Starting to Use Twitter

Think of the whole Twitterverse as a huge party.
6 million people are at this party.
But they are all silent and invisible
until you make the effort to make
some of them appear for you.

It is becoming a common question, “I looked at Twitter, and I didn’t see much. What do you do with it?” Are you are considering reasons for using Twitter, and a method to become involved? This is only one person’s perspective. I see that there are many other ways people use Twitter. Some other users might have different recommendations. I am not a prolific twitterer. What this means is that I donʼt provide much value to the world of Twitter, but I receive a lot of value. This is not about how to manage a Twitter account, only how to be effective as you start to twitter.

First, why do I use Twitter?

  • It keeps me current with some of the people on Bowen Island
  • It keeps me current with some of the social media people in Vancouver (and I am exploring their and my use of Twitter and blogs)
  • It has made me some friends and contacts in the Internet-technical-social media community in Vancouver and elsewhere (this has helped to solve problems for me)
  • I read up-to-the-minute news published by a number of experts that I follow — on several occasions Iʼve asked them to respond to a question or comment (they usually do)
  • A combination of Twitter + my RSS aggregator provides me with almost my entire news gathering system. My household receives a newspaper, but the news is always out of date (for me) irrelevant and usually slanted or packaged by useless journalists. We donʼt have a cable and Iʼve not watched broadcast news for over a decade.
If you look at the design of and its subdomain, there isn’t much to see. So, whatʼs going on here? It is actually a very simple social media tool. Until you decide to use that tool, like a hammer in a toolbox, when you look at it nothing is happening. The simple answer is that if you want to understand it, you have to actively participate. While saying that may be true, it isnʼt helpful, so let me try to suggest how it might work for you.
Since it is a tool, to be useful to you, you will have to learn to wield it with some skill. Since it is a device for social media, it is a tool that requires that you use it to interact with other people. In that regard, it is a little bit like a telephone.
Twitter article continues…
I think that there are now over 6 million users of Twitter out there, so you should be able to find that some of them are worth your time reading what they have to say. And some of them may discover that they are interested in your observations and comments.
Until you decide to use this tool to write comments for other people, or to find people whose comments interest you, Twitter will look as interesting as a telephone that is hung up.
Think of the whole Twitterverse as a huge party. 6 million people are at this party. But they are all silent and invisible until you make the effort to make some of them appear for you. You do this by setting up an account and choosing which of those 6 million people you’d like to follow.
Except for the part about acquiring an account, that’s not really the best way to begin.
If you are going to participate at this party, and both receive and give value, you probably should do a bit of preparation. Itʼs like getting dressed for the party.
Like a conversation, the value you receive using Twitter often is connected with the value you offer. The active members among the 6 million users are often fussy about whom they follow, and some are also fussy about the people they allow to follow them (I donʼt understand why anyone would bother to remove followers). In this regard, Twitter requires participation. Unlike a forum, or a blog, you are not going to be able to hang around and lurk. You can try that, but youʼll miss much of what is going on here (like listening to 1/2 of a telephone conversation).
My point is that if you are going to use Twitter, you will have to provide value as well as receive it. It helps to first be a real person on the Internet (I think the days of hiding behind handles – fake names – and avatars is over). Do you have a web site or a blog — this is the most compelling evidence to other people of what you are about? Write something interesting, and real, about yourself in your Twitter bio. Why bother with all this? You will want people on Twitter to follow you. They will decide to do that if they are interested in you. They will learn about you from:
  1. your Twitter bio,
  2. any web sites you have, and
  3. the quality of your Twitter posts.
Can you make all three interesting, honest and often personal?
Next see who among your friends uses Twitter.
Now you are about ready to play your first hand in this game. Begin by writing a few Twitter comments. The Twitter interface asks you, “What are you doing?” Answering that is okay, but is probably fairly boring. Try to write something that might be of interest to your friends and others. Consider writing an observation, a link to a web article or news item, or perhaps offering a reference to something nice that youʼve noted about your community. Try to think about what would intrigue, amuse, or inform your readers. This is more important than what you want to say. If you post a new blog article you should also post a tweet about it with a link to it.
On the same day you make your first posts, choose to follow those friends. This decision to follow is your first major move to joining the conversation. They will receive an email informing them that youʼve decided to follow them, and some will decide to follow you back. Some may even send you a note to thank you for the follow. This “thanks for the follow” reply is a thoughtful touch.
Okay, you are launched, but you are still an almost-invisible wallflower at this party, and there isnʼt much to see yet. Now you are ready to do some research and to find out with whom you wish to play. Start with those friends who you are following. Go to their Twitter page, and investigate whom they are following. This means that you go to the Twitter pages of those Twitterers-followed-by-friends and do this: read their tweets and their bios and look at their web sites. When you find people with tweets that are interesting, and who have interesting web sites, go ahead and follow them. Be a little selective because you will be seeing all of their tweets from now on.
What happens next has a lot to do with your interests. After a week or two of posting to twitter and following people, you should see that there is a flow of comments from the people you follow that is really interesting news and relevant to you.
Be aware that Twitter is subject to Sturgeon’s Law, which states,
Ninety percent of everything is crud.
So you will want to scan the flow of tweets, not study them. Many of us use the software TweetDeck to read and write in Twitter. I have it running up the left side of my screen like a ticker-tape.
There is lots more you can do here, but this outline could be the way you start. Just remember that it is a conversation among people, it is about participation, and the value you receive depends on the value you provide. Be nice. If you havenʼt something nice to say, you are usually better to say nothing at all. This is the Internet, and what you write is often recorded and remembered (and searchable) forever.
I find that with my RSS aggregator plus Twitter, I am more informed than my friends who read newspapers or watch broadcast news. I usually know about breaking news hours or days before the wire services, and I can keep up with the specific odd subjects of special interest to me.
There are other styles of using Twitter. A friend of mine uses two accounts: one is for his personal tweets and the other for his pronouncements on matters that relate to his consulting
Some try to have as many followers as possible. This is done by being a clearinghouse for information, being a pundit, or by being famous (I donʼt follow him) You might expect a response to something you send to Boyd; I doubt youʼll hear from Branson. Kawasaki is clearly promoting AllTop, but occasionally he does provide me with some useful information.
About me: (I havenʼt found the voice for this yet)
Are you ready to acquire your Twitter account? Youʼll need a picture of yourself. When you choose a Twitter account name, try to find something that is easy for your readers to remember. Also, make it as short as possible. A twitter post is only 140 characters. While your account name is not added in the 140 characters, it is when your post is retweeted.

2 Responses to “Starting to Use Twitter”

  1. 1 Robert July 5, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Some recent stats and facts about Twitter:
    • Twitter’s web platform only accounts for a quarter of its users – 75% use third-party apps.
    • Twitter gets more than 300,000 new users every day.
    • There are currently 110 million users of Twitter’s services.
    • Twitter receives 180 million unique visits each month.
    • There are more than 600 million searches on Twitter every day.
    • Twitter started as a simple SMS-text service.
    • Over 60% of Twitter use is outside the U.S.
    • There are more than 50,000 third-party apps for Twitter.
    • Twitter has donated access to all of its tweets to the Library of Congress for research and preservation.
    • More than a third of users access Twitter via their mobile phone.

  1. 1 Twitter: How do I maintain interest in Twitter? - Quora Trackback on March 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm

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