1 Twitter Tip You Can Fix Straight Away

August 10, 2009

names on TwitterHow do your friends, colleagues or admirers find you on Twitter?  One of the obvious ways is to click on “Find People” on Twitter and search for your name.  

But one of the oversights for many people is that they list their Twitter handle as their name making them very hard to find in Twitter Search.  (e.g. if I listed msuster as my name rather than Mark Suster)

If you findy anybody who has done this please forward them the link to this post, which is –> http://bit.ly/15foOH and let’s make Twitter and easier place to find people.

UPDATE:  People have made the fix and say they still don’t appear in the search results.  It takes a while (a day or more) to get your name propagated in Twitter’s search index.  Be patient – it will appear.

I’ve posted three people’s examples to the left.

First is Amanda Coolong of TechZulu.  If you search for her (as of July 10, 2009 at 5:45pm) you will get no result and the text, “did you mean Amanda Choong?”

Second is Jen Raymond.  Search for Jen Raymond and you’ll get 2 of them – neither one is the Jen Raymond who works for Pfizer and lives in Santa Monica.  Search on Jennifer Raymond and you get 24 results – none our beloved Jen from SM.

Third is Bryan Hale, a former colleague from Salesforce.com and former VC from DFJ.  You get my point – 7 results, none him.

So please go check your Name and make sure that it isn’t your Twitter handle (assuming you want people to be able to follow you).  While you’re at it put in a link (if you don’t blog or want to link to your company at least link to your LinkedIn or Facebook profile).  And write a short bio about yourself.  Anything.  At a minimum it will help people know whether they have the right halebr (who you should follow, he’s a cool guy ;-)


6 Tips for Using the @ sign in Twitter

August 4, 2009

email symbol blueThere is much confusion on how to use the Twitter @ sign – even amongst daily Twitter users.  So as part of my ongoing series Twitter Insights, I wanted to cover how the @ actually works (even experienced users may be surprised by some of the points)

The basics:

1. When you use the @username (e.g. @msuster for me) the message you write appears in my @msuster inbox on Twitter.com and on any of the desktop or mobile clients.  Great. 

2. This is a good way to call something out to my attention since it is narrower than just broadcasting hoping that I might see the message

3. It is also a sign of attribution when you retweet a message by another user (e.g. RT @msuster).  People also use it in other obvious ways including suggesting users to follow such as #FollowFriday @msuster

4. You can send an @ message to anybody – whether or not they follow you.  You can only “d” people (direct message) who follow you.

5. I am currently not overwhelmed with people who @ message me so I read all of mine.  Usually in a timely manner.  But if the person you @ has tons of followers (think Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington or any celebrities who use Twitter) don’t assume they’ll see your messages

More advanced:

1. This is important … If you send somebody a message and you START it with an @name then the only people who will see your message are people who follow you and people who follow the person you replied to.  Most people don’t seem to know this.  For example, if you follow me but not @deblanda an I send her a message starting with an @ then you won’t see it at all.  Anyone who follows both of us will see the message.  If you precede the message by anything, even a dash and a space like, “- @deblanda nice to see you” then everybody will see it.

When does this come into play?  Sometimes I’ll see people who want to make people aware of a blog posting.  They’ll say “@msuster provides great insight into VC valuation discussions – see http://bit.ly/C5t6O” .  They might have 2,000 followers.  I have 1,200.  Only the small subset who follow both of us, say 100, will see the message.  

So if you’re really responding to somebody and you don’t want all your followers to see it (but you don’t necessarily want to send a private message via DM or you can’t because they don’t follow you) then start with an @.  Otherwise make sure it has text in front of it.

2.  Equally important to know … If you reply to a message as above and therefore assume that only a small subset of followers will see the message – you need to be aware that anybody can proactively look at the message by clicking on your Twitter name and seeing all of your posts.   If you truly want it to be private stick to DM or email (or better yet … telephone!)

Did I miss any idiosyncracies?  Make sure to add them to the comments.

Did Twitter Kill the Blogger Star?

August 3, 2009

Video_Killed_the_Radio_Star_single_coverWhen Twitter first became popular with niche crowds in 2007 it seemed to take hold initially with bloggers.  People had been steadily blogging for 2-3 years and this crowd seemed to bifurcate.

On the one hand were the blogs that “blew up” and became real businesses like TechCrunch, GigaOm or TalkingPointsMemo.  On the other hand were  everybody else including those that tried to make a full time of it like Robert Scoble as well as those that did it as a side job like VCs, CEO’s and start-up entrepreneurs.

So Twitter was initially billed at a “micro-blogging” platform.  It seemed to save all of the bloggers from coming home at the end of the day from whichever conference they were attending and have to turn in long-form content like a journalist.  Suddenly it was about very frequent commentary in a bite-sized format.  Whew.  Now we could all sleep more.  Or could we?

So with the metoric rise of Twitter now forecast at 45 million as of August 3rd, 2009 (and rising fast), has Twitter Killed the Blogger Star?

I would argue it’s the exact opposite.  I believe that Twitter has sparked a resurgance in blogging.  Here is some anecdotal evidence:

1. Shel Israel, famous tech blogger from Wave 1.0 started blogging again outlined here

robert-scoble_h2. Robert Scoble has also started blogging again as outlined in the link in point 1.  The same article refers to several other people who are coming back to blogging: Liza at Maui Blog and the futurist Chris Saad.

3. Bill Gurley, a well known VC from Benchmark Capital, seemed to have a 2-year hiatus from blogging and has now picked up the pace

4. My LA VC colleague Peter Lee of Baroda Ventures has started a blog about VC

5. I have started blogging again having taken a hiatus since 2007 (actually, I was initially embargoed by Salesforce.com who didn’t want me blogging after they acquired my company).

So what gives?  Here’s my view:

– When Twitter started gaining hyper traction in early 2009 many people signed up and/or returned to use it again having had failed attempts at getting excited by Twitter in 2007 (I am in the latter category)

– With an onslaught of new users everybody was scrambling to figure out whom to follow

– It quickly became clear that Twitter had a built-in popularity contest.  How many users followed you was (gasp) publicly available

– Initially people would follow people who already had a lot of followers.  Why?  Because Twitter used to list the pictures on the right side of the page by people who followed you with the most followers.  Therefore, the more followers you had the more you would accumulate.  They were critisized this and began to randomize them.

– Initially people thought that all you had to do was give funny Tweets and people would follow you.


– Over time it emerged that the currency of the Twitter world was links and people began creating mad links to anything: NYTimes stories, TechCrunch stories, funny videos, anything.

– As many tech and VC professionals becan to realize that Twitter wasn’t just a fad they realized that links to other people’s websites was like free lead gen for somebody else’s brand.  If you wanted to build up your own profile on Twitter and in the Internet economy you needed to have something original and interesting to say yourself.

– And guess what?  It ain’t that easy to say interesting things in 140 characters!  (photo credit: here) Thus, Twitter reinvigorated the Blogger Star.  And I’m loving the renaissance.  I’m enjoying reading all the new content created in the tech / VC industries.  I’m enjoying the creative process of getting my own personal thoughts down in writing.

And I’m enjoying being part of the two-way conversation again as I was from 2005-2007.  Thank you, Twitter.

Businesses Must Manage the Twitter Conversation

August 2, 2009

HiResThis post is part of my ongoing series Twitter 101 for all those that still “don’t get” Twitter.  I’m now moving from the 101 basics into the business applications.  I think we all know by now that a conversation is happening on Twitter and that this extends to talking about brands.

Twitter is the new CRM (customer relationship management) channel.  The volume of Tweets is enormous and growing at a rapid pace so tools are emerging to help brands manage this information.

In an earlier post I spoke about the asymmetric nature of Twitter vs. Facebook.  It turns out that this difference has a huge impact on the business applicability of Twitter that nobody could have anticipated.  On Facebook (and nearly all social networks that preceded it) the relationship was always reciprocal – if I accept your invitation to follow me then I have to follow you.  The default setting and behavior on Facebook has been “private” and therefore you need permission to follow my status updates.  It is a closed, two-way relationship between users in which brands are not invited into the discussion.

Twitter, by contrast, started as an open platform where people let anybody see what they were writing.  Many of the initial commentators (at least when I signed up for Twitter in April 2007) seemed to talk about it as a “microblogging” platform where people like Robert Scoble were free to tell quick thoughts about what was going on in the world in real time vs. waiting to come home and spend an hour publishing their thoughts for the day in a blog post.  My intuition is that this is why when Twitter initially took off (around the time of SxSW in 2007) it was an open “publish to the world” platform and the trend continued.  People write their thoughts knowing that anybody else can see them.

So why is this important for businesses?  Businesses online are able to monitor the conversations that happen about their company, their competitors and their industry like they have never before been able to.  It’s almost like they’ve been given the right to wiretapwiretap our conversations and know what we’re telling our friens about them.

Brands in the Facebook world have had to resort to setting up “Fan Pages” and trying to get users to follow them.  They could then publish information and it would go in the “stream” of information when you were logged into Facebook.

Below are the CRM steps brands are taking in the Twitter world to monitor our conversations.  Tools (covered at the end of the post) are emerging to help us to automate this process given the sheer volume of Tweets we must now monitor.

1. Monitor the conversation – The first thing that businesses need to know is what is even being said about them.  Are people giving you feature requests, complaining about your service or comparing you to the competition?  Are they recommending you to friends or telling people how badly you suck?

2. Capture the data – the currency of online direct marketing prior to Twitter was the email address.  If a brand had your email address and permission from you to send occasional messages to you then you could effectively market new products or services.  The currency of the real-time web is, for now, your Twitter address.  Companies can capture this information if they notice you Tweet about them.  If you’re not capturing the names of people who are talking about you on the real-time web you’re missing out on CRM opportunities (direct marketing, customer support, 2-way conversations, monitoring future conversations).

3. Assess the tone – The second thing a brand needs to be able to do is to automate the process of assessing the tone of Tweets about them.  While not 100% accurate, software tools use specialized dictionaries to help semantically determine the meaning of your Tweet and rate them as positive, negative or neutral.  If you’re a smaller company you can obviously do this manually but at a minimum you need to know whether people are positive or negative.

4. Determine authority – If you’re a small business you might want to build relationships and take action on any Tweet about your company but when you’re a large company like Apple you obviously can’t respond to everybody but you also can’t just ignore everybody and pretend the conversation isn’t taking place in this public forum.  Apple must be overwhelmed by people who hate the iPhone service because the AT&T Network is so bad.

noiphoneBut when Michael Arrington announces that he’s giving up his iPhone because he’s pissed off with the network and with your blocking Google Voice then you sure better know.  There are different ways to determine “authority” that are being debated now.  Some people believe it’s as simple as looking at how many followers you have.  But the problem is that some people just go and follow a bunch of people so that many people will follow them back.  This probably isn’t a good authority measure in my opinion.  Following 7,000 people who follow you back doesn’t mean those people actually listen to you.

Other people see authority as the ratio of followers to people you follow (e.g. if 10,000 follow Michael Arrington and he follows 200 back then he probably has good authority on at least something).  Finally, some people are arguing that the number of people who “retweet” (RT) your posts should be a measure of authority because it means that your followers value what you say.  Whatever the answer is or becomes measuring authority is an important tool for brands.

5. Take action – Obviously when Michael Arrington is writing something scathing about your product you want to pay attention and take action.  This is most likely done outside of the automated processes that you can manage on Twitter and probably warrants a phone call.  But there are lots of actions that businesses large and small can automate on Twitter.  As a starting point if you’re captured the data from step 2 you might choose to follow that particular user.  I noticed when I sent out Tweets about the Beastie Boys or the Philadelphia Phillies I got Twitter Follows immediately.

Over time these brands may choose to send out @ messages to me or DM messages to me in the way that people send out direct marketing emails now.  But we need to wait for the equivalent of “opt-in” to develop on Twitter because without this brands need to be careful about not coming across as Spammy.

There are also steps brands can begin to take today to manage Twitter followers with the most authority.  If you’re a brand and you’ve determined the 10 most influential people who write positive things about your company or products then wouldn’t it be nice to provide these people with toolsets for their blogs or webpages to help better promote your brands since you know they influential in your community?  Actions based on a user authority is an emerging area where I believe the tools are nascent today but you’ll likely see more emphasis on this in the future.  I see many early-stage businesses pitching me today talking about solving this need.

So the following list is not exhaustive (if I’ve missed some please feel free to add in the comments section), but here are some emerging companies who are providing tools for brands to monitor, assess and take action on Twitter feeds: PeopleBrowsr, Social Approach, HootSuite, CoTweet, EasyTweets.

The Real Power of Twitter is Link Sharing

July 17, 2009

linksThis is the fourth posting in a series I’m calling Twitter 101 for all those that say “I don’t get it?”  The Twitter 101 outline it’s here.

In the second post I talked about Twitter being like Instant Messaging (IM) and text messaging (SMS) and that is the reason for the 140 character limit.  Many people I speak with mock the 140 character limit as it was even parodied by Maureen Dowd in this much mocked Op-Ed in the NY Times.   I actually think that the service would be slightly more useful if it was a 250 character limit but I do like the brevity imposed by a having a limit so I tolerate 140.

But the main point of this post is to point out to people who “don’t get” Twitter why the 140 character limit isn’t the problem they imagine it to be.  The usual comment I hear is, “what can anybody usefully say in 140 characters.”  The point that this comment is missing is that the most powerful use for Twitter is “link sharing.”

In the best Twitter posts people will write a little bit of text commenting on a topic and then provide a link to an article for the reader to learn more.  A couple of days ago I posted a link to a NY Times article talking about the budget crisis in California.  I pulled out the one bit of the article that I was most concerned with and sent the Tweet, “California’s education budget likely to be cut another 3%. Lovely. http://bit.ly/13ISMt but the article wasn’t primarily about education and if you wanted to learn more you could read more.

A friend of mine in LA posted this yesterday, “Jumbo squid invade San Diego shores, spook scuba divers http://usat.me/?35664766 “.  Ok, so not relevant for my business life but what a great diversion for me.  I used to live in San Diego and my mom still does so I’m down there often.  I clicked on the article (you should to – it’s pretty interesting).   At breakfast this morning I was talking with a guy who lives in San Diego and he knew about the squids.  Just like that I was “part of the conversation.”  I can’t imagine I would have known about this squid phenomenon if it weren’t for Twitter.

This morning I posted a link on both Twitter and Facebook to my favorite venture capital / start-up cartoon that ran in the New Yorker back when I was a struggling first-time CEO trying to raise VC.  This really is awesome so be sure to check it out – http://bit.ly/ViLyQ

Twitter is filled with useful links like this – some business, some political, some news related and some just plain funny.  In writing this post I went to Jeff Cohn’s update page www.twitter.com/jeffcohn because I knew he was the guy who posted about the squids. (side note: if you’re twitter name is something like jeffcohn make sure you list your name as Jeff Cohn – with space in between – because on Twitter if you search for Jeff Cohn you won’t find the one above due to his minor error).  On Jeff’s update page I saw this very interesting Tweet ” Clearstone Venture Partners Jim Armstrong’s – Top 10 Board Meetings Dos And Donts For CEOs http://tinyurl.com/l9r3uf ” which I just now went and read.  Jim is a fellow SoCal VC so it’s interesting for me to know what he’s writing.  Without Twitter I simply wouldn’t have know that Jim had written this blog post.

So sharing links is what I believe the real power of Twitter offers for both people who want to communicate a message and for those that log in to check out what’s happening.  Without link sharing Twitter is just group IM or group chat in my opinion.

bitly-screen-shotIf you look at the link I’ve posted above you’ll see some from Bit.ly and tinyurl.  The need to restrict posts to 140 characters has created a “URL shortening” phenomenon since most URLs are quite long.  I personally use http://Bit.ly , which is the most popular now for Twitter.  The reason I use it is that I can track a bunch of analytics about my links (or other people’s links)  that tell me things like: total number of people who clicked on my link, break-down by geography, which application people used to click on the link (e.g. twitter.com, Facebook, Outlook, etc.) and when they clicked.  From this you can learn many things.  For example, you can begin to learn which times of day are best to send a Tweet.

Whenever I write a blog post I send out a Tweet with the topic and the link to the posting.  I am not so presumptuous as to think that people think about checking out my blog every day to see whether there is a new post or not.  So the Tweet helps me to make people aware of the posting and if they find the topic interesting then presumably they’ll decide to click on the link and read the post.

This leads me to a related side topic  I write most of my blog posts late in the evening when only the night owls are on Twitter (but by the way, this is a great time to build relationships with these people since less people are Tweeting) and I don’t want to sent my Tweet announcing the blog posting at midnight when nobody’s reading.  For people with very few people that they follow they’d probably still see it by morning but if you’re following 100’s of people my Tweet would have fallen off of your radar screen.

So initially I would blog in the evening and then Tweet about it the next day.  But this was a hassle because I’m usually pretty busy in the day and it’s a pain to remember to do it.  So I started using a product called CoTweet (www.cotweet.com), which has a lot of functionality but primary benefit for me is that you can time schedule your Tweets.  So I simply send the Tweet at midnight and CoTweet will hold it until the time and the day that I specify and it will Tweet it for me.  Problem solved.

In summary, Twitter has taken off because it has captured the zeitgeist of the youth driven world of IM & text messaging and made this even more valuable through a link sharing.

This has created a whole new marketing economy, which I’ll cover in my next blog post.  Twitter, it turns out, is driving business in a big way.

Link sharing on Twitter has created a whole new marketing economy, which I’ll cover in my next blog post.  Twitter, it turns out, is driving business in a big way.

How to get (the right) people to follow you on Twitter

July 16, 2009

twitter-followersThis is the third posting in a series I’m calling Twitter 101 for all those that say “I don’t get it?”  The Twitter 101 outline it’s here.

In the first post I talked about how beginning users can just be “consumers” of information by subscribing to news sites or bloggers, reading their 140 character “headlines” and clicking through on links of stories that interest you.

But you get so much more out of Twitter when you also contribute and become part of the conversation.  If you follow only news sources or famous people like Oprah none of them will likely follow you back so sending your own 140 character Tweet will be a bit like shouting out loud in an empty room.  You need to follow friends and other “real” people in order to become part of a conversation.

First follow friends:  When you first join you’re prompted to add users from Gmail, Yahoo! or AOL.  This is a great way to find out which of your friends is already on Twitter and is far more pleasant than spamming a bunch of your friends who currently don’t use Twitter (which I hate doing).  If you’ve already signed up for Twitter you can still periodically go back and see which of your friends are using Twitter by clicking on “Find People” and then clicking on “find on other networks” and you can then go through this process of inviting  people.

Don’t bother clicking on Suggested Users.  As of July 2009 it’s total shit and recommend that I connect with Dell and JetBlue as the first two suggestions.  One day Twitter will no doubt fix this and have better recommendations.

The important think about inviting friends is that many will likely follow you back.  They will likely get emails sent to them alerting them that you’ve added them or at a minimum many people look to see who’s following them and perhaps they’ll notice you.  This should get you in the conversation with your friends.

LA skylineNext follow people with a similar affinity – People use Twitter for both work and pleasure.  For work you might start by following people that are in generally in your field, people in your geography, industry luminaries, customers or partners.  Let me use myself as an example to tell you how I think about whom I follow on Twitter.

First, I’m a VC and I’m interested in technology startups.  When I joined I immediately followed many VC’s that I know from NorCal and SoCal (and some in Boston, NY and Boulder).  I also followed a few VC’s who didn’t know me personally but whom I respected their opinions and wanted to know what they had to say.

I followed local LA technology entrepreneurs that I knew well like @jasonnazar , @steveray , @erif , @mjones and many other local tech people.  I followed VC people like @johngreathouse , @davemcclure, @ptlee who are all VC’s I know well.  I obviously followed the companies I’ve invested in like @ringrevenue and @gumgum but I also followed some people in their industry to get a better feel for what the conversation was in their sector like @mediatrustpete and @lisariolo who work in affiliate marketing.  Following people in a field that interests you is a good way to see what people in that field are talking about.

Many of these people followed me back immediately and thus I was part of their conversation.  I mostly seek out people that I want to communicate with occasionally and want to track what they’re seeing as important.  You can also choose to follow people in a hobby that might interest you like sports (several people commented that they love following basketball Twitterers who send out Tweets about the game at half time), poker, music, religion, whatever.  Twitter is a real time conversation and following these affinity groups makes Twitter like chat (to be covered in another post).

But what do you do when they don’t follow you back?  Here are a couple of strategies:

1. Email – If it’s a good friend you can obviously send an email saying, “hey, I just followed you on Twitter and noticed you hadn’t followed me back – would love to get a conversation going.”  I do not recommend this for anybody but close friends.  It looks too desperate.   For this you need other option.

2. Email signature line – I have included a clickable email Twitter line at the bottom of my email signature saying, “to follow me on Twitter click www.twitter.com/msuster”  It is effective at building awareness that you use Twitter and that you’re encouraging people you email (and therefore mostly know) to follow you.  I have found this very effective and not desperate since it’s really becoming like listing your phone number or Skype address.

3. Create links – Link to your Twitter address in obvious places.  I have mine below my bio on my website right here.  Other obvious places include in your Facebook profile page, LinkedIn and similar

follow-friday-twitter4. Follow Friday – Every Friday it has become a custom to recommend people that you think others should follow.  Frankly I don’t know how long this tradition will last – I sort of think it will die down.  But while it’s here there’s nothing wrong with sending good friends or colleagues an email saying, “I’m new to Twitter and would love to build my following.  Would you please consider including me in a Follow Friday posting?”  If they people who promote you on Follow Friday are well known in the community you want to network in then several of the people you want to follow you will potentially see it.

5. Post interesting links and request RT’s – This sounds pretty obvious but posting interesting links to articles in your field is a great way of building followers.  Make sure to use keywords in your posting that might end up being searched on.

The problem is that the specific targeted people who don’t follow you already are unlikely to see this.  One strategy is to ask a very small number of people (the same people in the Follow Friday point) to retweet (RT) your post, which means they’ll give attribution to your Twitter address.  You can go overboard here and get backlash but if you do this in a targeted way I believe it’s a great way of getting the community you’re interested in following you.  I’ve asked a few targeted people in LA to RT interesting links of mine to build a local follower base of people I don’t already know.  People with a lot of local followers like @nicolejordan @jackiepeters or @tonyadam are great because they’ve been in LA a long time and are avid social media people.  I just try not to over ask.

I know that a small number of people have written posts calling this a “shake up” and don’t think it’s a good tactic.  To that I say 2 things: 1) if you ask all the time and aren’t polite about it then I agree and 2) it’s very easy to say when you already have 10,000 followers and don’t need to build a following!

6. Become part of the conversation – This is an important recommendation and also one for which to be very careful.  If you notice that somebody you follow Tweets something interesting feel free to send a message to them with the @username function and make a commentary on what they posted.  If it is something like, “I saw your Tweet that you’re miffed that CA is cutting education spending 3%, did you see this link? www.yourlink.com”  If the person isn’t too senior and is in the same industry often they’ll connect on the first or second time you @ them but if they’re very senior or have a ton of followers this isn’t likely to happen over night.  You need to build relationships with people the old fashioned way – slowly and by finding ways to be helpful to them.  But at a minimum most people who receive polite and informative @’s start to recognize the names of the people who provide thoughful commentary.  Just don’t become a stalker.

6. Unfollow / Follow – This is a technique that I really only recommend for people you know reasonably well.  I try to stay on top of who follows me and to make sure that if I know them and see that they write interesting Tweets I follow them back.  I don’t auto follow everybody back because I feel that if I followed 1,000+ people I would miss too much from the people that I know and want to hear from.  Occasionally I miss people I know because I happened to get 50 followers in one burst.  So if you knew me and I didn’t follow you back, you might consider un-following me and then re-following me a few days later under the assumption that I might notice the second time.  I have found this generally works for people that you know but don’t want to bug with email begging for them to follow you.  Just don’t do too many times with the same person – if they still don’t follow you – get the hint!

The next post in the series describes the Real Power of Twitter – Link Sharing.

Twitter is IM (and why the limit is 140 characters)

July 15, 2009


This is the second posting in a series I’m calling Twitter 101 for all those that say “I don’t get it?”  The first post is here and if you want to see the outline it’s here.

In the first post I talked about how Twitter is a real-time news source where by subscribing to the NY Times, the Drudge Report, Wall Street Journal or TechCrunch you could see the headlines of their news stories as they were released online.

But Twitter is much more than just a news source.  I will cover all use cases in my series but in this post I want to talk about how Twitter is like IM (instant messaging) and like sending text messages.

Most young people and people with technology backgrounds use IM all the time and many people in the 40+ or non-tech crowd similarly “don’t get” IM.  I have been a big user of IM since the early 90’s when I used to program and design corporate computer systems using COBOL/CICS/DB2 (yes, I know, very unsexy).

We used to instant message people through our mainframe to tell them when we were going to compile our software code, when a team meeting was going to start or taunt them for their fantasy football loss during the weekend.  It was a little welcome relief from sitting all day at the computer.

Similarly since I ran 2 technology companies I ended up using IM to communicate with a lot of my staff.  We were in 6 different countries and IM was the easiest way of communicating for quick questions or updates.

Why not use email?  Email is asynchronous – meaning that you send me a message and then wait.  Sometimes you might end up waiting days.  I may not be checking my email or may have missed it in my massive inflow of emails.  But IM is synchronous and also gives you information about my “presence” (e.g. am I current sitting at my computer, am I busy in a meeting, am I away from my computer, am I totally offline).  So if you notice that I’m online and you send me an IM you pretty much know that I got the message right then and there.  IM also tends to be short messages so it’s easy to quickly respond with a short reply.  So for things that are time critical and where I want a quick response IM is fantastic.

Funnily enough IM is a very generational thing and I’m on the wrong side of the divide (41 as of July 2009).  I see many people in their 20’s who have everybody else’s IM addresses so it must be common place to give them out.  I don’t mind people knowing mine because I find that most people don’t abuse the privilege.  But I would never think of meeting a senior exec or anyone else in my age demo and saying, “hey man, can I have your IM address?” but I would gladly send them LinkedIn or Facebook requests.  Strange, huh?

I have IM accounts on Google (msuster), Yahoo! (marksuster), MS Live (msuster@buildonline.com … yes, really stupid – I can’t change this without re “friending” all my contact list.  Microsoft – get a clue) and in Skype (msuster_work).  But I don’t want to log onto all of these sites individually.  I know that many people use Meebo for this (yes, I have an account there, too) but my favorite IM client is Digsby (which is the image you see at the top of the post).  Digsby allows me in one client to see all of my IM friends across networks as well as my Facebook IM, Facebook status updates, LinkedIn requests, Gmail mail and, yes, even Twitter.  It is a much more elegant version of older products like Trillian.

But there is a phenomenon present that I haven’t seen anybody else write about.  Once I link to you on Facebook we’ve given each other implicitly permission to IM each other because IM is a feature on Facebook for people you friend.  I think this is great and certainly don’t abuse the privilege.  One of my favorite entrepreneurs and often my example of “best practice,” Jason Nazar, often IM’s me at 11pm (or later!) when he sees me on Facebook.  It has actually been a great way to strengthen our relationship when I’m not busy with the daily grind.  If I didn’t want to be IM’d I supposed I could just log out of Facebook.  And I’m not flattered by Jason’s IM’s – several VC’s I know tell me this is his secret trick (sorry for giving your best trick away, Jas).

twitterSo finally to Twitter.  Twitter is almost instant messaging by definition.  If I send a message with an @username (no space in between) the message goes into a special inbox for that user, which is essentially IM.  I lacks some of the characteristics in that it doesn’t tell me your presence; however, if I noticed that you sent a Tweet 4 minutes ago I can guess you’re likely still online.  If you follow me then I can even send you a private message that nobody else can see by adding a “d” in front of your name (this time you need a space).

Twitter is unique in that people who IM each other through Twitter and the results are mostly public (excluding the D example above AND if my message starts with @username then you will only see it if you follow both me and the person I sent the message to.  If you want more people to see it start with any character before the @ sign).

More importantly Twitter goes one step further than Facebook.  On Facebook you can IM me if we are “connected,” whereas on Twitter anybody can IM me by sending a message with the @msuster in the message.  I love that people can more easily be in touch and especially that they are restricted to only 140 characters!  (as well the EXPECTATION of a restricted response).  If used in the right way this can be a very powerful relationship building exercise.  If used in the wrong way you can alienate somebody.  I will cover this in the next posting.

Finally, I said that Twitter was like text messaging.  I lived in Europe throughout the second half of the 90’s (and until 2005 actually) and worked a lot in the mobile sector.  I also lived and worked in Tokyo immediate after the launch of  i-mode by NTT DoCoMo in 1999.  So I saw the huge explosion of text messaging and mobile surfing (in Japan) well before it arrived in the US.  People want to communicate with other people when they’re on the road that the short form isi-modeactually quite liberating.

When Twitter was developed it was envisioned that lots of people would Tweet messages that would be send to peoples mobile phones and vice-versa (I doubt they gave much thought to the abundance of 3rd party readers on mobile devices that now exist).  The maximum size of an SMS message is 160 characters, which is why Twitter settled for the slightly smaller size of 140.  So now you know why Twitter limits the size of your messages – it was intended for SMS!

You can do a lot with text messaging in Twitter.  The way I use it is that I have it set to text message my mobile phone any time somebody sends me a DM (direct message).  Since I don’t get too many it isn’t a problem and it alerts me that I have something somebody deemed private on Twitter.  Since I’m not always on Twitter it’s nice to have this “called out.”  You can also set it to get a text message whenver a specific person sends you a Tweet.  I choose not to do this.

Next post is here –  how to get people that you want to follow you on Twitter to follow you and what to be careful of in wooing them.