The Care and Feeding of Twitter
It is hard to explain Twitter. It’s also hard to ‘get’ Twitter. To say it is a mini-blogging platform that lets you post a brief sentence or two on your own page– and also read the short posts of those you choose to follow, does nothing to explain its appeal. On the one hand the platform is simple: you can write anything — as long as it’s under 140 characters. On the other hand, it can be confusing– and unlike other social media, like Facebook or Stumbleupon, it is not easy for some kind soul to take you by the hand and show you the ropes. In Twitter, you have to ‘follow’ someone before you will even see what they write– and they will not see your pleas for help unless they ‘follow’ you back. Furthermore, 140 characters is far too limited to tell you all you need to know.
So here is a short guide to the Twitter basics:
First, of course, sign up for Twitter at Twitter.com. The URL for your Twitter page will be www.twitter.com/yourprofilename. Now set up your profile. Confusingly, you can’t do that by clicking on ‘profile’ at the top of the page: that just shows you what your Twitter page looks like to other people. No, instead, click on ‘settings’. Under the ‘account’ tab say something about yourself, your work, or your interests. (Something short, of course– this is Twitter!) Under the ‘picture’ tab, upload a picture of yourself or a graphic. Under ‘device’ you can put in your cell phone number and send in your updates by text message. Once you have this set up, you can also get the updates of any of the people you are following by cell phone. Some businesses and services are already using Twitter to keep their customers and clients informed. Washington DC’s metrorail, for instance, has each of it’s lines set up on Twitter. Follow them and switch the device update button to ‘on’ and you will get all notices of outages or delays by text message on your cell.
Next step: Find people to follow. This, unfortunately, is not as easy as it might be: the ‘Find People’ link at the top of the page which would be the obvious first step is all but useless. Instead use the much more powerful ‘search’ link which is at the bottom of the page. Search for topics that interest you and you’ll find all sorts of conversations going on. Another good way to find people: use Twellow.com. This is a sort of Twitter yellow pages and searches people’s profiles, as well as their conversations and is a very good way to find people by profession and location. And one of the best ways to find people to follow is to find someone interesting and then click on ‘following’ in the upper right hand corner to see who they follow. Check them out, look at the webpage listed in the profile, if they have one, and if they seem interesting, follow them too. Very often people will follow you back if you begin to follow them. And check on your own list of followers every once in awhile. It’s generally a good practice to follow back your new followers. But check them out first. I usually follow back unless the person seems to be totally focused on trying to sell me something– whether a product or a belief.
Now here’s where things begin to get a little tricky. You will quickly find, as you begin to follow more than a few people, that it’s almost impossible to follow conversations. My advice is, don’t try. If you see an interesting post and it begins with @something, that means that it is addressed to someone. Click on the name to see the other side of the conversation. If you want to respond to a post, go to the Twitter page of the poster by clicking on their name. Run your mouse over the post and click on the arrow that appears on the side. This will put their name in the reply box and you can post your response. Clicking on the star above the arrow marks that post as a favorite.
Another way to call attention to a post you particularly like or that has useful information is to ‘retweet’ it. Copy the text of the post, hit the reply arrow and paste the text in next to it. Add ‘RT’ for ‘retweet’ in front of the name and post. That way all of the people who follow you, but don’t follow the original poster, will also see the post. Retweeting is one reason information travels so quickly through Twitter. If you are following a lot of people the posts will run by so quickly that it’s easy to miss a response to something you have said. You can easily check for responses by clicking on the @Replies button to the right. Just under @Replies is the Direct Messages button. These are messages which no one but you can see. They will not appear on either your or the senders Twitter page. You will probably find that you get a number of these messages thanking you for following. This is because some of the Twitterers with the largest followings have their accounts set up to send out automatic direct messages to followers. You should check both your @Replies and Direct Messages frequently so you don’t miss any messages directed to you, whether publicly or privately.
One way to hold a conversation with a number of parties on a particular subject is to use the hashtag (#). People organizing conferences or events will frequently announce a hashtag code– for instance, #ideaparty, or #gov20. You can read everything posted in connection with this event by going to search and typing in the code. You can respond yourself by writing your post and adding in the hastag code. You can also follow the conversationby going to tweetchat or by installing tweetdeck. Instructions for using tweetchat are here.
So, that’s about it. I recommend giving Twitter a try. When you do, look me up. You’ll find me here: @Eclectopedic.