If Twitter is over hyped, then why bother writing yet another unpaid commercial for it? Because if used in the right way, Twitter can be an invaluable political tool for leftist politics. It's not all about Stephen Fry's bowel movements.
First there is straight forward promotion. The Telegraph piece noted "Twitter resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.” This is certainly how Paul "Guido" Staines makes use of his account - it's just another extension of his self-publicity machine. Contrast this with the other Big Boy of British political blogging, Iain Dale who treats it as a musing board. He does however occasionally draw attention to his latest blog posts, which is transmitted to his (at the time of writing) 4,000 plus followers. And as a self-promotion tool it works brilliantly. For example, in Staines' statistics for April, Twitter came fifth in referrals, delivering 9,079 visits to his door.
But there's more to it than just raw numbers. There's the creation of loyalty and identification with a particular Twitter user, an aspect of the service not lost on some organisations who've tried to take advantage of this. Most UK political parties now have Twitter accounts, though the far left as per are slow on the uptake. At least No2EU has one, even if no promotion was done outside the efforts of its supporters already using the service. That aside, anyone interested in how to use a Twitter account for party political purposes could do much worse than look at the Green Party. During the European elections not only was it regularly updated with Green news, activities, other events and environmental factoids, it often signalled its appreciation of its followers by retweeting some of their (interesting) offerings. This brings coherence to its follower base (who may then in turn follow those retweeted) et voila! A nascent online community is born around the party.
The importance of weak ties have long been theorised in sociological circles and exploited by political actors of all stripes. Twitter offers another avenue for weak relationships to flourish. Thanks to Twitter I've built links with No2EU supporters, Labour lefts and politically mainstream people (including normal Stokies, of course) and we banter, exchange information, read and comment on each other's blogs, etc. And like all weak ties these can pay dividends down the road in terms of solidarity, publishing opportunities, dissemination of ideas, accumulation of political capital, etc.
And there are plenty of opportunities for connections to be made. Going by the top ten trending topics, British political developments often feature. Last week for example, Nick Griffin and the BNP were more or less permanent fixtures thanks to the European elections and UAF's disruption of Nazi Nick's press conference. BBC's Question Time and Prime Minister's Questions also regularly turn up. This is because among the UK 10 per cent responsible for the bulk of Twitter's content, a disproportionate number are politically engaged people drawn from activism, blogging, the media and the Westminster circus. Furthermore, whereas the myth is the centre right dominates British political blogging, it seems the centre/liberal left has the upper hand on Twitter in terms of active participants. For socialist bloggers there is a ready potential audience for our humble contributions to the sum total of human wisdom.
There's more. When you follow and engage with a small cross section of the liberal-left fraction of the political establishment and subject yourself to the hundreds of 140 character long messages that pour out every day, you capture snapshots of their thinking. During the election results you got a real sense of their anger and bewilderment at the fascists' success. I read dozens upon dozens of messages condemning the 940,000 who voted BNP as irredeemable racists, as well as the attempts to scapegoat No2EU and the SLP for letting them in. Similarly as Gordon Brown's premiership hung by a single thread, voices among Labour twitterers cheering on the Blears and the Purnells were few and far between.
So there you have it. Like all social media you get out of it as much as you're willing to put into it. Twitter does not offer leftists an internet shortcut to "fresh layers" or young people (who do not appear to be taking to Twitter in disproportionate numbers, anyway). But it can be used to bring together like minded people, promote socialist ideas to a wider layer of politicos, improve the profile of one's organisation and/or blog(s), build up contact networks, and understand what's exercising elite, notable and activist opinion. Twitter is no substitute for real world political work or the existing internet presence leftists have built up, but it can be a useful aid.