Getting the most out of Twitter
Jun 20, 2009, 8:50 GMT
Washington - Twitter (http://twitter.com) is all the rage in social networking these days, but that doesn't mean it's easy to use effectively.
In fact, unless you're addicted to faceless Internet chatter, you may have already written Twitter off. Its 140-character limit on individual messages, after all, seems designed more for those with short attention spans and lots of time on their hands than it does for, say, a busy professional.
But there's more to Twitter than meets the eye.
Plenty of serious businesspeople, news junkies, and well connected professionals of all stripes are turning to Twitter on a regular basis to promote their businesses, expand contacts, or simply to keep abreast of subjects that interest them.
It can, in fact, be one of the best platforms on the Internet these days for keeping up with the deluge of information that comes at you in the information age - or, if you're a newsmaker yourself, for keeping others abreast of the latest. But to get the most out of Twitter, you need to scratch a bit beneath the surface. Here's how to start.
--- Ditch the interface
Soon after you create your Twitter account, spend some time looking around to understand what it's about. You'll quickly learn that Twitter is a kind of a micro blogging tool. A 'tweet,' for instance - the word used to describe an entry - is a maximum of 140 characters long, forcing you to be succinct - very succinct - in describing what you're doing. The social networking aspect of Twitter kicks in when you 'follow' other people who are discussing topics of interest to you. They, in turn, might 'follow' you, either to reciprocate or because they're interested in what you have to say. The number of followers you have will ultimately become a source both of pride and influence.
But once you become familiar with Twitter, supercharge it by using a third party interface. Among the most popular - and powerful - are TweetDeck (http://tweetdeck.com), Seismic Desktop (http://desktop.seesmic.com), and Orsiso (http://www.orsiso.com). All three are small downloads, easy to install, and they are all vast improvements of the Twitter interface. That's partly because they allow you to keep track of multiple conversations, mentions of you, and direct messages, and they offer many other niceties as well.
There are also third-party mobile phone interfaces for Twitter, applets that allow you to post pictures, and more. You'll find a fairly complete list of the best third-party twitter applications on TechCrunch.
One feature that's particularly important for any Twitter application is a 'shorten URL' box. Because Twitter restricts tweets to 140 characters, it becomes vital to provide a shortened form of Web addresses, or URLs. Many Twitter users rely heavily on the TinyURL site (http://tinyurl.com) to provide the shortened URLs. Good third party Twitter applications do this work for you, however, allowing you to paste the full URL into a 'shorten URL' box after you type your tweet. With one click, you can send both the tweet and shortened URL - a huge time saver.
--- Search Twitter
Even if you don't plan on using Twitter as a micro blog, it's probably important for you to know what people are saying on Twitter about you, your company, or a subject in which you feel you have a stake. That search, ultimately, in fact, may be what pulls you into Twitter as a contributor - and what keeps you there.
Twitter Search (http://search.twitter.com) is your official gateway into every subject discussed on Twitter, but the third-party Twitter interfaces all offer a search feature as well. Type a term - whether it's your company's name, your name, or a subject that interests you, and you'll quickly see who's discussing it - and you'll be able to 'follow' those who are and respond, if desired, to their tweets.
--- Learn Twitter etiquette
As with any community, there are rules of etiquette - either spoken or unspoken - at Twitter, and you should know them if you want to cultivate or preserve your reputation. Chief among them is that you should not overtly use Twitter as a means to spam others - to brazenly promote a Web site, cause, or product.
Twitter users can often spot a spammer by looking at the ratio of people following you versus those who you are following. If you're following thousands of people and only a few are following you back, that probably means you've used the site primarily as means of self- promotion. Spam is unwelcome on Twitter, just as it is in your inbox.
The partial exception to this is if you've created a Twitter account named after the product or company you represent. In such cases, it is expected that updates you provide will be about that product or company. Those who follow you will be expecting such updates.
You'll also want to limit the number of tweets you do in a given time period. Whenever people 'follow' you on Twitter, your messages appear on their home page. If you are twittering dozens of times each hour, your messages overrun their home pages, which can be annoying to most.
--- Have an identity
Your Twitter profile is crucial in legitimising you or your cause to other Twitter members, so once you understand Twitter and have an account set up, you should spend some time on your profile. Others will use it to determine whether they wish to follow you.
Pay particular attention to the URL, biography, picture, and design of the profile. A link to your Web site or blog can be helpful, and a real name is important if you're expecting to attract a community of respectable followers. As with any other real-life community, you'll find the most success on Twitter - and the most usefulness - if you fully and accurately represent who you are and why you're there.
--- Be useful
To make Twitter work for you, your cause, or your company, you'll need to learn how to cultivate a following that matters. To do so, you must take the time to get involved in some conversations on Twitter. When you create your own tweets, concentrate on the quality of your Twitter posts.
People who use Twitter constructively are there to gather information, so you should contribute and compose your tweets with an eye toward their usefulness to others. A good way to figure out what to say is to answer the questions 'what has your attention' or 'what is important to you' rather than the standard Twitter question of 'What are you doing?'
Pointing other Twitter users to resources, tips, articles, presentations, ideas, or people of interest will help you to cultivate a large Twitter following.
--- Don't disappear
If you drop out of a group or community in real life, you'll lose that resource and all it has to offer. The same holds true for Twitter.
You don't need to be a slave to Twitter - creating multiple tweets every day - but it is important to show up on a regular basis. If you use Twitter for legitimate purposes - because you're interested in a topic or you'd like to keep people informed about your company, your profession, or your cause - then incorporating Twitter into your life should not be too much of a hassle.
Twitter's 140-character limit on tweets and its opening question of 'What are you doing?' has given many people the impression that the service is for the most superficial among us. But that's not, in fact, the case. On Twitter today you'll find some of the most influential thinkers, newsmakers, and professionals, and many of them are turning to Twitter as a preferred method of communication that's in keeping with today's busy digital lifestyle. Use Twitter to your advantage.