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Over the past year or so, Twitter has become a full-blown communications phenomenon. For those of you who don't follow every social networking trend. Twitter is a micro-blogging site where you enter your thoughts, whatever they may be, in 140 or characters or less. Experts say if you aren't paying attention to Twitter, your business may be missing out on more than you think.

Last July I became aware of the power of Twitter when I wrote a post called, Trouble with Your Vendor, Try Twitter. During an interview with Brent Leary, a partner at CRM Essentials, for an article I was doing for InsideCRM on how to get your CRM vendor to add a feature you want, Leary surprised me when he suggested that you should put the problem on Twitter and see if someone can help you or if you can get your vendor's attention. It was at that moment I realized that Twitter was much more powerful than I had thought and companies needed to be paying attention.

I have to admit when I first encountered Twitter, I really didn't get the appeal, but over time I've found it serves several purposes. It's a publishing outlet for sharing ideas in discrete chunks. You can use it for publicity to let people know what you're up to. You can use it as a social tool to connect with like-minded people and you can use it as a communications tool to talk publicly or privately with individuals. And for a busy person, 140 characters is a quick bite-size chunk of information you can easily digest on the fly.

David Meerman Scott, whom I interviewed for a Q&A called The Press Release is Dead: How Web 2.0 Could Save PR and Marketing back in May, says a full 25 percent of companies are blocking access to social network sites (based on informal surveys at his many talks) and he believes that these companies are missing a golden opportunity to market themselves and understand their markets. Scott, who is the best selling author of the book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR says, whether you know it or not, Twitter is already having a major impact on businesses.

"When thousands of people are having discussions about you, your company, and its products you need to know about it. If you haven't done a search on Twitter for you and the things important to you, I suggest you should. But like other forms of social media, Twitter is a specific media tool and will not replace other tools." He adds, "Smart people in organizations should be monitoring and participating in all forms of social media, otherwise the discussions are happening without you."

But Julie Roads, who runs the marketing and copywriting company Writing Roads and writes the WritingRoads blog says companies have to be smart about how they use Twitter. "Large companies would be extremely wise to use micro blogging, but only if they use it well." By that, Roads means cultivating a network of online customers, promoting their products, monitoring the network for feedback (and using that feedback) and broadcasting alerts and solutions. She says that micros-blogging is one way to show your customers that you're engaged and responsive.

And it's not just a marketing tool, it's a communications and knowledge sharing tool too. Lisa Hoover, a freelance technology journalist who broadcasts the weekly Podcast Sudo Wrestling and writes Lisa Hoover's Blog here on DaniWeb says it's a great networking tool and she finds it's a fast way to get work done. "Surprisingly, I find it gets things done even quicker than IM. Find a source, schedule a meeting, ask a question, etc. I think Twitter is indispensable."

For all these reasons and more, if you haven't checked out Twitter yet, you really should. It's an interesting communications phenomenon and it could raise your business' profile more than you imagined. In fact, if you're not on Twitter, you may not even know what you're missing.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ron_miller

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