Everyone seems to have their favorite social media site. Some people have been die hard Facebook fans since day one, others have moved to the more professional, if limited, conversations at Linkedin, while the younger set seems to favor the image heavy tools like Instagram/Snapchat, etc.
I've been a twitter guy since early on. I still don't love their ad model and I'm occasionally shocked by the stupidity of the "trending topics" (currently trending in NYC "Finally Friday" and "Why I didn't text you back") but there is a subset of users that make twitter the best thing on the Internet.
The initial appeal to me was to help replace the bloomberg terminals that I no longer had and to gain access to news faster. Twitter is really unlike anything else when it comes to real-time information dissemination. If you are a true news junkie you can't beat twitter. In 2012, an incident in NYC lead to the evacuation of a building where many friends work. By searching twitter I had real-time photos and news from people in the building. In fact, in that case, I knew what prompted the evacuation and that it was a false alarm before the traditional media had even reported that an evacuation was occurring.
So to get the most out of the news component you need to follow a bunch of the breaking news twitter streams and Reuters, etc. However, often it's just as fast to just search for a topic. If I hear something has happened in a particular stock or part of the world, I can search the topic and have 100 tweets on the issue in a second.
There are some brilliant people on twitter and they often link to the most obscure, yet interesting research. In the past view days I've read about water on Mars, the surprising uptick in births in developed nations, and the "decline of serial killers in a sharing economy". Perhaps more interesting all of those links came from one guy!
Finding the right people to "follow" is the key to your experience. If you follow people tweeting pictures of their lunch, well, your experience is going to feel a lot like a boring version of facebook/instagram. If you follow a bunch of celebrities you'll get a steady stream of comments like the ones that Nick Offerman from Parks & Recreation parodies on the Conan O'Brien show (Here's a sample).
However, over time you'll find industry thought leaders and you can start to follow them.
Lately twitter has taken an even more interesting turn. As I've found smart and interesting people to follow in markets that I know little about (emerging healthcare in India, for example). Those people have led me to discover other people often in unrelated fields. Soon, you're reading up on Asian soil erosion and liking it. This has led to some great conversations with people in industries as diverse as education and defense technologies halfway around the world.
Sounds great you say - what's the downside?
Okay, yes Anthony Weiner gave it a bad name. However, in fairness I think he's given everything he's touched a bad name. There are people that are on twitter for all of the wrong reasons but it's easy enough to steer clear of most Congressmen.
The biggest negative of twitter is really one of its greatest assets. Unfortunately, if given the choice of news sources most people will self-select news that already confirms what they believe. Thus, Twitter becomes cable news on steroids. One of the greatest problems in the US today is that we all get our news from organizations that spin it to our liking. Liberals watch MSNBC and Conservatives watch Fox and no one watches CNN. This leads to increased political polarization because no one ever hears the "other" viewpoint. Twitter takes this to a whole new level. You can find right and left-wing extremists EVERYWHERE on twitter and pretty soon you'll be convinced that whatever they are selling (I mean saying) is the truth. The fastest way for someone to get blocked from my twitter feed is to start talking politics.
Finally, don't follow EVERYONE. This is an easy trap to fall into but if you get more than 100 active members you will soon be drowning in information and the ability to digest it all will not be able to keep up so you'll tune out.
I can't guarantee a good experience on twitter but you should try it out because it's become a vital part in my information tool set.
You can find me on twitter @brianlantier