A few years ago, when I worked over in San Francisco, I would occasionally commute using the “casual car pool” system – in other words, at a designated congregation point, I’d get into a vehicle with a total stranger so that person could save bridge toll and I could save bus money. 

It was less scary than it sounds – obviously, I didn’t end up in a shallow grave somewhere – although there were some memorable, white-knuckle-inducing drives.

One of the most memorable wasn’t at all scary. The driver of the late model red pickup truck I was hitching a ride in was an editor at a fairly major technology publication. As the editor of a CRM website, we had plenty to discuss, but she had one question of me: What is the purpose of Twitter?

This was a couple of years ago, and if my explanations weren’t sufficient, I’m sure she’s caught on by now anyway. Technology folks have been forced to come to grips with Twitter, as have millions of others.

Whether you use it to broadcast your own daily story, to announce things you’ve done or events you’re planning, to promote content on the Internet, to re-Tweet and share material, or any of an innumerable number of other uses, Twitter has a genuine value to it – and like a lot of social platforms, that value is up to the user to discover.

That’s why a lot of businesses have such a rough time of figuring it out. Just as with Social CRM in general, the value you derive from it is based on three things: how well you use it, of course, but also about the unique qualities of your customers and the unique qualities of your business.

Down at IT Expo a few weeks ago, there were lots of folks in the social CRM track who were asking the same question that that my casual car pool driver was asking a couple of years ago. They were small business owners, people in departmental roles in large companies, and everywhere in between; because of the nature of IT Expo, many came from telecom backgrounds.

They seemed perplexed, and concerned about the amount of time social media would take up, how to justify it internally, what to say, and how to tie it to business results to measure ROI.

And those questions are awesome.

Really! They’re awesome. They’re business-centered questions of the kind that should be asked about any initiative a business launches. The big difference here – and the difference with all social media – is that the cost of entry is so low. Getting a Twitter account costs nothing, and you can spend as much time with it as you can afford.

The application of some common sense and a little employee time can get the point of Twitter across fairly quickly; then, you can start developing a strategy that takes into account your business and your customers. For example, if your business has any kind of content it wishes to share with the world, Twitter’s virtually a necessity for getting it out there.

If you want a great how-to (as well as a lot of valid “why” and “what”), you could do no better than this post from the vivacious and perspicacious Erin Korogodsky, Lithium’s social media quarterback, entitled “8 Ways to Subtly Connect Online.” Four of the eight involve Twitter, which should tip you to its importance for business.

If you need more ideas, follow people in your industry (and notables in other industries) on Twitter and pay attention to who’s doing something well. You have a menu of styles and best-ish practices on display through social media; browsing through a selection of them will allow you to create a set of ideas that works for your business.

This is a learn-by-doing medium – the best way to understand it is to commit some time to it and start connecting to customers where they’re already talking.