What is Twitter?
Twitter is considered microblogging. Well, that narrows it down, doesn’t it? Twitter is a place where you can send quick little snippets of information about what you are doing. You can also reply to what other people are doing in small snippets. It is a bit like Instant Messaging with the world or updating your status on Facebook or LinkedIn. You may find it slightly more fun than blogging because you can have real time conversations with people. Also, you get little glimpses into people’s lives that you might not see just from their blogs.
It has to be small snippets because Twitter only allows you to send messages that are 140 characters or less. That’s right, just 140 characters. So these tiny little messages you send with Twitter are referred to as “tweets.”
Why Would I Be Interested In Twitter? Is Twitter a Time Waster?
There are lots of reasons to be interested in Twitter many of which boil down to finding another way to waste time on the internet. But, there really are some cool reasons to use it that do not take too much time.
- Twitter for Blog Promotion – When used correctly, Twitter can be a powerful tool in your arsenal to promote your blog. Darren Rowe of Problogger has 2 posts on this: Twitter Tips for Bloggers and Benefits of Twitter for Bloggers.
- Twittering to Pass Notes in a Conference – Remember when you used to pass notes in class? Wouldn’t it have been fun to send a note without having to sneak it by the teacher? Have you ever been to a conference and the discussion was not what you expected? What if the instructor could see your commments about the event and make changes on the fly? Twitter makes this possible. There was a lot of twittering going on at the Johnson and Johnson Camp Baby and at SXSW 2008. Wendy Piersall of eMoms at Home came to the realization that she might need to change her blog and brand. She had a conversation over coffee in an airport with Hugh MacLeod because he twittered that he was waiting for his plane. That conversation pushed her forward with what she was thinking about doing but was hesitant to do. Her new brand is SparkPlugging.
- Twitter as a Mini-Polling Site of Those Who Follow You - If you have a question about how to do something online, are researching for an upcoming blog post, or just want some advice, you can send a tweet asking your question. You will get responses from those following you very quickly giving their answers to the question. The more people who follow you and who you follow, the more effective mini-polling will be.
- Twitter to Build Your Networking and Create Friendships – Like other social networking tools, Twitter can help you build a network and create friendships online. Susan Reynolds posted about using frozen peas as ice packs in her recovery from breast cancer and started a movement. This simple post started a viral movement. She has close to 2,000 followers now.
- Twitter the News - As the internet has evolved, so has the way people get the news. With Twitter, news organizations tweet their latest headlines. Examples of twittering news organizations include: Fox News, CNN, CBS, and BBC. Additionally, you can twitter the newsmakers themselves. For example, you can twitter The White House, US Senate, US House of Representatives, and Downing Street.
- Twitter to Create Lifestyle Changes - Read about how people are using Twitter to help them stop smoking and how others are using it to lose weight.
- Twitter for Event Promotion - If you have an upcoming event, you can use Twitter to promote the event. You may have read about the San Francisco protests of China as the Olympic Torch Relay passed through San Francisco. Did you know that Twitter helped protesters reorganize when the Relay was re-routed due to protests? Whether you agree with the protesters or not, this is an interesting use of Twitter.
- Twitter Milestones for Moms - As you know (or have probably heard from at least a handful of moms), there is not a lot of sleep and free time for moms of babies whether they stay at home or work outside the home. There are so many little milestones to remember but the new mom may not have the time (or inclination) to get out a pen and paper to record them. You know the milestones: first bath, first time slept through the night, first time to roll over, first solid food, the list goes on and on and on. With Twitter, a new mom can quickly grab her cell phone, which is probably always nearby, send a quick little tweet to record the moment and continue about her day. Days, weeks, or months later she can go back to her Twitter account to see the event and the time and date. As she has time (and more sleep), she can record it in her scrapbook or baby album.
How to Get Started with Twitter
Now if you are convinced of a reason or two to use Twitter, you may be wondering just how to use it.
- Setup a Twitter Account - Go to http://twitter.com/ and click the “Get Started – Join” button. After joining, you will fill out your username and password. The next page will search through your address book to see if any of your friends are already on Twitter or you can skip this step. Now, you are ready to start “tweeting.”
- Use Twitter Through twitter.com - There are many options for how to use Twitter. The most obvious way is through the Twitter website. You can enter your comments about what you are doing or reply to others through your Twitter homepage. In the box underneath the question “What Are You Doing?,” type your first tweet and press update.
- Use Twitter Through Your Cell Phone - From your Twitter home page, select Device Updates: Now you will enter your country code (ie. “1″ for the United States) with a “+” before it and then your phone number. Standard text messaging rates apply so make sure you have a liberal texting plan on your cell phone. Check the box that gives Twitter permission to send you text messages. Then twitter will send your phone a text and you will have to confirm it. At that point, you can use your phone to send tweets. So whenever and wherever the mood strikes, you can send a tweet from your cell phone.
Follow and Be Followed
Twitter becomes much more fun and useful as you follow more people and they follow you. The larger the number of people you follow and who follow you, the more likely you are to have questions answered and to learn interesting things. The more people you are following the more opportunity you have for conversations and to develop relationships. You can read more benefits for increasing your social networking by reading Robert Scoble’s Twitter and Inadequacy (er, the Great Friend Divide).
There are a lot of people who will follow you automatically if you follow them. You can search for users by name, location, or keywords. I found some people who I follow who also live in the Atlanta area and some others who also have twins. When you find a user you want to follow, you click “Follow” underneath their avatar to follow them. At this point you can select whether or not you want their tweets sent to your cell phone or IM application. If you are going to a conference you, might want to turn the device option on for the others who will be there with you.
Once you find people you like to follow, you can look at the people they follow to find more people you might like to follow. You can automate this process by using twubble. Twubble looks at the friends you follow and finds other people you might enjoy following.
Wendy Piersall of Sparkplugging (formerly eMoms at Home) has created the Ultimate List of Mommy Twitterers. This is a good place to start if you are looking for moms to follow. Some other popular people to follow are Robert Scoble and Problogger Darren Rowe.
Of course, be sure to follow me.
Basic Twitter Commands
Now that you are following a few people, you will need to use a few additional commands to get the most out of your Twitter experience. Twitter does not have a lot of commands but does have a few very useful ones:
- d username + message sends a direct message to someone who follows you. For example, “d jenuinejen good night” would send the message, “good night” from you to me and only to me.
- @username + message sends a message to a user directly that is public and others can see. You will do this often when you want to create a conversation with others. For example, if I sent a tweet that asked if you have seen the John Adams miniseries, you could reply, “@jenuinejen Yes that show is awesome”, I would get the message, “Yes that show is awesome” and others could see and join in.
- You can find more Twitter commands by reading this post on Twitter commands.
- Finally, if you want a simple Tweet Sheet also known as a Twitter Cheat Sheet, you can download it here. – Tweet Sheet
UPDATE August 31, 2008
Here is an article from MomAdvice listing 10 Useful Twitter Tools.
Now that you understand what Twitter is and how to setup an account, go get started. Let me know what you think. Did I miss anything that you think beginning Twitterers need to know? Be sure to check back next week as I elaborate on some additional tools to make Twitter work better for you. Finally, be sure to check out Shannon’s site for other Works for Me Wednesday participants.
(This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Be sure to read Twitter for Dummies Part 2 as well.)