inventive.

DVDQuotes posts questions starting with WMITF, (which stands for Which Movie Is This From?) and gives away random DVDs to the Twitter user with the first correct tweet. Actor and Comedian Stephen Fry declared December 1 to be Oscar Wilde Day and asked his 30,000 plus followers to post Wildesque tweets using the hash tag #oscarwildeday for a chance to win downloads of his audio book. The competition took on a viral quality and earned the comedian at least 2,000 new followers within 48 hours.

8) Virtual Alarm Clock – Did you know you can use Twitter to set appointment reminders for yourself or others? You can use tools such as the Retweet Timer and Twittercal to tweet events from your Google Calendar as @replies to your Twitter profile at pre-set dates and times.

9) Idea Sharing / Community Mind Mapping – So this amazing business idea comes to you in the shower and you are busting to make it happen. But you want to be sure that your stroke of brilliance is fabulous and not folly. This is where your Twitter followers come in. Whether you tweet publicly or DM only your most trusted followers to keep it under wraps, you’ll get unbiased and practically instantaneous feedback on your big plans. Would you use it? Could it work? How much would you pay for it? What features should it have? Tapping into the combined brain power of your Twitter community is a great way to flesh out a business plan.

10) Competitor Tracking – You can use Twitter to monitor the activities of your enemi… er competitors without alerting them. Simply create an anonymous Twitter account and start following them. If they bad-mouth your company, or tweet about a product that may threaten your market share, you’ll know immediately.

11) Bug Testing – Along the same lines as 4), you can use your Twitter followers as live BETA testers when you roll out a new product or software version. Your followers will often report bugs faster than paid customers because they *know* you and want you to succeed.

12) Become Your Favorite Character – Ever idolize a particular movie star or TV character? Why not create an account for them and tweet in character? A few tweeps have done this already, with hilarious results e.g. Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie and wheelchair-bound Andy from Little Britain. Just make sure you don’t step on the toes of the official sites representing the character in question.

13) Sport / Treasure Hunt Aid – With it’s 140 character limit, Twitter is the perfect medium to deliver clues for online and offline scavenger hunts and popular sports such as geocaching.

14) Live Presentation Aid – Presenting at a conference or other event with Internet access from your laptop? You can tweet on the big screen to a) make a point b) elicit a response from Tweeps in the audience c) conduct live research d) gain instant feedback on a topic or question. I’ve used Twitter this way in the past and not only is it entertaining for the audience, but it’s also a great way to overcome stage fright.

15) Build a Twitter Application – Despite not being monetized yet, Twitter’s phenomenal growth has spurred the development of hundreds of applications that make money from Twitter either via advertising or donations. Why not build your own application around Twitter and make your fortune?

About the Author:

Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College – an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.