Larry BraunerIn case you haven’t heard, “Friend Connect will be retired March 1, 2012,” says Google. This is not pleasant news for those websites that have sizable Google Friend Connect communities and whose community members have opted to receive newsletters from the site.

Google recommends that you join Google+ and invite your community to join with you in order to keep in touch. Compared to Google Friend Connect, Google+ is a rather lame tool for staying in touch. Google Friend Connect newsletters permitted direct community contact.

Google Ploy

Google+Google+ got off to a great start but seems to have lost much of its original momentum and engagement. Google probably hopes to give Google+ a shot in the arm by terminating Google Friend Connect and redirecting members.

If you have a community and wish to stay in touch, here are two approaches for creating email lists, are better than merely joining Google+ as Google advises.

If you have a small budget for an email contact list, I can use Aweber or Green Wave Email Marketing. I’m using both of them. Once you’re set up, ask your community to subscribe to your newsletter.

For a free email list, you can create your own group on a Ning social networking site, such as my Small Business Network. You will be able to email group members and to network with each other.

Invitation

I invite you to subscribe to this Online Social Networking blog and to join Small Business Network, so that we can stay in touch with each other. I’m also on Google+, Facebook , LinkedIn and Twitter.

I love to network, and I’m very accessible. :-)

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Larry BraunerI’ve written about list building extensively in connection with social media.

It’s time to revisit social media list building once again. In this article, however, I focus more on where to build lists than how to build them. In other words, I focus on social media list building destinations.

A few remarks are in order before I address the where-to of list building.

Importance of List Building

In List Building Using Twitter, I discuss the importance of list building in marketing. List building is equally important in PR, CRM and other types of communication.

Reach is the quantity of people your message reaches, while frequency is the average number of times each person is reached.

Frequency builds trust and drives your message home. Advertising without frequency is rarely effective. Marketers rely on list building to repeatedly reach their audience and achieve their target frequency levels.

New List Building Paradigm

List Building DestinationsIn List Building Paradigm Shift, I discard the stereotype of list building as “a well-written lead capture page linked by a web form to an auto- responder” and redefine it as the process of acquiring and nurturing followers.

More precisely:

List building is the process of subscribing members of your target audience, in order to engage and nurture them and brand yourself and that which you represent.

This definition leaves plenty of room for creativity and customization of the list building process, yet it defines our objectives: engaging, nurturing and branding. Prescribing our objectives enables you to gauge the relative merits of each list building venue at your disposal.

List Building Destinations

These are my five favorite venues for list building. They are just as useful to owners of static websites as they are to bloggers.

I use all of them and let people choose for themselves which they prefer.

  1. Autoresponders - Reports of the death of email have been greatly exaggerated. Everybody receives email and knows how email works. Every website should provide email subscription. Emails sent to opt-in subscribers will have an open rate of about 30% and a click through rate of approximately 10%, which is excellent. The downside of email subscription in general is anonymity, lack of interactivity and changes of address. I use an autoresponder service to maintain my database and deliver my email. My service has a high delivery rate, many important features, good customer service, and it integrates with Google’s FeedBurner RSS if you have a blog.
  2. Ning Social Networks - You can connect with members of a Ning network, interact with them and broadcast messages to them as the site creator, as an administrator, as a group creator and as a friend. They all work. However, only as the site creator do you actually own their data. My primary Ning site is Small Business Network. Subscription through Ning can be powerful, but it takes much more work to join a Ning site than to opt into an email list. A big problem with Ning is that if somebody joins more than one site or group of yours, they can receive duplicate mail from you. If you’re already established on Ning, incorporate it in your list building strategy. If not, to Ning or not to Ning will not be an easy question to answer.
  3. Facebook - A Facebook fan page widget lets Facebook members register for your page with one click. Based on my experience, response to posts runs at around 5%, about half the rate of email, which is good. The quality of traffic is superb with high average time spent on site. Your posts on Facebook can promote interaction and draw comments themselves from the members of your page, which helps you brand yourself. The potential also exists with Facebook pages to benefit from viral effects.
  4. Twitter - Posts on Twitter, or tweets as they’re called, can easily be retweeted and spread virally throughout the site. In a future post, I might list the reasons why, not withstanding the viral effect, I like Twitter much less than I like Facebook for list building. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to make Twitter subscription available, and I love all the traffic it brings me. (I’m @larrybrauner.)
  5. Google Friend Connect - This is Google’s attempt to add a social element to every website.  I doubt that it’s very successful from a social perspective, but it’s from Google, so I’m in. If Google uses or will use GFC membership to assess the relevance of websites, I’m covered. One nice feature of GFC is its newsletters. Make sure you enable them and use them to email your GFC subscribers.

I also use RSS subscription for my blog, but it doesn’t support interaction, and I believe that the response rate from RSS is very low.

If you’re not yet a subscriber, please choose a destination and subscribe.

Your comments about list building or social media list building destinations are welcome. :-)

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Since Twitter Lists Beta Observations and Tips one month ago, Twitter completed the roll out of Twitter Lists to all its users.

Twitter members have been occupied with building and following lists, while the pundits have been occupied with observing and dissecting them (the lists of course, not the members). :-P

Twitter ListsThe reaction in the blogosphere has been somewhat mixed. 9 Reasons Why You Should Be In Love with Twitter Lists (RotorBlog) was very upbeat. Twitter Lists Are Not About Discovery (Regular Geek) was more skeptical.

A new social media site, Listorious, has surfaced to helps us discover Twitter lists for categories which are important to us. How splendid this is! I’ll explain why.

Realizing the Potential of Web 2.0

Twitter comes along and lets anybody who’s connected to the Net (even a bot) create a user account and add text messages (tweets) to the Twitter message stream. Simultaneously, Twitter lets users subscribe to messages in the Twitter stream.

Twitter is a good example of Web 2.0, i.e. people creating and sharing web content.

Twitter becomes popular. Millions of messages from millions of people start flowing downstream. The social media community asks, “How will all these messages be organized?”

Twitter responds, permitting users to create and share lists of Twitter users. These Twitter lists are another form of Web 2.0 content. The community wonders, “How will all these lists be organized?”

Listorious appears, and using the Twitter API,  provides a platform for users to create and share Twitter meta lists (lists of Twitter lists). These meta lists are yet more Web 2.0 content.

Suddenly, we’re realizing the potential of Web 2.0, the social web, on a large scale. We’re creating, sharing and organizing our own web of information.

How I Use Twitter Lists

I use Twitter Lists both to organize people I find on Twitter and to discover new people.

I have 20 Twitter lists of my own, some private, to which I assign people, and I explore Twitter and Listorious to find new lists of Twitter people.

For example, I like lists of public relations people and companies, because in many ways, my skills are a strong match for PR firms. I let Twitter lists help me locate and connect with organizations and people working in the PR and communications industry.

When I find a list I like, I follow it. I certainly don’t want to lose track of it. I assign many people in the list to my own lists too.

I also follow most of the people. I hope that they’ll check out my blog and decide to follow me back. Perhaps they’ll even subscribe while they’re here.

In Conclusion

The way Twitter Lists have greatly extended the functionality of Twitter is cool. So is the way that Twitter Lists fit nicely into Web 2.0 social media paradigm. Critics can say what they wish about Twitter lists but cannot diminish their usefulness to me (and to my readers).

Okay. We’ve reached the point in the post where you usually comment. ;-)

What do you like or dislike about Twitter Lists? How would you improve them if you were Twitter?  What are some of your favorite Twitter lists?

Follow @larrybrauner on Twitter. :-)

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I read an excellent article this afternoon in the Wall Street Journal by Jessica E. Vascellaro about the declining role of e-mail in our day-to-day communication, as services like Twitter, Facebook and lots of other social networking sites continue to grow in popularity.

According to Ms. Vascellaro, we obviously still use email. However, email was better suited to the way we used the Internet in the past, when we’d go online intermittently to read our messages.

“Now we are always connected, whether we are sitting at a desk or on a mobile phone. The always-on connection, in turn, has created a host of new ways to communicate that are much faster than email, and more fun.”

E-mail MarketingIf more of our attention is being directed toward social media and away from email, is there a future for email marketing?

The success of email marketing depends on our ability to efficiently reach our target markets via their email inboxes. As people increasingly turn to social media, and internet service providers apply more aggressive spam filtering, email marketing becomes less viable.

Just last night, a friend messaged me on Facebook saying that she was “shifting over from an e-newsletter to blogging,” and that she was looking for a little advice.

Email marketers want to know how to react to the trend toward social media and social marketing.

Advice for Email Marketers

Here are seven tips for coping with the decline in email communication:

  1. Act Now - Don’t sit on the sidelines like your old media friends. There are still plenty of newspaper publishers scratching their heads wondering what they’re going to do about their failing businesses.
  2. Diversify - Adopt a variety of new social marketing channels, but do not discontinue your email marketing campaigns. Build on your past successes.
  3. Stay Cool - Don’t overreact. Email communication isn’t going away any time soon. Gradually make adjustments and find the allocation of resources that delivers you the best ROI.
  4. Learn Social Media - There are many social marketing resources and a fairly steep social media learning curve. Either make social media training a priority for yourself and stick with it or find someone to whom you can delegate or outsource all or part of it.
  5. Learn SEO - Learn search engine optimization as well, or again, delegate or outsource it.
  6. Keep Testing - Just as you’d test different lists or advertising copy, test different social media venues and content to determine what works for you, and what doesn’t. Be flexible.
  7. Get Help - Even if you do decide to educate yourself, look to social media and web marketing experts for help along the way. Their guidance will save you much time and money in the long run.

I still use my email autoresponder to communicate with many of my blog subscribers. However, email accounts for only 2% of my total blog traffic. Google, Entrecard and Twitter combined account for about 80%, and all other sources add to the remaining 18%.

I will have more to say on email marketing and on list building in future articles. I suggest meanwhile that you read List Building Paradigm Shift which I wrote at the beginning of the year.

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Larry BraunerI have already written List Building Using Ning Social Networks and List Building Using Twitter. I will want to revisit Ning and Twitter in the future. However, in this article I discuss the use of Facebook for building your list.

As explained in List Building Paradigm Shift, list building in today’s social media world is the process of acquiring and nurturing a rich and heterogeneous following across diverse platforms which include Rolodex, autoresponders, social networking sites and RSS feeds.

On Facebook, friends, page fans and NetworkedBlogs followers, all belong to your list, and all receive communications from you in one form or another.

If Facebook would enable you to have an unlimited number of friends, you could probably get along without fans and NetworkedBlogs followers. However, Facebook models itself after the real world and therefore limits you to 5,000 friends, presumably the exact size of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Rolodex.

Facebook does enable you to have any number of fans and followers. List building  on Facebook consists of acquiring and nurturing friends, fans and NetworkedBlogs followers belonging to your target audience.

Acquiring Friends

I covered a technique for targeting and connecting with friends on Facebook in Targeting and Connecting on the Top Business Networking Sites.

You find members of groups, fans of Facebook pages, and blog followers on NetworkedBlogs, all of which you consider relevant to your target audience, and you invite those members people — in a congenial manner, of course — to connect with you.

The more friends you have, the more your content is displayed to their visitors helping you get even more friends and followers.

Acquiring Fans

These are a few of the many ways to acquire fans for your Facebook page:

  • Place a Fan Box widget on your website or blog, so that your visitors can become fans with one click.
  • Post a message on your website or blog requesting that your visitors become fans.
  • Ask your Facebook friends to become fans. There is a “Suggest to Friends” link on your Facebook page.
  • Place advertisements, but take care to adhere to the Facebook guidelines for advertising fan pages.
  • Post outstanding content on your Facebook page that will spread virally on Facebook and attract new fans.

Acquiring NetworkedBlogs Followers

NetworkedBlogs is a Facebook application to promote your blog and acquire Facebook followers and blog subscribers.

Here are some ways in which I acquire NetworkedBlogs followers for my Online Social Networking blog:

  • I have a NetworkedBlogs widget on my blog’s sidebar.
  • I ask people on my blog, Facebook and other social networking sites to follow me.
  • I try to write useful articles so that friends of my Facebook friends and followers will start following me.

A Special Request

Please subscribe to my blog and follow it on NetworkedBlogs. I’ll do my best to write useful articles that you’ll enjoy, and to reply to your comments promptly and helpfully. :-)

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I’ve written about the problem of spam both offline and online at social networking sites in How Do You Like Your SPAM? and Why Do People SPAM?

With this article, I’m delivering on the promise I made last week to discuss marketing channels you can use to promote yourself or your business — without ever resorting to spam.

Legitimate promotion alternatives fall primarily into these basic categories:

  1. Advertising - Expect to pay — unless you prefer getting marginal results, running around town, lurking in parking lots and posing for security cameras, all while schlepping around stacks of flyers and carefully avoiding people you know. Online, free advertising attracts people without money and spammers, although you may get good results with Craigslist. Offline advertising includes newspapers, magazines, direct mail, radio, television, offline directory listings and billboards. Online advertising includes Pay Per Click, e-zines and online directory listings. I do not recommend using banner ads. Advertising ROI will depend on the net lifetime value of each acquisition or conversion and the cost of each acquisition.
  2. Press Releases - If your business is newsworthy, or if you can create a newsworthy event, then you may be able to get some free exposure. Your press release needs to be well written in a suitable format and distributed either offline, online or both.
  3. Speaking and Contributing Articles - It is an accepted practice to establish your reputation and generate leads by speaking at meetings or contributing articles to journals. Don’t expect to get paid anything until you become a recognized expert in your field.
  4. Strategic Alliances and Joint Ventures - A business or list owner promotes your offer to his or her clients or e-mail list based on an agreement through which you both stand to gain. It’s not uncommon to give a joint venture partner all the profit from an initial product offering in exchange for helping you to add new contacts to your list.
  5. E-Mailing Your List - You can send relevant commercial messages to subscribers who previously opted into your database. Try to avoid using purchased lists. If you must, be sure you know with certainty that the subscribers agreed to receive offers from third parties. Be genuinely helpful and careful not to abuse your list.
  6. Search Engine Optimization - You’ll need a web site, and unless you’re an SEO maven, you’ll have to pay for SEO services. There’s more to doing effective search engine optimization than most people realize. However, SEO will be worth the trouble if it gets you ranked high up in the free organic search engine results that most searchers look at and care about.
  7. Social Media - Social marketing is similar in philosophy to speaking and article contribution mentioned above. You share online videos and articles to educate, inform and entertain people, and to build a relationship with them. If they want your product or service, they’ll be inclined to buy it from you, since they know you, and you’ve earned their respect. Your blog on a social networking site, a blogging community such as Blogger.com, or you own hosting, are good places to share your content. For ideal results, create and post new original content on a regular basis. If your content is geared toward your target market, then you’ll attract qualified customers to you and your site.
  8. Business and Social Networking - Networking is meeting new people and developing relationships with them. You can network at your local Small Business Association, Chamber of Commerce or BNI. I can go to Network Plus, a group in my area founded by Ted Fattoross. Online social networking is more convenient. You network from your computer at any of thousands of social networking sites. My favorites are Ning and Facebook. You build relationships by asking questions and getting to know people. Keep in mind that spamming doesn’t work at all, and exchanging business cards is no more than a cordial first step in starting a relationship.

I like the web marketing channels: my e-mail list, search engine optimization, social marketing and business networking. I coordinate them to benefit from the synergies between them.

Now it’s your turn.

Which methods do you use? Which ones are you hoping to use in the future? What challenges do you foresee?

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Larry Brauner

Nearly a year has passed since my first Ning article, Ning Social Networking Sites.

Since then online social networking has taken some exciting twists and turns. MySpace has lost luster, while Facebook and Twitter have become social media darlings.

Ning Still Facing Obstacles

Ning seems to be in somewhat of a holding pattern.

There have been some changes here and there, mostly for the better in my opinion, but no exciting breakthroughs. There are new apps, a new Ning central networking site, and new flexibility, but site creators and users still have their reservations.

As mentioned in Ning Social Network Controversy, the Ning management has been criticized for its policies and its tactics and, as too many people are aware, Ning sites haven’t been immune to spamming by both Ning members and by intruders.

My Ning sites now all require membership pre-approval, since I know of no better way to deal with persistent outsider spamming.

What is Right with Ning

Despite any shortcomings, I still feel as when I wrote about the Ning controversy, that Ning truly epitomizes Web 2.0. Ning sites are communities of people, and Ning is a community of community sites.

I’ve certainly written a good deal about social media list building including both List Building Paradigm Shift and List Building Using Ning Social Networks. Nevertheless communities are the essence of social media, not lists, and social marketing must therefore favor community building over list building.

Fortunately Ning can be used to build either communities or lists. There are creative ways to build communities within Facebook and Twitter, but Ning networks were designed expressly for that purpose and afford marketers a variety of useful tools and a degree of social media ownership.

Ning Still My Favorite Networks

I still use Ning social networking sites more than all others. I like them for the reasons cited above and for the many other reasons I’ve discussed in previous Ning related articles.

I have so far created four Ning sites of my own and hope to create more in the future:

  • Let’s Follow Each Other - This is a fun networking site for Twitter folk who want to gain followers, share ideas, promote themselves and network with each other.
  • Beyond Business Coaching - This is a site for entrepreneurs and marketing professionals who are interested in social media, customer acquisition, customer retention and CRM.
  • Online Kosher Networking - This is a niche site for orthodox affiliated members of the Jewish faith to network and share their ideas about Jewish values, Israel, religious observance, charities, politics, jobs, business, etc.
  • Outside the Box - If you enjoy my blog, but you don’t use Twitter, and you aren’t necessarily business oriented, this may be the right site for us to connect and network together.

In all fairness, I must tell you that Ning has competitors such as SocialGO, GROU.PS and others but admit that I haven’t yet evaluated them. If you have tried other social network platforms, I invite you to share your experiences with them.

To learn more about using Ning, please read Introduction to Using Ning Sites.

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I explained in Top 10 Reasons for Social Marketing why marketers need to add social media to their repertoire and promised to “write about the unique challenges that social media marketing poses” to early adopters.

Here then are my top ten challenges that social marketers will likely grapple with:

  1. Social media often meets with skepticism and resistance inside an organization. This reaction is normal to anything radically new. I suggest that you present social marketing to your colleagues as an experiment that will complement conventional multichannel marketing if successful, not replace it.
  2. Results aren’t achieved nearly as quickly with social media as they are with direct marketing techniques. When planning an experiment or production, be careful about forming unrealistic timing expectations.
  3. The social media learning curve is very steep. Few books or courses teach social marketing, and much of the information available online is unreliable or even biased. I recommend that you seek experienced outside professional help to chart your social marketing path, set policy and facilitate implementation.
  4. It’s easy to spin wheels and waste lots of time going nowhere. There are way too many interesting social networking sites and lots of hype surrounding them. Be sure to read Social Media Targeting for People and Businesses.
  5. Marketers tend to think in terms of generating leads and building databases rather than building a following and a community — new media style. Furthermore, social media is about relating person to person, not about relating impersonally to people as a company. Be prepared to think in new ways.
  6. Since social media is community oriented, contributing to one’s community is essential. It’s not enough to communicate just to customers or to prospects.
  7. Traditional push marketing and list building techniques are usually regarded as spam and are ineffective in the social media world. Old and new media approaches tend to be incompatible. In the social marketing paradigm information is made available online for discovery and hopefully action, and this process isn’t something that can be forced.
  8. Most newcomers to social marketing think one dimensionally and latch onto fads such as the social media site du jour. Social marketing isn’t one site or one strategy fits all. Once again I recommend Social Media Targeting for People and Businesses.
  9. Social media is still evolving rapidly and tends to be a moving target. While social media is global, participation in non-English speaking countries is stilted towards English speaking demographics such as students and upper classes. Remain alert to changes in technology and new opportunities that are bound to occur.
  10. Social media can work against a brand, not just for it — and can be very unforgiving. However, this is true even if companies elect not to use it for marketing or for their public relations. It’s therefore better to be proactive than reactive.

I’m sure you’ll agree that these are all important issues. I hope deal with them individually and in more detail in subsequent posts.

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Even today social media remains a mystery to most marketers. In the minds of most retailers and marketing executives, social media consists of teens messaging on Facebook, sharing pics on Flickr, writing in their blogs or tweeting all their doings on Twitter.

Perhaps they read a few news blogs themselves or have a profile on LinkedIn, but they’re still scratching their heads and wondering how any of this could possibly be useful to them in business.

Coming from the conventional marketing world myself and looking back to my first impression of social media, I can appreciate the retailing and B2B marketing establishment’s legitimate skepticism. That’s why I put together my top reasons for using social marketing for you to share with your colleagues and top management.

Let me caution you however, that social marketing requires its own mindset. Marketing strategies that work well with traditional media won’t necessarily be as effective if applied to new media.

These then are my top ten reasons to take social marketing seriously:

  1. Social marketing is a logical extension of the multichannel marketing strategy of diversification. Social media sites can extend a company’s web presence far beyond the limits of its e-commerce, lead generation or information sites.
  2. Social media builds awareness of products and brands by attraction rather than interruption, and by pulling rather than pushing. Consumers enjoy the discovery process and don’t feel annoyed by it.
  3. Social media employs a community and list building paradigm that’s much more comprehensive, natural and intimate than conventional databases and autoresponders.
  4. Social media marketers engage customers in dialog. They talk with the customer rather than at the customer as is generally the case with conventional media. Social media can also facilitate post-sale support and dissemination of valuable product tips to customers.
  5. Social media used properly can build frequency less expensively than conventional media educating and informing the consumer over time.
  6. Social media can help reach target markets that are too difficult or expensive to reach using conventional means.
  7. Reach doesn’t determine cost, so social media can target a narrow vertical market while at the same time casting a wide net. Efficiency doesn’t really matter much in the context of social media reach.
  8. Search engines like social media, and social marketing leverages free high-quality search exposure which is preferable to paying for low-quality pay-per-click or banner advertising.
  9. Social media sites and your e commerce websites are available 24/7 more or less indefinitely. It’s much like having an ad run in every issue of a publication or like having a catalog or sales letter retained until the customer is ready to make a buying decision.
  10. Using social networking sites it is often possible to connect directly with B2B decision makers without interference from protective gatekeepers.

Social marketing is different from other forms of Internet marketing. I write about the unique challenges that social media marketing poses in Top 10 Social Media Challenges.

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Nearly a year ago I presented the Top Reasons Why I Blog. I’m a big fan of blogging, and I enjoy writing for you.

Now it’s time to list my top reasons for using Twitter. If you use Twitter, please feel free to comment and share your experiences. If not, this list may encourage you to begin.

These are the top 12 reasons why I use Twitter:

  1. Simplicity - Twitter is easier for people to understand than many other social media sites. There are only a few Twitter concepts to learn: how to create a profile, follow, update, reply, search, retweet, send direct messages and use hashtags. See Brand Yourself and Market on Twitter.
  2. Networking - With hundreds of thousand of people using Twitter, you’re bound to find, as I have, people with common interests to connect with. Advice I gave in Get More Personal applies here to networking on Twitter. Speak on the phone or meet in person, but don’t hide behind your computer.
  3. Traffic - Twitter is a blogger’s dream. Last week hundreds of people from Twitter visited my blog. A high percentage of Twitter visitors subscribe to my my RSS feed or blogcast.
  4. List Building - Twitter is a great tool to cultivate a following and build an audience in your niche. I presently have thousands of followers on Twitter. What will I do with these followers?
  5. Branding - I use Twitter to brand and market myself to my followers. Through Twitter many people are getting to know me who would otherwise not have had this opportunity. Even people who choose not to follow me can still learn about me. Keep this in mind: It’s not what you know or whom you know, but who knows, likes, trusts and respects you.
  6. Communicating - I can send direct messages or use hashtags to communicate with my friends.
  7. Twitter Tools - There are numerous Twitter Tools such as TweetAdder to make Twitter powerful and easy to use. Read Tons of Twitter Tools, Tips and Resources.
  8. Research - Twitter is an excellent tool for research and keeping up with world developments. You don’t necessarily need to follow people or for them to follow you to read their tweets and click on their links.
  9. Discovery - We can learn new things on Twitter, even when we’re not looking per se.
  10. Mobility - Wherever you are or wherever I am, we’re only a tweet away. As more and more people use cell phones and text messaging, the compact 140 character format makes Twitter easy to access.
  11. Brevity - To be honest, there are times when I simply don’t feel like writing a complete article. Fortunately, even at those times I can usually cope with a modest 140-character tweet.
  12. Fun - Twitter is a blast! It’s a giant party, and the black tie is definitely optional.

You’ll find more reasons for using Twitter in the comments below. I encourage you to add your own.

I’m @larrybrauner on Twitter. I look forward to reading your tweets.

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