The Internet is broken up into, let’s say, two groups of people: (1) Early adopters who try everything that comes out and are on the cutting edge, and (2) everybody else. And there is a whole lot more of “everybody else” than there are people like myself (early adopters). The “everybody else” crowd hears buzzwords like Twitter but chalks it up to one of those things that’s just too advanced to understand. And there is also the issue of people just getting comfortable with certain things and not being intellectually curious enough to try something new. These are the kinds of people who are still using Internet Explorer despite everybody saying how much better the alternatives are.
Twitter is one that definitely breaks down cross this digital divide. You have those who get it and use it often. You have those who tried it and decide it is stupid. And you have those who just don’t get it.
Last week, I sent out an email to the PCMech mailing list. In that email, I laid out the benefits of Twitter and, of course, asked people to follow me on Twitter. Why? Because I can then have a back channel for communication with my readers. It is good for me to have my finger on the pulse of my readers and not have everything go through PCMech. Said simply, this site isn’t the proper place for everything.
So, I had a lot of people follow me (and if you are not already doing so, follow me here). But, as I observed some of these new people getting their feet wet with Twitter, it was very clear they really didn’t understand how to use it or what to do with it. So, I wanted to provide a simple how-to manual. So, let’s touch on the salient points.
Why Use Twitter At All?
Twitter is worth using because it allows you to tap into the power of others instantaneously. Want to share a thought with others? You can. Want a quick answer to a question? You can get one on Twitter. Want to find out what the latest buzz is before others do? Twitter.
How Do You Make Twitter Worth Using?
One of the important things to understand about any social medium is that you get what you give. You have to be willing to share your thoughts and you have to be willing to participate in the community. You can’t expect to find much use in Twitter if you just join and then sit back and wait. And you’re not going to find much value in Twitter if you only use it to promote your own site.
Twitter is a community. You build up your network by getting others to follow you. When you “follow” a user on Twitter, this means that anything they enter into Twitter will show up on the timeline on Twitter for you to view. You are only going to see the “tweets” of the people you follow (unless you are viewing the public timeline which is everybody). The more people you follow on Twitter, the more information you will be able to observe.
The flip side of this is getting others to follow you. When others follow you on Twitter, this opens up the opportunity to have conversations on Twitter and be able to talk back.
How To Have a Conversation on Twitter
When you simply enter a “tweet” and submit it, that tweet simply goes onto your timeline. It can be read on the public timeline of Twitter by a casual visitor, but the people most likely to see it are those who follow you. So, when you submit a tweet, anybody who follows you can see it. It does not mean they WILL see it. Understand that Twitter can also be a noisy platform. If somebody following you also follows a bunch of other people, your tweet may be missed by that person.
To send a tweet which addresses a specific person, you make what is called a “reply”. You do this by using the “@” sign and then the person’s Twitter username. For example, if anybody entered a tweet with “@davidrisley” in it, it would come up as a reply to me. Most people put that at the beginning of their tweet, but you can also include a person’s Twitter username anywhere in your tweet. The key, though, is to prefix the username with the “@” sign.
You can send direct messages over Twitter as well. This is just like instant messaging in that nobody else can see a direct message. To send a direct message over Twitter, you use the format “d [username] [message]. So, for example, to send me a direct message saying “Hi”, you would enter a tweet like “d davidrisley Hi!”. Notice that you do not need to use an “@” sign when sending a direct message.
By using a combination of public messages, public replies and direct messages, you can turn Twitter into a powerful conversation medium.
How To Get Followers
Twitter will prove not very fun unless you get some people following you. There is no secret to getting followers. It comes down to what I stated before: You get what you put into it.
Some ways to get followers:
- Follow Others. Many people will return the favor and follow anybody who follows them.
- Participate. As you follow others, you will see the messages they post. Chime in using the reply feature. If you are sharing something interesting, people will see and follow you.
- Tweet. There is nothing more boring that a Twitter profile with no activity. If you want followers, you’re going to need to submit tweets often enough to be noticed.
- Enter a meaningful bio. Twitter allows you to enter a short description of yourself. Include what you do, your website (if you have one), where you live, etc. The information in this bio is searchable and others may find you and connect with you simply because of what you put in your bio.
Making Twitter Easy To Use
Twitter’s website is OK, but it is much easier to monitor the conversations using an external application. I prefer and recommend Twhirl, a platform independent application which runs atop Adobe Air. You will find using Twhirl makes Twitter much easier to use.
One of the great things about Twitter is the portability, too. You can access Twitter on your internet-enabled smartphone. You can also send in tweets via text message (you will need to set this up in your Twitter profile). If you want to get other people’s tweets as text messages on your cell phone, you can choose this option when following somebody. Once your mobile phone is set up with Twitter, you can selectively choose to have a person’s tweets sent to your mobile phone as a text message.
You can also submit tweets via your normal instant messaging program.
Rules of the Road
There are a few things that are worth keeping in mind:
- Twitter is now breaking the barriers of early adopters and is beginning to go mainstream. As they do so, the service is being overwhelmed. Twitter downtime happens so often that is is an ongoing joke. So, do not be surprised when you see Twitter seem to die off every now and then. It usually comes back in a few seconds.
- I most certainly do NOT recommend using any Twitter bots to auto-follow anybody or mass follow groups of people. All this does is open you wide up to Twitter spam. I suggest you exercise just a little judgement in who you follow. Yes, it is more work, but it means you’ll get more value from it. If you get too much input (by following just anybody with no judgement), Twitter will quickly become nothing but a noise machine that just sucks your attention.
If you are not on Twitter, I suggest you give it a go.
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