Twitter. Great communications tool or flavor of the month? That is the question.

Ok, not exactly, but the whole Twitter phenomena has got me edgy.

Why you ask?

Well, not unlike the humble beginnings of the Web for marketing purposes in the mid-nineties, Twitter is being viewed and promoted as the “next great thing”. And, as a result, it is something that every business must use, and must learn about, or that business will be left woefully behind.

During those early days of the Web, I advised many a company to not be consumed with building a Web site. Blasphemous, I know, but here’s why – and I promise, there will be a relation to Twitter.

In many cases the reason these companies wanted to get on to the Web was because it was billed as the next great thing. They had no idea why they should be on the Web, they had no idea who would actually use the Web site, they had no idea what the benefits of the site were to them or their customers. But they just knew that they had to have a Web site. (At NYNMA – New York New Media Association – meetings I used to joke that it was because the CEO wanted a URL on his business card.)

Now one may argue that it was great for companies to blaze the trail, test the waters, and figure things out. And if that was the rationale I had heard, I would have wholeheartedly supported the desire. But it wasn’t. Lots of resources were put against brochureware sites that for the most part, did nothing. And while they sat there doing nothing, the media caught on. And the media started to question their value, particularly from an ROI perspective. This led to many a spirited debate about whether anyone would ever make money on the Web – totally missing the point about cost savings, brand value, etc. One may even argue that it was this irrational exuberance (thanks Mr. Greenspan) that gave rise to the forces behind the dot com crash…

I’m afraid that the same thing is now happening with Twitter. Not the media piece – yet – but the rush to use it without having a strategy. (And frankly, even more insidiously, the rush by self-proclaimed experts to teach you all about it for three equal payments of only $19.95) For not only does this waste valuable resources of businesses and individuals who currently have no business using Twitter, but it erodes the value of Twitter to those of us who do, and it unrealistically sets expectations for the media itself.

Bright shiny things are fun, don’t get me wrong. Blazing the trail is great too. But as a businessperson in an age of limited budget and limited resources, I’m preaching and practicing prudence over exuberance. And if the early stages of the Web and the dot com crash thereafter have taught us anything, isn’t it that rather than simply accepting the next great thing, that we first ask “why?”