Among Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, the three big social networks, I spend maximum time on Twitter. Many people who have tried Twitter can't carry on and abandon it. It is not easy and intuitive to understand as Facebook and LinkedIn. Both of these networks have language we can understand - friends and connections.
However Twitter has "followers" and "following" (I follow 500+ people while 15,300+ follow me) which don't make sense to many people. We are not used to non-reciprocal relationships in real life usually. But if you persist, Twitter can be an enormously useful tool for networking and learning. Here is how:
* You can interact with thought leaders: I don't mean the garden variety of thought leaders. I mean the real deal. People like Tom Peters. Yes, I've had conversations with Tom Peters on Twitter. Ten years ago I would have had to pay a hefty fee to just listen to Tom Peters. Where else can you do that, eh? There's Ken Blanchard, Clayton Christensen, Robin Sharma - all active on Twitter.
* You can follow experts in your industry: You know that picky guy who won't accept your LinkedIn connection request. Well, if he's active on Twitter you can follow his updates without waiting for his "permission" (unless he has kept his account protected - in which case he doesn't get the point of Twitter anyway). It's a great tool especially if you are exploring business partnerships.
* Participate in Tweetchats for learning: A tweetchat is a series of tweets in which many people post about a pre-decided topic that is moderated by a moderator using a hashtag - an anchor text to find tweets about a particular topic. For example, I participate in HR oriented Tweetchats like #IndiaHRchat, #HRtrends and #chrdx. There are chats about customer service, PR etc.
* Get to know what's happening around you: The real-time nature of Twitter makes is a fertile ground for breaking news. It helps that many journalists and editors are active on Twitter and you get to know things before the mainstream media does.
* Whom you follow defines what your twitter experience is like: Don't feel shy about unfollowing people who tweet a lot or tweet stuff that is no longer interesting for you. Also stay away from people who are regularly whining and negative.
* Use Twitter lists to find people to follow: Many people have curated lists of people on Twitter. For example, I have a list of 525 Indian HR professionals on Twitter and 60 social media professionals. In fact, you can find every kind of list on Twitter. Use them to find relevant people to follow.