When I hear people disparage and dismiss Twitter, I’m compelled to tell them about my experience with Twitter, particularly how it made my move to Raleigh an entirely different (and better) experience compared to my move to Sacramento several years ago.

When I arrived in Sacramento in October 2004 to accept a job at the California Building Industry Association, I didn’t know a soul except for those who interviewed me. Slowly I widened my social circle, but for a long time it primarily consisted of those whose paths I crossed  — work friends and neighbors.

My move to Raleigh had been in the works for a while because my boyfriend is here. To prepare for my move, I started following and chatting with locals on Twitter. By the time I moved here I had dozens of people my Raleigh Twitter network. When I got here, one of them organized a lunch so I could meet him and four other Twitter acquaintances. I had beer and coffee dates with many others. I found my apartment through a Twitter friend, and learned about my hair stylist, shops and social events via Twitter.

Today, just six months later, I find myself with many friends and acquaintances, most of whom are entrepreneurs I first met on Twitter – a stimulating bunch of “grab the gusto” type people. My social calendar is now always full. When I look back and compare this to my Sacramento move, the difference is astonishing. It feels like I’ve lived here longer than six months because of my new network.

Twitter has also given me a circle of professional peers across the U.S. We chat on Twitter, read and comment on each others’ blogs and participate in weekly Twitter chats. Some of us are Facebook friends now too. When I met several of them in real life this past summer at Buzz 2009 and the ASAE Annual Meeting, it was like reuniting with long-lost friends. When you meet someone first on Twitter, you have time to get to know each other, both personally and professionally. By the time you meet, you’re not meeting as strangers but as friends who just haven’t met in real life yet. If this has happened to you, you’ll know what I mean by a Twitter hug — it happens all the time.

The tweets of those I follow have led me to blog posts and other resources I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Our twitter chats allow us to discuss successful practices and cutting-edge ideas. Twitter is now the best professional (and personal) development source in my life.

Contrary to what some say, Twitter isn’t about what you’re having for dinner. However, I have received good dinner ideas and recipes courtesy of Twitter. I’ve gained so much from Twitter that I try to help others get the most out of it too. It takes a bit of time to find the right folks to follow and to figure out how to use it in a way that works best for you and those who follow you, but it’s definitely time worth investing.