Why is everyone’s first instinct to think that Twitter is silly and self-indulgent? Admit it, you probably felt that way once–or still do.

I’ve been pondering the Twitter start-up barrier the last few days as I pull thoughts together for a conversation I’m having on Thursday with University of Maryland PR students. And, since I’m on Twitter, I’ve been chatting with a few people on the topic.

I got a lot of clarity from this brief back-and-forth with Mary Deming Barber:

@dariasteigman Thanks for the rec. I am really enjoying the conversation on Twitter since I started connecting w good folks. #followfriday

@mdbarber I think that’s why it’s hard for newbies to get started. You have to figure out who to interact with, build up your community.

@dariasteigman I agree. People look at the public timeline which makes no sense. Our job now is to show them how to build the community.

Eureka! We all start by looking at someone else’s timeline, filled with strangers having conversations that are disengaged from us. Obviously, we can’t build a “demo” community every time we need to explain Twitter to someone — but we need to be aware of the disconnect and take steps to demonstrate why our timelines work for us.

That’s my challenge for Thursday, and for every time I talk to a student, client, prospect, or friend who gives me a blank look or rolls their eyes at the mention of a tweet.

Any ideas? What steps do you take to decode the Twitterstream?

Photo by Nicholas Lativy (Flickr).