Twitter is one of the most powerful communications tools ever. That may sound over the top, but I’m going to prove it.

Before diving in, here’s a very brief explanation of what Twitter isn’t for those of you who don’t use it much, or who don’t think it’s relevant to you.

Twitter isn’t a waste of time. Actually, let me rephrase that. Anything can be a waste of time: e-mail can be a waste of time; so can talking on the phone; so can browsing the internet. All these things are open to abuse, but they’re all things we do every day when we go to work. And normally, we do these things responsibly.

The same goes for Twitter. Yes, there are people who use it to tell their followers what they had for lunch, or what film they saw on TV last night, but these people are a minority. Most people on Twitter use it to communicate and share useful information. In that way it’s no different from any other communication medium.

But hang on. Didn’t I just say it’s one of the most powerful communication tools ever? I did. So, Twitter isn’t just like e-mail, or the internet, or the phone. It’s better.

Why? The first and, in my humble opinion, most compelling reason, is because it allows one-to-one (or one-to-many) communication with people who have opted in. Those two words are very, very important, so I’ll say them again. People opt in to Twitter. They want to be there. Not only that – they want to be contacted.

Just think about that for a minute.

Imagine any industry or profession. Imagine yours. Now think about influential people in your field that you’d like to have one-to-one contact with. Their e-mails addresses are patrolled by their PAs, as are their phone numbers.

But what if they have a Twitter account? Hmmm… are you seeing where I’m going with this?

People who set up Twitter accounts do so as individuals, and they manage the account themselves. It’s their account. They are the ones who log in in the morning and read their incoming tweets. Not their PA or their aides (unless it’s Barack Obama). That’s a crucial point.

Who would you like to contact, right now, and get a quick response from? The CEO of a company? An industry analyst? A sports commentator? A journalist? Chances are they’re already on Twitter.

That’s the thing. While a lot of people think Twitter is used by spotty kids in their bedrooms (forget it, they’re all on Facebook) Twitter is actually the domain for ABC1s. It’s where the smart people hang out. (Not all of them are mature, but most are educated and articulate). OK, maybe not all CEOs are on Twitter (yet) but in time most of them will be. It’s inevitable.

So, let me just recap. Twitter is the place where the people you’d like to contact already are (or soon will be). It’s the place where millions of conversations are happening every second of the day. It’s the place where people’s ideas are being read by many, many other people with the same interests, or who work in the same field. It’s the place where new ideas can get their first airing, and where advice is willingly offered, and where endorsements are freely given, and where new partnerships are made, and where new projects are launched. Need I go on?

The beauty of Twitter is that, not only can you directly contact individuals who have freely provided their contact information, your ideas and communication can also be read by everyone following you (if you want them to; if not, you can send private messages, just like e-mail) so it means lots of people are exposed to your ideas and questions. And they can then share these with their followers.

So, let’s move on from questions like: “What’s the ROI of using Twitter?” or “”How can we evaluate Twitter’s usefulness to our organization?” You may as well ask: “How can I evaluate the networking I do at a trade show?” or “Can I measure the ROI of the time I spent having dinner with that group of investors?” You can’t measure it. But you sure as hell do those things. It’s called networking. Nothing complicated, but highly valuable.

Think of Twitter in the same way. It’s simply another form a networking. Actually, it’s not just another form of networking; it is the KING of networking. It us uber-networking for busy business people who don’t have the time to attend long lunches or boring seminars. It’s something you can do on your laptop or you Blackberry or you iPhone. You can do it in the office or at home; in the airport or the train. It’s immediate.

At the touch of a button you can be in instant contact with just about anyone you want to.

OK, now for some provisos. Come on, nothing’s perfect – there are always some ‘buts’!

But – not too many.

Firstly, not everyone you contact on Twitter will respond. Not at first, anyway. Like anything, you have to approach them in the right way and not be too pushy. The higher up the food chain someone is, and the more followers they are, the louder you have to shout (or perhaps the subtler you will have to be).

Secondly, building up your own set of followers on Twitter takes time. It won’t happen overnight unless you’re a celebrity and everyone wants to follow you. There are ticks and techniques to get followers. It’s not complicated, but I’ll go into that in another article.

Thirdly (and directly related to the point above) if you decide to go on Twitter, to have to really take ownership of the account. That is, if you want to use it to communicate and not just to broadcast. Assuming you want to communicate, then it’s best not to let it become a ‘departmental’ Twitter account. You should set it up and run it. It can be a business account, but unless an individual is using it to make contacts and ask questions, it will quickly become apparent to other Twitter users that it’s a ‘corporate’ account and not worth following. In that way it should be treated as an e-mail account, but one that is yours and yours alone (no PAs allowed).

I have some experience in setting up and running Twitter accounts, both for business and for some of my own particular interests. I can attest to the fact that it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and prospects to me in a very short time.

Go on and try it – you may be surprised by the results.