Twitter, the 140 character internet phenomena has caught fire in the last few months seems to have ensnared everyone. It’s free to start up an account, and easy to just write whatever comes to mind. In fact, in Twitter’s own words, “Twitter asks one question, “What are you doing?”
Like every other new internet application, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. It starts with picking a name for the account. If a personal account, the sky’s the limit, but if you want to cultivate a professional persona, this decision is important. Many people use their own name. Some people set the name as a reflection of their business. L.L. Bean, Cabot Cheese, and Newsweek all use their company names on Twitter. With a corporate name, any employee can update the feed, building goodwill and brand awareness. Adding an appropriate picture and completing the account profile signals that you are serious about Twittering and allows people to know with whom they are dealing.
Early on, it is good to put out a few tweets of your own. Tweet about what you know and like, news stories or perhaps links of interest. With 140 character limit, you need to be choosy with your words, but in including a website Twitter does some of the work for you. Twitter converts addresses to TinyURL, a shorthand version of a web address, allowing for much shorter tweets. TinyURLs can be cryptic, so descriptions may be needed.
Some use Twitter as an extension of their blogs, using applications to populate their Tweets from blog posts automatically. Power users can go further, writing Tweets ahead of time and sent through an application to Twitter at certain times during the day.
Once you are comfortable with Tweeting, it’s time to follow other people. Twitter offers up some people you might like to follow, through the link “Find People.” Currently, there are directories allowing you to look up and follow users you find interesting. WeFollow.com has a number of groupings allowing you to find celebrities, companies, entrepreneurs, and like-minded individuals that share your interests. If you are following someone, look at their Twitter page and see who they’re following. Sometimes you’ll find even more interesting people. You want to follow that person? It’s as easy as clicking “Follow” on the top of their profile page.
You can interact with other Twitterers. Replying to a tweet (type “@their _username,” then add your comment.), allows everyone to be able to see the response, or direct messaging the user, allows an one-on-one conversation with another Twitterer. See something great? Retweet it! Retweeting (RT) gives the person who originally twittered the credit, but lets you spread the information.
As you begin to follow people, you will see that people will start finding you. If you want, follow them back. Some people find this to be good Twitter etiquette, but some are just shills for a business who mass follow people. Go to the follower’s page. Read the last few tweets. You will get a feel for how this person operates on Twitter. Do not feel obligated to follow back if you are uncomfortable with their tweets.
Once you develop a following of your own, you may want to consider a third-party application to use Twitter more effectively. Tweetdeck and Twirl make the interface far more user-friendly by allowing you to organize and keep track of a multitude of conversations on Twitter. If you are a Mac user, Twitterific works well.
Twitter can be quite a time-waster. The noise to signal ratio can be quite high. If used efficiently, it can be a great resource for any business or individual. Twitter is growing at an exponential rate. For some it can be the craziest cocktail party you’ve ever been to, but cutting through the chatter can be quite valuable.