Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Post #12: Some step-by-step info on how to use Twitter

How egotistical is it to say that my post yesterday inspired me to write this one?

Well, it's my blog, and I'll be egotistical if I want to.

Anyway, in addition to hearing a lot of grumbling about how Twitter could never be useful for a company, I often hear a lot of questions. To a newbie on Twitter, the homepage can look like gobbledegook. It can be very intimidating, as a matter of fact. I know this because I was there not so long ago.

Straddling knowledge and ignorance as I now do, I thought I would try to answer some questions that I often hear or that I had when I first started out. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask me. I'll do my best to help ya out. First, a question I don't hear a lot but should:

How can I pick a username? You want to try to pick a username that describes what you are about but that is not verbose. Full disclosure: My Twitter username (@RealLifeMadMan) is really longer than it should be. Remember, when you post, or when people respond to you, your username takes up valuable characters.

What does the @ mean or do? I like to think of the @ symbol on Twitter as a pointy finger. If you want to say something to someone, you use the @ and then their username (no space in between) and that tells them you are talking to them. If you are retweeting (I'll get to that in a minute) it shows everyone that you are pointing to the person who actually wrote what you are posting. Without the @ we'd all be talking to ourselves.

What is this RT I see everywhere? Okay, RT stands for retweet. When I first started using twitter I thought everyone was a fan of Richard Thompson. Anyway, Retweeting is kind of like legal plagiarism. If you really like what someone has posted and you want to share it with the people following you, your post would look like this: RT @smartperson blah blah blah. The RT tells your followers that you did not come up with this gem yourself. The @ symbol tells everyone who actually did come up with the gem, and it also lets "smart person" know that you are quoting them. Pretty good multi-functional use for 2 letters, right?

What's the difference between the homepage and the profile page? The homepage on Twitter is like the homepage on Facebook or LinkedIn. You'll see posts from the people you're following. If you go to a person's profile page, you'll see everything they've posted, and you'll also probably see a lot of @ symbols. That's because anytime that person has talked to or responded to someone, it shows up on his or her profile as well as out in the open. That's why monitoring what you say on Twitter is SO important!

What is a direct message? A direct message serves the same purpose as a Facebook message or a LinkedIn email. It's a way to communicate with someone without the whole world seeing what you're saying. Characters are still limited, however, so if you really want to quack at someone, you might want to *gasp* send one of them ole antiquated email thingies.

How can I find out who is talking about me? Along the right-hand navigation is the @ symbol followed by whatever your username is. By clicking on that (over and over again every minute) you can see who has mentioned you or who has retweeted you. It's all right there.

How can I build my base of followers? The easiest way, of course, is to convince people you already know to join your Twitterhood. Other ideas, failing that, including doing a search for keywords that interest you and see who is talking about those things -- follow them! You can also start to follow some of the recommended Twitterers that Twitter will prompt you with. This can include everyone from the Huffington Post to The Onion. You won't necessarily gain a rapport with any of the celebs on Twitter, but you can build a reputation by posting to their page or following other people who make posts you like.

What are trending topics? Actually, trending topics are another good way to look for people to follow and potentially get followers yourself. Topics or conversations are marked by the hashtag symbol: #. A lot of times, if you are attending a seminar or especially a webinar, they'll tell you to tweet your questions to #webinarname. That's because people can then search for that specific subject and see all of the posts related to it in one fell swoop. When major world events happen, you'll often see them over on the right hand of the site. #TigerWoods was there for quite a while. #HaitiEarthquake would be another example. By scanning trending topics that you're interested in, or by contributing to the conversation, you can build your network.

Do I have to use my phone? No! I just go to on my computer because I fear that using Twitter on my Blackberry would lead me into a dark vortex of no return. There are also numerous ways to manage your Twitter account, like TweetDeck. I'm keeping it simple, at least for now :)

Hope this helped. Maybe it convinced you to give Twitter a try, or if you are on Twitter but don't really get it, maybe it gave you some ideas. Or maybe I muddied the waters and you've lost what little interest you had. In any case, happy to be of service, and like I said, I'll be happy to answer, or at least try to answer, any other questions you might have!

Photo by Stephen Eastop.

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