When I first stumbled on Twitter soon after it started up in 2006, I thought it was silly. Only the digerati used it-a bunch of kids who live on the Web-and there was no content for me.

But now you can find information on everything from aardvarks to xylophones. And there are applications that search the Twittersphere every 20 seconds to see what people are chirping about this very moment.

Should you care? As a financial advisor, do you need Twitter?

The answer is yes, you should care. You need to know about Twitter to network with other professionals, referral sources and thought leaders as well as to find new clients, serve as an intelligence source to your own clients and stay current with online marketing.

Twitter is a free social networking application. It enables you to send and read other users' updates, known as "tweets." A tweet can be no longer than 140 characters.

To put this brevity into perspective, consider that the paragraph above is 137 characters. Because tweets are so short, tweeting has also been called microblogging.

The notion that anything meaningful can be communicated in 140 characters has been satirized, perhaps most famously by Current TV's SuperNews! But Twitter is no joke; it is the Internet's biggest new thing.

Twitter is growing more than five times as fast as the second-fastest growing social networking site, according to Nielsen.com. In February 2009, Twitter had a user growth rate of 1,382%, while Zimbio had growth of 240%, followed by Facebook with growth of 228%. My sense is that Twitter's growth has actually accelerated since February. Rumors abound that it will be bought by Google.

Twitter and other social networking sites are revolutionary because unlike the telephone, e-mail, fax machines and other relatively new marketing and communication mediums, this one brings people with similar interests together. It allows you to broadcast ideas to hundreds or thousands of prospects, and it is incredibly easy to use.

But Twitter and other social networking tools do not have mystical powers. I've already heard from advisors who are making social networking the central part of their marketing effort, and some are likely to neglect more traditional marketing efforts to tweet and poke people all day. It's wise to remember, however, that social networking is only one of many marketing tools. Yes, it's fun, new and exciting. But most wealthy people are not there yet. They may be over the next couple of years, and you do want to get started now to be well-situated if promising new tools like this one are widely embraced by your most desirable clients. However, traditional marketing tools such as Web sites, newsletters and print brochures still play an important role in marketing your firm, and Twitter will not replace them or rid you of the need for them.

With that said, you can use Twitter to be exposed to new ideas, be more valuable to clients and attract new business. If you want to get new clients with Twitter or serve your current clients better, you'll need to know exactly who your target audience is and then tweet daily about the issues they care about. If you're always relaying to them the information they need to succeed, Twitter is likely to generate business for you.

One of the main ways a financial advisor can enhance his or her relationships is by offering information their clients can't get anywhere else. Professors are too busy teaching to do their own financial planning. Entrepreneurs are also too busy to cruise the information highway in search of the right route to success. You can gain the respect and trust of those professionals by tweeting about specific financial issues they need to know. Eventually, some will give you business.

Getting Started
Getting starting on Twitter takes only seconds. Simply go to Twitter.com and click "Get Started."

If you use Gmail, AOL or a few other popular portals, you will be able to find out which friends on those services are also already using Twitter. The site then suggests some famous people you might want to meet. No need to bother with that now, however.

The first thing to do-even before you try to locate your friends or prospects-is set up your Twitter home screen. Click on "Settings" to set up your time zone and other important information, including your firm's Web site URL and your bio. This information is important. Be sure your brief bio contains keywords that describe your business focus. If your target clients are "chiropractors" or "executives at Florida Power & Light," then use those phrases and words in your bio.