Twitter is commonly called a micro-blogging platform, because it limits all posts (called tweets) to 140 characters. Another way to look at Twitter is as broadcast text messaging. Instant Messaging (IM) is a message sent to one person. A tweet is a short message broadcast to all your followers.
As a social media phenomena, there are probably nearly as many ways to use Twitter and reasons to use Twitter as there are users. So, I am just going to give my personal take on Twitter: why I use it and why I think you should join me.
I tweet because as an online publisher I like to reach my audience through as many channels as possible. This is the same reason I am on Facebook and why I post pictures to Flickr, and videos to YouTube. As far as social media goes, I am fairly conservative. I’m not “everywhere”… I have chosen just a few communities to participate in, and Twitter is one of them.
In the last year, Twitter has seen tremendous acceptance from traditional publishers, big companies, politicians, and our government. I now see Twitter accounts being used by CNN, the White House, and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few. Now that it’s not just a toy for early adapters, maybe it’s time for you to have a look.
Let’s start with two basic terms for new Twitter users: friends and followers. A friend is some whose tweets are sent to you (someone you read). And a follower is someone who reads your tweets (by subscribing to them). Because you choose who to follow, it is a nearly spam-free environment, because as soon as you decide you no longer what to receive tweets from someone, you can un-follow them.
If you follow me on Twitter, you will get five to ten updates a week (not a lot by many Twitter standards) and they will be a combination of personal notes as well as business notes (which for me means they are about educational Internet and updates about the sites I publish.) I occasionally will Twitter my travels, such as the European cruise I took this summer, or the ski trip I took this winter.
Here are some of my recent tweets, just to give you a flavor of them:
American Library Association announced Caldecott & Newbery children’s book awards today. See 2009 and past winners: http://stnwk.com/2/ 12:46 PM Jan 26th from twhirl
Just saw “Revolutionary Road.” Very disturbing ending. . Still have a pit in stomach. But I am glad I saw it. 7:02 PM Jan 24th from twhirl
Inauguration is Tuesday Jan 20. Here are some inauguration websites to enjoy (including an Obama coloring page!) http://twurl.nl/iotrpe 11:05 AM Jan 12th from twhirl
I am racked with guilt. I just ate a slice of cheesecake for breakfast. Yummy … but a bit indulgent. At least it contains calcium! 11:41 AM Jan 6th from twhirl
Now, just a bit on how to use Twitter and then I’ll refer you to more resources. First (I mean RIGHT NOW!) go to http://twitter.com and register your favorite screen name, or real name BEFORE it is gone! No one likes being called “BarbaraFeldman24839552″, so go grab your name now before it is too late.
Now, you can find some friends to follow. Of course you can follow me. Simply go to my Twitter page at http://twitter.com/barbarafeldman and click on the Follow button below my picture. If you like kids jokes, you can also follow the JokesByKids.com Twitter stream at http://twitter.com/jokesbykids
Next, make your first tweet right from the Twitter.com website in the box titled “What are you doing?” Go ahead… try it now. A descending character count will tell you how many characters you have left out of your 140 character allotment. Hit update, and your tweet is now published on the Twitter website, and it will appear in the Home Twitter stream of anyone that is following you.
Now to answer a few questions. Yes, you can make your Twitter stream private. Which means that it will NOT publish on the Web, and only be visible to those people who request to follow to you, and you then approve. This can be useful for family-clan twitterers, who want to use Twitter as a fun way to keep in touch with extended family. Or for classroom twitterers, who want to use Twitter privately among students.
Also private are Direct Messages, which can be sent to people you follow. But it’s important to understand that they will not be able to respond to you unless they also follow you. Keep in mind that Direct Messages are not a substitute for email because they lack many of the utility functions of email (such as sorting into folders, deleting old messages, forwarding and so on.)
Next question: what’s with all those @ and # symbols? In addition to broadcasting your tweets, you can also reply to other’s tweets by prefacing your message with @twittername. So to send a reply to me, you’d use @barbarafeldman. These messages will appear in your Twitter stream for all to read, so use some judgment here, or else your followers will feel like they are consistently listening to only one-half of a private conversation.
Another frequently used tactic is the # hashtag, which is a way of tagging (i.e. with a keyword) a post so that it can easily be found by others following the same tag. For example, it has become very popular at technology conferences for the conference to pick a hashtag, and then conference attendees tweet about the conference in real time, sharing tips on the best speakers or best parties by adding the same #hashtag to their tweets..
To follow a hashtag, you can use either the http://hashtags.org site or do a search on the Twitter search engine http://search.twitter.com/. Both of these sites offer RSS feeds of searches, so this is another way to follow specific searches on Twitter. (That last tip was a big one, by the way. This is how Web savvy companies respond to Twitter complaints about their products. Or offer a thank you if you say something nice about them.)
And what’s all this about Retweeting? Retweeting (or RT) is not yet officially supported by the Twitter website, but is supported in one way or another by most Twitter apps. To broadcast a tweet you’ve received, simply start the tweet with RT @username or Retweeting @username, followed by their original message.
And why do all those URLs in tweets look so funny? Because URLs can take up a lot of your 140 characters, most URLs are shortened before being posted. Most Twitter apps will either use a single URL shortener (such as TinyURL.com) or give you a choice of URL shortening services to use.
Oh.. I just heard a question about Twitter apps and using Twitter on your phone. Thank you There are many ways to use Twitter on your computer and on your phone. Personally, I use both the Twitter website, and a free app called Thwirl (download from http://www.twhirl.org/ for either Windows or Mac) . When I tweet from my phone, I use a web browser, but for those who would rather use text messaging, you can configure your phone to receive a portion of your tweets and to send tweets via IM. This is an important feature, so I will repeat it. If you configure your mobile phone as a Twitter device, you can choose which of your friends you want to read on your mobile. So, for example, you could choose to ONLY receive tweets from seven fam
ily members on your phone, and all other tweets that come in from your other Twitter friends will simply be waiting for you at your computer. This option works best for those who have an unlimited text message plan on their phones To configure your phone as a mobile Twitter device, login into your account at the Twitter website, and follow the directions under Settings/Devices.
Another way to use your Twitter stream is to sync it (or publish it) on your Facebook page, your FriendFeed or your own blog. I do all three. For Facebook integration, I use the official Twitter app. To cross post my tweets on my Movable Type blog (http://www.barbarafeldman.com) , I use Brandon Fuller’s MT-Twitter plugin.
The last topic I want to address is that of Twitter etiquette. As you start to follow people on Twitter, and others start to follow you, you’ll be faced with a decision as to whether or not to follow those who follow you. The Twitter scene is completely divided on this topic. Some consider it rude not to follow someone who has followed them. Others will only follow a select group of people, even when they have a larger number of people following them.
Twitter styles can be roughly grouped into Reciprocal Twitterers who follow anyone who follows them, and Broadcast Twitterers who only follow a select number of friends/associates, and use Twitter as a broadcast medium to reach an audience. There is no right or wrong answer. The choice is yours.
So, seeing as I have only skimmed the surface of Twitter, and have not specifically addressed many of the more technical issues, I’ve gathered some videos and resources for you, and posted them in What is Twitter? Part Two.