The flavor of the day it seems right now across the Web is Twitter. It's getting a lot of attention from the mainstream media and is riding that virtual wave of social networking that Facebook and MySpace created these past few years. In fact, we here at lifeBLUE launched our own tweets and there are a lot of curious toes dipping into the twitteriffic waters just checking it out for the first time – not sure yet if they're ready to dive in. They've heard about it, don't quite understand it, but are willing to take a look around to see what all the fuss is about. On the surface, Twitter may seem like a place for exhibitionist-type digital hacks who have more time than the rest of us to update all those who care about their incredibly important and interesting lives. That's the knee-jerk synopsis from the skeptics and from those types of folk who continuously show up late for the party (not fashionably late, just unforgivably late). The reality is that Twitter is a viable networking, educational, informational and marketing tool … among many other things. It's rapidly evolving as more and more users jump on board and the potential of what Twitter will eventually become is hard to imagine right now.

If Twitter is still a mystery to you and you're more of a visual learner, here's a great YouTube explanation to help out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddO9idmax0o&feature=player_embedded

Twitter can definitely be a marketing goldmine for small businesses and large corporations. The big companies have their own crew of Twitterers these days monitoring what their followers (supporters and critics alike) are saying and opening up the lines of communication. It can be a very effective link between the public and the company. A perfect example is Scott Monty http://twitter.com/ScottMonty. He's the head of social marketing at Ford (you may or may not have heard, but Ford has been in the news A LOT lately and Scott could be called a fireman more than a social marketer after all the heat he takes from shareholders, customers and red-blooded taxpayers) Scott has a following of more than 15,000 fellow Twitter dudes and dudettes. He goes back and forth with them about any subject, but mainly discusses Ford-related topics and answers questions. He also helps generate excitement about the brand and its products (which is desperately needed these days). Take for example, the Fiesta Movement. A Twitter-spawned promotion that gives Twitter-types a chance to win a free Ford Fiesta just by creating a short YouTube video about themselves and why they want a new, FREE car http://www.focusfanatics.com/forum/showthread.php?p=2668859 . Pretty good marketing project from my perspective because I can't think of the last time anybody got very excited about a Fiesta … free or not. When Ford doesn't get much credit these days for anything, and deservedly so, they're attempt to reach out to the public through social media channels and generate excitement again about their brand is commendable. And my Twitter hat is off to Scott for being in the trenches.

Just as the huge, multi-billion dollar companies are realizing the benefits of Twitter, so too are the small entrepreneurs like Mark Manguera, owner of Kogi Korean BBQ. A cult-like following has been built in southern California by Manguera and his legions of Twitterers and bloggers who have helped turn his restaurant-on-wheels into a crowd-causing phenomenon. Wherever his roving vehicle goes, the tweets start and the crowd follows – showing up in droves of 300-800 people wherever it parks (often several times per evening). I know of many big-chain restaurants that would love to serve 500+ people per night. Imagine the marketing and advertising dollars Manguera has saved because of Twitter and blogs – the definition of word of mouth. It also helps to have large media outlets write about his unique story. Among others, his story's been in BusinessWeek and the L.A. Times.

Kogi Korean BBQ Truck

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-kogi11-2009feb11,0,159741.story

'The truck and its staff of merry makers have become a sort of roving party, bringing people to neighborhoods they might not normally go to, and allowing for interactions with strangers they might not otherwise talk to. A constant Twitter feed connects truck-followers and updates them about whether Kogi is going to be late to its next stop. Occasionally, a negative Nelly will rain on this love parade by asking the Kogi truck to park elsewhere; when this happens, legions of Kogi-lytes rally to find a desirable new location.'
Of course, to generate the swell of fandom for a product or brand like Manguera has done with Kogi Korean BBQ won't be possible for all business owners. He has a unique business model that's perfect for Twitter, but it shows the possibilities and that a creative marketing strategy is critical for success in today's tough economic climate.

Now let's re-visit the potential of Twitter and where it could possibly go. Recently, the outspoken and tech-savvy owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, also a known Twitterer http://twitter.com/mcuban, stood atop his soapbox while posting a tweet to criticize the officials following a game against the Golden State Warriors. The suits at NBA headquarters learned of Cuban's comments on this thing called Twitter. After asking for help to find this Twitter thingamajiggy, the suits read his comments, didn't appreciate them and fined Cuban $25,000. What does all this mean? Cuban and the NBA go together like oil and water, yes, but it also means that high-profile business owners and celebrities have turned to Twitter and, in doing so, have learned they can circumvent traditional media channels like newspapers and TV to voice their comments without the risk of being taken out of context (something they vehemently hate). We already receive the news of the day differently today than we did 10 years ago – mainly through online media channels, blogs and social communities.

Now that Twitter is involved, we have the opportunity to hear directly from the newsmakers themselves…something the news reporters don't appreciate. It's hard to investigate and develop a news story if you can't get your quotes. When celebrities and business owners turn to their tweets first to talk to the masses, that leaves the news outlets with the short-end of the stick … it just won't be 'news' once they put their stories together. This won't happen overnight, and it likely won't spell the end of traditional media outlets during the next decade – but it shows that a shift is possible and likely to happen at some point in our future. You can also count on more and more instant news from Twitterers on-the-scene of natural disasters and accidents (i.e. 'Plane Lands in Hudson') – this is something the news outlets have staked their reputations on throughout the years and Twitterers are invading on their territory.

Ironically, it's Twitter that's trying to find its way right now. Where will it go? What will it become? Investors are knocking on the door, potential buyers are developing high-dollar offers, the owners are testing advertising options on their systems in Japan … things are happening fast but not too fast where you'll be late to the party. It's a perfect time to dive in and discover a new life of bite-sized, 140-character tweets that can help your business or your social life.

A list of people and companies on TwitterBarack Obama – BarackObamaLance Armstrong - lancearmstrongMark Cuban – mcubanShaquille O'Neal – THE_REAL_SHAQDave Matthews – DaveJMatthewsBritney Spears – britneyspearsAshton Kutcher - aplusklifeBLUE Media - lifeblueSouthwest Airlines – SouthwestAir Exxon Mobile – ExxonMobilCorpApple –appleinc Comcast – comcastcaresDell – DellOutlet H&R Block – HRBlockWhole Foods - wholefoods