I hear it all the time, and admittedly, it’s not the easiest thing to provide a clear and tangible response to. There’s scores of reasons why Twitter can be important to organisations: learning from and building relationships with individuals and other organisations with similar interests; tracking issues in real-time, in turn enabling appropriate analysis and response to consumer, constituent or other stakeholder concerns.
However, when explaining it to people who are not communicators or avid web users, and who would no doubt struggle to contextualise, that all sounds a bit bland. What I find works best as an explanation in these cases is contextualising within someone’s own personal interests. Ask them what they’re into and, say, if they cite Italian cinema, ask them to imagine connecting to 1,000 other people from all over the world who are really into Italian cinema in an offline setting. A film festival perhaps.
On Twitter, they can connect to these same 1,000 people. In one place, they’ll be able to track what these 1,000 people are saying and items (articles, reviews, screenings) they are providing. As a follower they have the option to simply observe and learn: a non-stop incoming stream of valuable information they’d otherwise have to read 100 websites and magazines a day to keep up with. If they then fancy engaging further (which they should) they can provide this community with their own input, respond to what others are saying and engage in conversations.
So you’re essentially placing Twitter within a real-world framework. Doing that will make it seem a little bit less like technical mumbo jumbo and more about human interaction, which is what Twitter and social media at large are all about: they’re spaces that allow for people to connect, not the playing fields of techies, teens or social recluses. And that’s really the key message to transmit to the doubters.