A couple of weeks ago Gary Vaynerchuk posted a video where he brazenly called Twitter’s search ability the most important site on the Internet.

If you haven’t used Twitter’s search tool, you should start doing it now. You can also set up searches in most of the Twitter clients like TweetDeck, Nambu, Seesmic and more.

Is Twitter’s search the most important site on the planet? For fun, I’m going to agree and say yes, it is. Here’s why.

Twitter search does something that not even the mighty Google can do – giving you results that are happening right that instant. Sure, Google indexes quickly, but Twitter gives you results up to the second – and even tells you there are more results that have come in since your initial search, which means even more people are talking about a topic.

To stick with my hockey example from earlier in the week, a few weeks ago Fox Sports Pittsburgh went out on my cable system during a playoff hockey game. My first thought was that our cable company has an outage. I turned to Twitter’s search and typed in FSN.

I quickly found a few people in my area that were having an outage, and after a few minutes, tweets began pouring in from all over the east coast, saying that FSN was out for them as well. After, seriously, 5 minutes, this tweet appeared, saying the source of the problem was a lightning strike.

In the old days (pre-Twitter), if FSN went down, I’d maybe call the cable company and I could guarantee the CSR would have no idea there was even a game on let alone it was out. Now, in five minutes, I had an exact answer, even a link to someone streaming the game on uStream.

Searching Twitter gives you up-to-the-second news, trends and allows you to tap into the world-wide zeitgeist like no other technology before has.

So what can Twitter do for you? It can easily tell you what people are saying about your institution. If you haven’t yet setup a search in a client or grabbed an RSS feed from Twitter’s search results pages, stop reading this and go and do it now.

It allows you to keep up on happenings and trends, and if appropriate, respond quickly and effectively.

Do you think it’s the most important site on the internet?

Twitter is great, but its especially great when its mobile. Whether you update via text message or use a client for your phone, being able to update the world with what you’re doing anywhere in the world anytime is pretty crazy.

My friend and occasional hotel room crasher Brad Ward wrote a post last fall about Twitter and its been stuck in my mind ever since.

In it, he talks about a way to market your Twitter accounts to students. He recommends using Twitter’s text messaging powers to accomplish this. He says:

Twitter was essentially designed and built around SMS, but seems to veered away from that. Let’s not forget about this powerful feature.

In essence, you can get certain audiences, especially students, to use Twitter without ever knowing they are using Twitter.

Here’s how.

Once you have a Twitter account, and you’re feeding it content using a service like TwitterFeed or by posting at Twitter.com, you advertise to students that if they text follow youraccountname to 40404, they will get updates on their phone. That’s it. Not once have you mentioned you are using Twitter to send updates.

We started doing this last fall at my institution for people to get athletics updates on their phones and a decent number of people signed up. Now, when a new story is posted by our athletics staff, followers of that account get a text message with a headline or the score of a contest. The people getting the SMS messages don’t need to know what Twitter is or how it works, they just get the updates as regular texts. Don’t forget – after all that setup – you still have a regular Twitter feed you can promote and people can follow. It’s a win-win.

We’re rolling this out over the summer to incoming students as part of our orientation program. We’ve set up a Twitter account (@alleghenyorient) for our orientation team and we’ve trained them in how to post updates from the web as well as from their phones as they’re out and about around campus during the program.

Now that we’ve set up the team and the account, it’s time to start telling the students about it. We’ve posted on our Orientation site with a link to our regular Twitter page as well as how they text a follow message to 40404. We’re also going to start promoting it in our Class of 2013 pages.

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We just finished a postcard being mailed to all students giving them some dates and instructions, and we included the text messaging instructions on the printed piece. Here is a close-up of the Twitter information:

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That mailing is dropping any day now to students, and I’m interested to see how many people sign up for it. I’ll post updates here over the summer.

Colleges and universities are using Twitter in different ways. Some are very engaged, some are not. Some see it as a great resource and others as a great bane.

Some schools, especially on the recruitment side, monitor accounts and answer questions and some schools re-post headlines. I’m not saying that’s bad–my institution did this for the first year we had an account, though we’re getting better about being active.

Twitter is an intriguing tool beccause allows you to engage your followers in a way that you can’t do via email or a blog. It’s real time, always changing and very participatory.

I love hockey, especially the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are in the midst of a tough series against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals – but for the last couple of months, they have been using social media, especially Twitter, better then just about any sports franchise out there. You can follow them at twitter.com/pghpenguins.

They tweet updates, roster moves, practice news, scoring updates during the game, and lots more. They tweet if the big screen will be set up outside the arena so that fans can come to the arena and watch the game with thousands of other fans.

This week, they are engaging their followers in a cool way – they are holding a scavenger hunt today that’s happening only on Twitter. The prize: expensive, not to mention sold-out, playoff tickets.

What a great way to engage your audience and have them hanging on your every Tweet as they seek out a prize worth hundreds of dollars.

So, how does this relate to higher ed’s use of Twitter?

Obviously, we don’t have playoff tickets or hundreds of dollars to give away, but we as institutions can be a valuable resource.

We can help our audiences, be them prospective students or alums, figure out the scavenger hunt that can be higher ed and get the prize they want – whether its personal contact, help in submitting their application essays or how to best direct a monetary gift to an area that needs the funds.

We can ask them to come to an event or share with them a YouTube video or blog post we think they’d be interested them. We can ask for their help and their feedback, we can help them feel part of the loop and still part of the campus, even if they graduated 30 years ago.