How I Use Twitter in 2011

May 14, 2011

The Many Uses of Twitter


I use Twitter much differently today than I did in 2008. Three years ago, I was just getting my feet on the ground, trying to understand the difference between an at-reply and a direct message. My primary goals were to share content on a single topic (virtual events) and to drive traffic to this blog, which I had just launched. Fast forward to 2011 and I look to Twitter as a swiss army knife – many, many uses.

Notable Changes Since 2008

My mindset on Twitter has been evolving. Some notable changes since 2008:

  1. Mix it up.  I wanted my tweetstream to be focused on virtual events content, so I maintained a 98/2 balance on virtual events and “other” tweets. Today, the balance is more like 85/15, in favor of “other.”
  2. Open up.  I used to stay laser focused on business topics, fearing that including personal interests would cause me to lose followers. But then I saw prominent tweeps (on the business side) do otherwise, so now I’ll include occasional tweets about my Yankees (MLB) or Sharks (NHL) – or, other personal interests.
  3. Make people laugh or think.  10% of my tweets are now conceived while I’m in the shower, where I generate random thoughts (ask a though-provoking question) or random observations (make you laugh [or so I hope!]).
  4. Follow back and interact.  I used to believe that “followers” should be a far greater count than “following.” I also believed that I just couldn’t keep up when following 250+ tweeps. Then I realized that by not following, I’d be missing out. So now I follow back many users who follow me. And, I use at-replies more often, to engage directly with other tweeps.

My other uses of Twitter…

Content Sharing

Whenever I read something interesting, I like to share it with on Twitter. The topics I share tend to be on events (virtual, face-to-face and hybrid), social media and start-ups.  2010 was a big step forward for my sharing abilities, due to a key new feature from Twitter: the tweet button (which you now find on most web sites).

Now, sharing is done with one click. When I share, I like to add my a thought or comment, so that it’s a bit personal and customized. Of course, other tweeps are finding great content, too. So when I see something I find interesting, I’ll often retweet (“RT”). I like to use the official retweet function (from Twitter), so that I don’t have to worry about keeping the RT under 140 characters.

Content Discovery

Being part of “Twitterville” allows me to discover great content. But the most powerful aspect is discovering the content by way of interesting people.  So for me, “discovery” is as much about the people I follow (and connect with) as it is about the wisdom they share.  In this way, Twitter has changed the world.

Twitter’s “unidirectional” following model (i.e. I can follow you without you following me) means that people can share thoughts and insights with “me”, which otherwise would never have happened.

Yes, Hollywood celebrities are cool to follow, but for me, it’s the founder of a great company, the author of a book I’ve just read or an A-list blogger. In fact, Twitter has turned some users into celebrities in their own right, with larger (and more engaged) followings than the celebrities from Hollywood.

Sidebar: Following New Tweeps

As an aside, here’s how I follow new tweeps:

  1. Content: When I read an interesting article, I look to see if the author’s Twitter handle is listed. If so, I immediately follow. If not, I’ll Google the author’s Twitter handle and follow her.
  2. Businesses: If I see “interesting” businesses (or brands) active on Twitter, I’ll follow them.
  3. Athletes: It’s great to see so many athletes take up Twitter in a big way. If my favorite teams have active Twitter users, I’ll follow those athletes.


When I attend an event, whether it’s face-to-face or digital, the first thing I check for is the event hash tag. Twitter has forever changed events, in a good way. It allows me to put a finger on the pulse of the event, from the attendees’ point of view. I’ll find a session that I otherwise would have missed and I’ll often find 20-30 new people to follow. For weeks after the event is over, I’ll continue to watch the hash tag for interesting content. Twitter has helped extend the shelf life of events.

Selling Books

In 2010, I wrote a book on virtual events and placed a link to the Amazon listing page in my Twitter profile. The topic of the book piqued the curiosity of Adam Penenberg (@Penenberg), so we exchanged a few Twitter direct messages (DM) about it. The DM exchange concluded with Adam writing, “Just bought it, you can thank Twitter for the sale.”

Adam listed his own book (“Viral Loop”) in his Twitter profile. Adam’s book “examines the engine driving the growth of web 2.0 businesses,” which aligned perfectly with my interests.  So I bought his book (here’s my review of Viral Loop). It’s fascinating what Twitter enables: content discovery, people discovery and book sales.


First and foremost, thank you, Twitter – you’ve been a big part of my life the past few years. I’m excited to continue using (and adapting) the service and curious to see, in 2013, what I’ll write about regarding my usage patterns.

Leave a comment below, to share thoughts on how you use Twitter. And finally, feel free to follow me – I’m @dshiao. Chances are good that I’ll follow you back.

Book Review: Viral Loop

February 12, 2011

Image courtesy of


Adam L. Penenberg’s “Viral Loop” was published in 2009, but retains a lot of relevance in 2011.  Its subtitle is “From Facebook To Twitter,  How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves”.  The book begins by telling the story of the web site “Hot or Not” and how that web site (in 2000) “rode a simple idea to a fortune”, by virtue of “an insanely viral scheme”.

It goes further back in time to the original viral models, Tupperware and Ponzi Schemes and then works its way up through many of the present day (or past-present day) Web 2.0 success stories (e.g. Mosaic, Netscape, Ning, Hotmail, eBay, PayPal and more).

The Viral Coefficient

Early in the book, Penenberg explains the “viral coefficient”, or the “number of additional members each person brings in” (to a web site or service).  The success of a web site, or even a YouTube video, “going viral” hinges on this figure.  Penenberg explains that if the coefficient is equal to 1, the site “will grow, but at a linear rate, eventually topping out”.  Then, “above 1, it achieves exponential growth”.

The early growth of Ning was due to the fact that its viral coefficient was 2.0 – “each person who signs up is worth, on average, two people (compounded daily)”.  And while Ning doesn’t attain the lofty position it once had, its viral coefficient (and how it achieved it) is important in understanding its early success.

Web 2.0 History Lessons

Viral Loop Cover with Social Media icons

Image courtesy of


In addition to explaining viral coefficients and how viral loops are created, Penenberg provides interesting history lessons (stories) behind some of the web’s most well known creations.  He tells the story of how Marc Andreessen created the Mosaic browser at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, left Illinois to move west to Silicon Valley, and there co-founded Netscape with Jim Clark.  Version 1.0 of the Netscape browser was released on December 15, 1994, and Netscape engineers “rigged servers so a cannon fired every time a browser was downloaded”.


In a chapter titled “eBay and the Viral Growth Conundrum”, Penenberg tells the story of Pierre Omidyar, whose inspiration for eBay came from a stock order gone bad – he placed a pre-IPO order for a stock, only to see it jump 50% on the day of its IPO. Omidyar, whose business was called AuctionWeb, hosted the site on because his desired domain,, was already taken.


The chapter “PayPal: The First Stackable Network”, takes us through the very genesis of PayPal, starting with a lecture at Stanford, given by Peter Thiel. Max Levchin was one of six in the audience. They agreed to meet for breakfast the next week and over breakfast, agreed to launch a start-up around Levchin’s ideas for cryptography software.  The initial company was called Fieldlink and went through a few iterations of cryptography business ideas until they settled on the idea that would become PayPal.


Before reaching the Epilogue, we learn about the beginnings of several other well-known names, including Flickr, MySpace, Bebo and Facebook.  In the Epilogue, Penenberg summarizes the characteristics of viral loop companies and compares the similarities to human population growth – “the human population growth  rate [also] mirrors the curves for companies like Skype, Hotmail, Ning, Facebook”.

Penenberg’s book makes me ponder the coming decade (2011-2020). What new viral loop companies will be created (and how) – and who will be this decade’s Hot or Not, Ning and Netscape?

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