Is it a micro-blog? Is it a miniature social network? If you’ve wondered what this ‘Twitter’ thing is about, wonder no more.
What is it?
Can you say something of value in 140 characters or less? That’s www.twitter.com, a Web site where you’ll quickly become known as @insertusernamehere.
In just over three years, the online social networking application Twitter has become a phenomenon of sorts. Over the past 12 months, traffic to www.twitter.com has increased 27- fold through Web traffic alone (many users alternatively access Twitter through their phones or third party applications).
Born out of a mix of pressure and creativity, it was @Jack’s idea – “I want to have a dispatch service that connects us to our phones using text,” he’s quoted as saying at the original brainstorming session.
Because the idea originated around SMS and Web collaboration, and because most SMS messages are limited to a maximum of 160 characters, the Twitter team settled on a max of 140, to leave room for the username and colon that automatically begin each message.
All well and good, I hear you say, but what’s the point?
Well, the point is… the point is… sometimes there just isn’t one. And then, sometimes there is. The point is, Twitter is what you make it and there are no rules.
Twitter is now being used to share information quickly with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of “followers” at once. Just had the best cup of coffee in your life? Tweet it and everyone following you will know to try it themselves. Looking to build some momentum in your small business? Twitter is showing some amazing capabilities as a viral marketing tool.
For those of us without the time or inclination to maintain a blog, Twitter is the perfect in-between. Your followers may include strangers from around the world, marketers, business people, your family and friends.
How do I get started?
Using Twitter couldn’t be more simple. Visit www.twitter.com and you’ll be presented with a little bird and three button options – ‘What?’, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’
You already know the ‘What’ – Twitter is a platform to communicate “quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”. Why? Because, quite frankly, thousands of people around the world just want to know.
How? Easy; just register your full name, chosen username, email address and password, and you’ll be on your way. Still not sure? Watch ‘Twitter in Plain English’, a streaming ‘how to’ video available right on Twitter’s homepage.
Building your community
Don’t sit back and wait for people to find you; Twitter is all about networking and communicating with other people in quick bursts. To communicate effectively, you need other people in your network. Don’t be overwhelmed when you see that some major twitterers have tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers. It’s easy to build a network on Twitter.
Your first step should be to click the ‘Find People’ tab once you’ve signed into Twitter. You can search for people by name, username or email address. Twitter even provides a list of suggested users here for you to follow.
If you want to find people you don’t know yet, but who are interested in the same things you are, try search.twitter.com This handy tool allows you to search by name or topic. Want to follow and be followed by people who also love the All Blacks? In just 0.07 seconds, my search turned up more than 30 people who had tweeted about the rugby team today. Give www.hashtags.org a try as well, for a current list of popular subjects on Twitter.
Third party applications like www.whoshouldifollow.com will suggest friends after you enter your Twitter username, although changing the settings doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to the produced results. A better search engine is www.twellow.com, where you can search for keywords in other twitterers’ bios, or by their location and names.
Once you’ve gotten started, friendorfollow.com is quite fun to play around with. Use it to find out which of the people you’re following are not following you back, and vice versa.
Twit tips for new users
Even though Twitter is inherently easy to use, it can still take a while to become familiar and comfortable with the site’s oft-used symbols and communication tools.
1. Use @ to direct your message to a particular twitterer, but keep in mind that your message will only be private should you choose to use Twitter’s direct messaging function. To reply to someone, click the little grey arrow that pops up if you hover your mouse to the right of their post. The @ symbol will then show up automatically at the start of your message.
2. Love a post and want to share it with all of your followers? That’s called a re-tweet, and twitterers love it! Just type ‘RT @name’ before the copied and pasted tweet.
3. Get used to seeing tinyurl.com – if you want to share a Web link, chances are it will be too big to fit in with your message in 140 characters. If you’d like to be a bit different, there are several similar URL shrinking tools. Visit mashable.com/2008/01/08/url-shortening-services for a great list.
4. Make Twitter more manageable by using one of the many popular desktop clients, such as www.tweetdeck.com or www.twhirl.com TweetDeck and Twhirl will help you to sort and categorise your Twitter feeds.
5. Make it easier for likeminded people to find you by using the # sign before certain words or phrases. To use rugby as our example again, if you type ‘Just joined up with the local #rugby team’, your tweet will be easily searchable by others looking for rugby fan twitterers.
6. Personalise it. Use your bio space wisely and tell people a little about yourself. Make sure you upload a picture to your Twitter page, so your tweets show personality. If you want to share actual photos and/or video, try www.twitpic.com and beta.twiddeo.com for easy uploads. To add a background to your Twitter page, click ‘Settings’, ‘Design’, and ‘Change background image’.
7. Don’t take it too seriously – have fun!