by Jeff Rubin

A nationally renowned Jewish public affairs group just “followed” my organization on Twitter soon after joining the social media site. Welcome, warmly and belatedly, to the Twitterverse!

This organization has apparently learned what others have yet to understand: Twitter isn’t a gimmick or a toy; It’s an essential information source for leaders and an important strategic management tool. In fact, it’s become as basic as email to staying on top of events locally and around the globe.

Not that long ago, I too was a Twitter nonbeliever. I thought that a “hashtag” was a Middle Eastern dessert. I feared that monitoring Twitter would absorb all of the free time left to me by Facebook, emails, text messages and phone calls. It took a strong kick in the posterior from a younger colleague to force me to take a closer look at Twitter. Now I am a Twitter evangelist, calling on friends and colleagues to join the True Faith.

Twitter provides nothing less than immediate access to breaking events before they are reported in the media. Twitter users send 140-character messages to their “followers” around the world. By “following” groups or individuals, Twitter users have access to crucial information. When the Carmel fires broke out in Israel, I first learned about it on Twitter. When the Egyptian government raided U.S.-backed voting monitors in Cairo in December, activists Tweeted their outrage while the security forces were still rifling through their offices and before the first media arrived.

Getting fast, unfiltered information enables Twitter users to act quickly and effectively, whether for personal or professional reasons. Having more time to mobilize personnel and resources is particularly critical when working within an organization. Plus, Twitter users have the information edge on competitors and opponents.

Twitter also enables users to disseminate ideas far beyond one’s known supporters. For example, democracy advocates across the Middle East – individuals of all backgrounds, faiths, professions and levels of society from Morocco to Iran – read and disseminate my organization’s position papers to their own followers, extending our reach and impact.

Tweeting is easy, effective and – in an age of smartphone addiction – not necessarily habit forming. But ask major community leaders about their Twitter usage and one is usually met with blank stares. Reading the lists of followers of major Twitter users and one sees a paucity of VIPs.

Once you launch yourself into the Twitterverse you will see that this social medium is catnip for activists and leaders. Start by following local, national and global news services. Subscribe to the Twitter feeds of the organizations you care about. Follow the antics of some of the major players in your fields of interest. Before you know it, you will be regarded with Nostradamus-like awe for your ability to predict the news before it’s in the media. But, most importantly, Twitter will give you the strategic information advantage that you need to be an effective leader.

Jeff Rubin is the communications director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy whose Twitter handle is @washinstitute

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