Thursday, April 9, 2009

Forget Who's On First! Who's On Twitter?

If you watch cable news or listen to radio talk shows, you have at least heard of Twitter. Twitter is a novelty to some. It may evolve into something far greater, or it may fade away like the Pet Rock once something else comes along to supplant it. For now, though, the curve is upward. It is free, requires no special software, open to the public and accessible from mobile devices like smart phones. Set up an account here, if you are interested, then follow along.

“I’m on Twitter. Now what?”

The first thing to do is lurk. See what others are writing. There are kids who post about their exams, college students who proudly proclaim their Spring Break exploits, online marketers who want you to see the latest breakthrough in multi-level marketing, celebrities who are certain everyone is watching all the time and news sources that use Twitter to announce every news story they release. And many, many in between.

Randy Cassingham, of "This is True" fame, wrote a great description on his blog entitled, "Twitter: Why You Should Care." I have seen no better description of what Twitter SHOULD be.

"What Tweeters Should You follow?"

Next, find people to follow. Use the "Find People" link to search by name. If you are a Star Trek: Next Generation fan, you might want to follow "Data" (Brent Spiner) or "Jordie" (LeVar Burton). If you adore Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girl or Britney Spears, there is a fan site for each. Maybe you could use a frequent pep talk from Tony Robbins or want to stay up on product recalls in the U.S. Subscribe to a few using the “Follow” button and you will build a “timeline”: an unbridled flow of messages from each Twitterer you follow (we are avoiding calling them "Twits").

Twitter also has a general search tool at so you can search by key word, for example. See what is going out around the world related to any topic you type. Try hurricane, or North Korea. Earthquake is the term many used recently to get current news about the quake in Italy. Find people Tweeting on topics you like, such as your profession or hobbies.

“Why Tweet?”

A better question is: why should anyone follow you? There are certainly those who just sign up for everything and anything they can as well as people who have a weird sense of curiosity about strangers. Most people need a reason to follow you or send you a Tweet. If you do not have anything useful to say, then do not Tweet. There are too many Twitter accounts that appear to be on autopilot, spewing out periodic posts that either promote the sponsor or provide links to information without any identifiable reason for the link. Who cares if you are just Tweeting about something that was already available online and where everyone could find it?

But if you do have comments, news or a SINCERE thought-provoking and discussion-starting question to ask, then by all means Tweet it out loud. Twitter is like a micro-blog. Do not try to replace longer blog posts with piecemeal, 140-character snippets strung out over days. Instead, keep blogging and then Tweet the URL (this is where something like comes in handy to shrink those gargantuan links into about 16 characters).

Try a Tweet (an update) yourself. You can answer the Twitter question—“What are you doing?”—or make a statement or ask a question yourself. After your initial tweet or few, you will likely start to ask yourself how this strange tool can be of any use to your business, organization or professional practice. You can be certain that people in years past asked the same thing about email decades ago or the World Wide Web when it launched. Businessess can use Twitter to provide small tidbits of information about their products and services and links to more information on their own sites. Nonprofits can entice volunteers and donors with Tweets about their activities and needs.

"Uh oh! I get too many Tweets!!"

Following a few people is one thing. Following 1500 is total chaos. Some celebs have over 300,000 followers, but very few Twitterers actually follow more than a hundred others. Without some way to make the information manageable and searchable, it quickly overwhelms and becomes useless digital “noise” or as confusing as Abbott & Costello's famous baseball team. So now you need more tools.

I cannot list in this space all of the great tools available. Try these two lists of Twitter Tools, Toolbox and Twitter Toolbox 2 for about 150 to choose from. Jeremiah Owyang has a nice review of his favorites on his blog. Find something that lets you filter, group, segregate and manage the display of your endless stream. It helps, also, if the tool lets you post back to Twitter and your other social media in one post. (Secret tip: There is a new tool in early development called Seesmic Desktop that has promise. Get the Preview Release to try out free.)

More creative ideas for using Twitter are in my earlier posts, Think Globally, Act Locally and Developing A Twittering for Your Causes.

UPDATE: Tony Robbins sent out this link. You may like the April 2, 2009, interview of one of Twitter's founders by Stephen Colbert here.

1 comment:

yankee said...
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