I'm a lawyer and a writer, and I am VERY busy. I used to dismiss Facebook and Twitter and other social media just as AJB has--not interested in this juvenile online playing around and attention seeking, which is a patent waste of time anyway.
Then I got an assignment to write an article about lawyers and social media. (It's just out, the cover story in the June 2009 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, http://www.isba.org/ibj/2009/06/
) So I thought I'd better sign up for these sites and find out what they're all about in order to be able to write intelligently about them. Now I tweet away, update my Facebook page, and am refining my LinkedIn profile.
Social networking is just another way of interacting with people. Sure, some people tweet about inanities. Some people e-mail inanities, too (or post them on discussion boards), or bend your ear with inanities on the phone or at a cocktail party or a professional meeting. Do you decide that you're never going to e-mail, look at discussion boards (such as this one), use the phone, or attend in-person functions such as professional meetings? Of course not (unless you're a hermit).
People are still figuring out all the things they can do with these media. The key is that they all help you to communicate and make connections with other people--and do it a lot more efficiently than you possibly could in person, or by phone, or even by e-mail. And you can use these media--which are mostly FREE, by the way--to benefit yourself personally or to benefit your business (or both).
One social media expert (Seth Godin, maybe--don't remember who) said that nowadays, your business card or your resume is what comes up on a Google search. Like it or not, there's a lot of truth in that remark. You can use all of these media to help other people find you more effectively and to shape the image of yourself that you want to present to the world.
The jury is still out on exactly how people will use Twitter most effectively and whether it will still be around in 5 years. But I must say that people are pretty creative with it. And you know what? You can say a lot in 140 characters. The limit forces you to be terse.
Someone asked me the other day whether I think everyone should tweet and be on Facebook and LinkedIn. I do think every professional probably should have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. As to other media, no, I don't think everyone should use them. I do think that everyone should investigate, not dismiss, them and make a decision whether they fit your needs.
Back to Twitter, I'd suggest following a bunch of people whom you think might be interesting to get a feel for how different people tweet. Do that for at least 2 weeks. If you find that some do nothing but plug their product, maybe you'll want to un-follow them. Follow me @helengunnar ; I tweet about things that interest me and that I think others might find interesting or ought to know about. (I'm following you, too. ;-) ) Look at whom the people you follow and find interesting follow for ideas of more people to follow. And consider how people go about plugging their product--what do you find effective or not effective about what they do? It is totally appropriate to tweet about your own product or services, but you need to do it in a respectful way that doesn't turn people off. Just as you would at a cocktail party or other gathering. (And from my time mostly lurking on this board, Frank B., I know that you will.)