Tyler Cowen suggests that there are few private gains from producing content on Twitter:
In my portrait Twitter consists mainly of social benefits yet it offers few private gains for many generators of the content. So why do so many people do it? Maybe it tricks our instincts for sociability or connection.
Sociability is certainly a major benefit and I wouldn’t consider it a “trick.” Sure many tweets are about trivial things, but so are many real world conversations. I like Clive Thompson’s description of this as “social proprioception.”
However the social aspects of Twitter have seemed to decline in importance over the past year with a greater emphasis on pointing to content elsewhere; I now find nearly as many useful links in my Twitter feed as I do in my RSS reader. So why actively tweet instead of passively taking it all in? I get a few selfish benefits from publishing on the site:
Driving traffic — I no longer count on a blog post to get traffic on its own. My number of subscribers on Google Reader has languished around 160 for months while in a little over a year I’ve picked up more than 550 followers on Twitter. Today if I want a post to get attention I link to it on Twitter and Facebook. (This begs the question of whether blogging itself offers benefits, which I talk about here.)
Attracting customers — I work in a bar. I make money by getting people into that bar. Twitter lets me tell people about new drinks, promote events, and just generally draw attention to the place. It also raises the profile of the bar outside of Portland, making it more likely that out of town visitors will stop in.
Reminding people that I exist — That’s weird to say, but it’s important. When people are deciding whom to invite to events, send samples to, or hire for a gig, being active on Twitter helps ensure they’re keeping me in mind.
Crowd-sourcing — Tyler says he hasn’t learned how to ask for advice on Twitter very well, but it’s easy: Don’t ask stupid (i.e. easily Googleable) questions and don’t ask too many of them. I’ve used it to source good restaurants, my bike bag, cooking and mixology tips, and other things. Of course to get advice you need followers, which means it’s a return on being active.
Meeting new people — Twitter has been a surprisingly good medium for getting to know people that I might have met otherwise but probably wouldn’t have. And after months of following them on Twitter I know them far better than I would from exchanging a few emails. This is a great benefit when we finally meet in person.