You’ve probably noticed Twitter by now.
Whether you love it, hate it or just don’t get it, there’s no getting away from it — Twitter is ‘going mainstream’, the way Facebook did a couple of years ago.
Which means it’s no longer just the geeks and early adopters who are using it. Famous people such as Barack Obama, Steven Fry, Oprah Winfrey and Britney Spears are on Twitter.
There’s a serious point to Tim’s joke — when a media diva like Oprah, who isn’t short of communication channels to choose from, starts experimenting with Twitter, there must be something in it.
But Twitter is not just for geeks and celebrities. ‘Normal’ people like you and me are using it. Millions of us. Which, again, suggests there’s something in it.
But what’s in it for you?
What Twitter Can Do For You
I’m writing this because I meet lots of people these days who ask me:
‘What’s the point of Twitter? I just don’t get it. Why would I want to waste my time telling people what I’m doing? And why would anyone waste their time reading it?’.
Now it’s possible that Twitter just isn’t ‘your thing’ and you’d be better off ignoring it.
And if you actively dislike Twitter, there are plenty of ignorant journalists and experts who should be intelligent enough to know better, prepared to bolster the argument that Twitter is in fact a complete waste of time, and symptomatic of our dumbed down 21st-century culture.
But it looks to me as though lots of people who don’t see the point of Twitter could gain significant benefit from using it. Not only that, I think they would really enjoy it — if they gave it a chance.
Do any of the following appeal to you?
- meeting new and interesting people (in real life as well as on the web)
- staying in touch with people who matter to you
- stimulating your creativity with new discoveries
- building your reputation
- receiving helpful feedback
- finding new business opportunities
- generating more sales
- knowing what people are saying about you and/or your company
- breaking up your day with some friendly chitchat — even if you’re working alone
If you’re not interested in any of these things, then you can safely ignore Twitter. But if you want some (or even all) of them, then Twitter could be just perfect for you.
If you’re already an active web publisher — whether of text, images, music or video — Twitter can act as a catalyst for your other projects and help you increase your impact.
If you’re not yet a confident web user or publisher, Twitter is a great way to dip your toes in the water and get used to writing and interacting with people online. It’s free, very quick to set up — and unlike a blog or website, you don’t need to invest a lot of time in it.
Not convinced? Give it a try. Twitter is like ice cream — if you step back and analyse it, sounds like a really bad idea (all those calories and additives?). But once you try it, the objections tend to melt away.
OK, Twitter doesn’t offer quite the same level of instant gratification as ice cream. For some people it’s more of an acquired taste. But once you ‘get it’, you’ll wonder how you managed without it.
Getting Started – the ABC of Twitter
A. Set Up a Twitter Account
- Go to Twitter.com
- Click on the Get Started — Join button.
- Fill out the sign-up form.
- Once you’ve set up your account, click on ‘Settings’ at the top of the page. In the Account tab, fill out your ‘One line bio’. For many visitors to your Twitter page, this will be the first thing they look at — so if your Twitter account is remotely connected to your work, make sure it describes what you do as clearly as possible. Mine describes the three most important things I do: ‘Poet, creative coach and co-founder, Lateral Action’.
- If you have a website, add a link to it in the box labelled ‘More Info URL’. That way, people who get to know you on Twitter can find out more about you — and your Twitter account becomes a great way of driving users to your site.
If it’s available, I recommend you use your own name as your username, because:
- It’s unmistakably you — people like to know who they’re talking to on Twitter, and it will help you build your reputation.
- You may change your job or your brand name, but you probably won’t change your own name. So if your circumstances change, you can keep your Twitter account.
- If you want to experiment with alter egos or have a Twitter account for your company, you can do that as well. But you never know when a personal account could come in handy.
- It stops someone else using the name and either impersonating you or becoming ‘that (slightly) famous person with the same name as you’.
B. Start Listening
Think of Twitter as a virtual cocktail party.
I’m guessing you don’t charge straight into a party and start talking to all and sundry the moment you’re in the door. After saying ‘Hello’ you probably spend a bit of time listening to other people’s conversation. For one thing, it’s only polite and shows other people that you are interested in them. And for another, it gives you a chance to tune in to what they’re talking about.
After a while, you’ll notice an opportunity to join the conversation — someone will ask a question, touch upon a subject you know about, or remind you of something in your own experience. And because you’ve been listening to them, you can be reasonably confident that what you say will be of interest. Sometimes it takes a bit of courage to speak up, but once you do you’ll usually glad you’ve broken the ice.
Twitter works the same way. Once you’ve signed up, and said something like ‘Hello world, here I am’, your first priority should be to find and start following other users. That way you’ll get a feel for what people are saying and how they use Twitter.
Following people is easy:
- When you visit someone’s Twitter page, you’ll see a Follow button directly under their picture.
- Click the button and their next update will appear on your Twitter page.
- Each time you refresh your Twitter page, you’ll get the latest updates from all the people you’re following.
- Once you’re used to this and tired of pressing ‘refresh’, you can use a Twitter client like Twhirl or Tweetdeck to make life easier by automating the delivery process. (Depending on where you live, and what kind of phone you have, you can also use Twitter on your mobile phone, but that’s another story.)
Finding people to follow can seem a little harder, especially at first. But it’s not that difficult.
- Start with your friends – ask who’s on Twitter and where you can follow them. If they really are your friends, they’ll probably follow you back, and hey presto! You’re already in a conversation.
- Add your business contacts – again, ask for the link to their Twitter page. If they use Twitter professionally, they’ll be delighted to add you as a follower, and once again they are likely to follow you back.
- Follow people who interest you – whether you’re interested in celebrities, thought leaders, prominent people in your industry, authors, bloggers or potential business contacts, you’ll find plenty of them on Twitter.
N.b. If you want to keep your social and business conversations completely separate, it’s a good idea to set up separate Twitter accounts for personal and business use!
Don’t worry about being perceived as a stalker — unless they have protected their updates (for approved followers only), people will be very happy to add you to their audience of followers. They may even notice you and follow back — if they see something interesting on your Twitter page …
Once you start following people, spend a bit of time looking through the lists of people they are following (clearly displayed on their Twitter page) and start following the ones you know or find interesting.
C. Start Talking
Just like a real cocktail party, once you’ve listened for a bit you’ll feel the urge to join in. Technically, it’s a piece of cake:
- Type your message (maximum 140 characters) into the box at the top of your screen.
- Press ‘Update’.
- Your message will now be sent to everyone who is following you.
But what should you say?
Here’s a clue – Don’t (always) answer the question ‘What are you doing?’
Will people really be interested in the fact that you’ve just had a cheese sandwich or are reading
Hello! Foucault on the train? To be brutally honest — probably not. Unless you habitually perform daredevil rescues, tame lions or make breakthrough discoveries, your average day probably won’t make very exciting reading.
No problem. Just remember the cocktail party — you don’t talk about yourself all the time there (do you?). You talk about things that are likely to interest the other people at the party. Such as:
- responses to their questions
- questions of your own
- titbits of information or advice
- interesting anecdotes
- requests for help
- thoughts or observations
That doesn’t sound too difficult does it? It basically boils down to being yourself, showing a genuine interest in other people and engaging them in conversation.
Yet you’d be amazed how many people forget their basic social etiquette online (and not just on Twitter). These are the people who think Twitter is just another broadcasting or marketing ‘channel’ and start bombarding people with sales messages, boasting about their achievements or trying to say something impressively profound. They are the online equivalent of the party bore.
Fortunately you don’t have to listen to them. Just click the ‘Following’ link under their photo and you can stop following them — which means you never have to read another word they write.
Part of the beauty of Twitter is that it’s very hard to spam people — the onus is on you to be interesting, entertaining or helpful. And just like in real life, the way to do this is be yourself, follow your passions and enjoy the company of the people around you.
Follow Me …
You can follow my Twitter updates at http://twitter.com/markmcguinness
I do my best to serve up bite-sized inspiration on Twitter — tips, quotations and interesting links for creative people. I also use Twitter as a virtual water-cooler — somewhere to relax, exchange banter with friends and meet new people. Come and say hi …
More about Twitter
If I’ve whetted your appetite for Twitter, you may like to read my previous articles on the subject:
Darren Rowse’s blog Twitip is a great source of advice about using Twitter.
Are You on Twitter?
If so – what do you like/dislike about it?
If not – have I whetted your curiosity? Why/Why not?