Since Twitter’s recent debut on the stock exchange, there has been much discussion about what the social media giant is really worth. The debate has raised the question – what is Twitter really for? What is the unique attraction of Twitter in a world where we have ever more ways of communicating?

The Drum asked a range of people to sum up what Twitter means to them in 140 characters, and the answers show Twitter is useful in slightly different ways for different people. However, its overarching appeal is the immediacy of information and the ability to share with a huge audience. Poppy Dinsey, founder of What I Wore Today, sums it up neatly: “For me, Twitter means being connected, informed, entertained, surprised, disappointed, shocked, educated and surrounded. For free. 24/7.” But what about Twitter for companies trying to communicate with customers?

The WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, said he sees Twitter as “a PR medium, not an advertising one”. He sees data and information supply, rather than selling advertising, as a primary source of income for Twitter. Though he was speaking about how Twitter might become profitable, his answers highlight an important distinction for businesses. Twitter’s 250m-plus users do not want to be bombarded with advertising or sponsored tweets – if they are they’ll leave and find an ad-free alternative. If you’re using Twitter for your business, see it more as PR, a chance to spread the word about what you are doing, to connect and interact with people and build engagement with your brand, rather than flog your products or services constantly. As a business grows, Twitter becomes a useful tool to gather real-time data about what’s being said about a brand, by whom, and where and when. It’s these analytics that Twitter would be better to monetise, rather than pushing advertising as their main revenue stream.

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