Did you hear about the 20-in.-long, highly poisonous Egyptian cobra that went missing from an exhibit at the Bronx Zoo last March? (Despite how that may read, this is not the setup of a joke.)

If you had a Twitter account, you may have been among the more than 200,000 people—politicians, celebrities, and my wife among them—who followed the snake (@BronxZoosCobra) on its adventures around the Big Apple. (Sample tweet: "Getting my morning coffee at the Mudtruck. Don't even talk to me until I've had my morning coffee. Seriously, don't. I'm venomous.")

That a person tweeting in the voice of a missing reptile (after nearly a week, the snake was found alive and well in a dark corner of the zoo's reptile house, about 200 ft from where it last had been seen) could capture the attention of so many people in so little time is a testament to the power—and utter stupidity, I thought—of Twitter.

I know, I know. As a journalist, I need to embrace all means of communicating. But I would be lying if I said I have been anything but slow to warm to social media.

Like many, I was quick to dismiss Twitter, Facebook, and the like for, in the words of Washington Post opinion blogger Alexandra Petri, "making the world safe for narcissism," for feeding the we-all-are-stars-in-our-own-reality-show mentality so prevalent in our celebrity-obsessed society.

"Before Facebook, there was an era when the thought never entered your mind that your friends and acquaintances would want to know that your water had just broken the moment it broke, or that you were drinking green tea, and it was AMAZING, or that you were Taking it One Day At A Time!" Petri wrote (http://wapo.st/Petri_Social). "Now this is commonplace. Forget friends. Try audience! No man is an island? That's because we're all continents."

Particularly in the case of Twitter, my distaste stemmed largely from my failure to see the social-networking site as anything other than a tool for talking. It was not until sitting through a presentation given by a former colleague, content-marketing strategist Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe), recently that I saw Twitter's true value to me: as a listening tool.

Although I love being as involved in the production of this magazine as I am, my day-to-day responsibilities prevent me from getting out and interfacing with readers, authors, and advertisers as often as I would like. What I failed to see before, but see now, is that, used smartly, social media can be "the next best thing to being there." While it may lack the personal touch of shaking someone's hand and looking him or her in the eye, it is an effective and highly efficient means of gauging interests and concerns and learning who key influencers are.

As you probably have guessed, I finally broke down and created a Twitter account (@ScottArnoldHPAC). As I quickly learned, until the world knows you are on Twitter, tweeting is, to paraphrase the young man struggling to understand the appeal of Twitter in the funny Internet video "Twouble With Twitters" (http://bit.ly/Twitter_Twouble), like randomly shouting into the darkness and hoping someone is listening. Fortunately, I have this forum.

I hope you will consider connecting with me on Twitter. I promise to share only the most relevant, practical HVACR-related content I come across; give credit where it is due; be responsive; be friendly; and keep the personal stuff to a minimum. My aim is to keep you abreast not only of industry developments, but opportunities to contribute to the magazine.

If that is not enough to entice a sufficient number of you, be prepared to read all about my latest escapades as the next headline-grabbing AWOL zoo inhabitant.

Send comments and suggestions to Executive Editor Scott Arnold at scott.arnold@penton.com.