For those of you who aren’t Twitter users (also commonly referred to as “twitterers”), this article is meant as an introduction. For those of you who are just getting your feet wet, hopefully this will serve as a guide reviewing some of the popular Twitter tools and applications.
First things first
If you have no idea what Twitter really is, instead of explaining it, I’m just going to suggest that you go and watch a brief little movie which does a better job explaining Twitter than any other site I’ve seen online: go watch videos at Common Craft.
Get yourself signed up with Twitter
When signing up, I strongly recommend choosing a name that is either widely recognized as an alias of yours, or some arrangement of your name. For me, while 417north would probably be recognized by a certain group of design industry folks, my name Greg Huntoon has far more recognition at this point in my career. To keep it short, I played around with the idea of using “ghuntoon” as my handle, but my name is pretty distinct, and so I made the decision to use my full name “greghuntoon” as my username/profile name on every single service where it’s available.
Don’t underestimate the power of this recognition. You will be easier to find by your friends and colleagues, and also by search engines. I would say that 75% of the people that I follow on Twitter agree with this based on their Twitter handles.
Figure out your voice
Find out what it is that you really want to say. When you’re new to micro-blogging, figuring out what to say might be a little difficult, because you’ll be tempted to just tweet about every little thing. For me, Twitter is largely a business tool. I have Facebook to stay connected with my friends, and Twitter allows me to follow the conversation leaders on a wide variety of topics that are of interest to me. And in turn, I try to make sure that my tweets (the name given to Twitter’s 140-character posts) are relevant, and hopefully not boring to my followers.
Don’t use multiple posts to get your point across. Part of becoming a good twitterer is learning how to condense your thoughts into the 140-character limit. After a while, you’ll totally see the utility in keeping things short and sweet. It’s really amazing how much can be communicated, and culled, from 140 characters.
Find people to follow
Search for topics that you’d like to find “experts” in, and then check out the profiles of the authors that are returned in the search results. That’s one way, for sure. There’s also the TwitterPacks Wiki, which will give you some lists of people to follow based on a bunch of different filters / categories. I can nearly guarantee that you will walk away from the Wiki with at least 30-40 new people to follow (and depending on their reciprocity, you will probably end up with a bunch of new people following you).
Once you have a handful (20-30) followers and people that you are following, I strong urge you to follow Mr. Tweet “Your Personal Networking Assistant”, by visiting the site and clicking on the “Follow Mr. Tweet” gray button on the front page of the site. That is all you need to do, and within about a 1/2 a day later, you’ll get a reciprocal follow from @MrTweet with an accompanying link to their report which will show you two things:
- Which of your followers you should be following in return.
- Who the influential people are that you should be following (and it is different for each person, depending on your interests, what you post about, and the types of people that you already follow).
Which programs and tools you might use
I always have my main Twitter stream open using Tweetdeck. This allows me to split my stream into the main tweets from me and the people that I follow, all of my @replies, and my direct messages. Additionally, Tweetdeck has the ability to add multiple columns so that I can filter off specific people, searches, or fine-tuned groups of people to follow. This is the ultimate tool if you are managing one account, or have one account that gets 75% of your attention or greater.
Since I have multiple Twitter accounts I use, I also use Twhirl to manage all of those other accounts. Twhirl isn’t quite as great for showing me everything all at once, but it does a great job of managing tons of accounts all at once, including your friendfeed, seesmic, and identi.ca accounts if you so choose.
Tweetdeck and Twhirl are definitely the two applications that I use to post tweets with the most, but I take advantage of quite a few other services that really make it easy for me to Tweet wherever and whenever I want:
- Twitter Tools – a WordPress plug-in that auto-posts your blogs tweets as part of the publishing process
- Twitterfeed – the best, and most painless way to auto-tweet your blog entries (any RSS or Atom based feed), which I use for all of my non-Wordpress posts and entries
- Twitterific – although not often, sometimes at home it’s just far easier to rattle off thoughts and links via the iPod Touch (in my case). This, however, is definitely the best iPod/iPhone Twitter app on the market.
- Tweetburner – a great service if you’re really wanting to track your tweets
- Twitter.com/home – although rare, sometimes I’ll exceed my limit on Twitter (long story, more on that here) and returning to your web home, tweeting by IM or by txt are your only options
Etiquette: some do’s and don’ts
Most importantly, unless you’re a chef, don’t tell me what you’re having for lunch today. The only other exception to that rule is if you’re giving links, reviews and/or dining tips that are useful. I guarantee you that the quickest way to getting yourself unfollowed is incessant tweeting about mundane eating habits, such as “Really enjoying this apple. It’s the best after a Subway sandwich.” I cringe at posts like that, while, conversely, a food-related post like this would be much more engaging: “Just finished off a caprese panini from @atlanticgrille on South E St” (fictional post…don’t go searching for Atlantic Grille on South E).
On the other hand, a very important Twitter practice is getting involved in the conversation(s) by replying to people. Let your voice be heard, and contribute when you have something constructive and new to offer into the stream. When done effectively, you’ll make new friends, followers, and widen your experience on Twitter.
I have made new business connections and friends, and learned a ton since joining Twitter way back when. But it continues to redefine itself, and there are new tools and services jumping into the fray nearly every day.
So, the sooner you sign up and get involved, the better for you…