Unless you abstain from network television, newspapers, AND the Internet, you have likely heard the phrase “follow me on twitter.” Maybe you’ve even set up a twitter account and made an update or two.
But if you’re still part of the crowd that looks at twitter and thinks “HOW is this supposed to be useful?” or if you feel lost about what to do next, then this is for you.
I’ve helped several members of my family get set up with twitter, some friends, and some co-workers. I am by no means a twitter “Expert,” but I’ve trained enough people on it that I practically have a routine down.
And it goes…
Part I: Why use Twitter at all, and how is it useful?
Twitter, by itself, isn’t terribly flashy or superficially amazing; it’s basically text messaging for the Internet, except you are restricted to 20 characters FEWER than a standard SMS text message (SMS are limited to 160, Twitter limits you to 140).
But this simplicity is why it is so adaptable and why it can be a very powerful communications tool.
For starters, two simple questions can determine whether or not Twitter can work for you:
- Do you ever text message people?
- Do you use the Internet regularly?
If you answered “yes” to both questions, particularly the latter, then you should be able to easily take advantage of Twitter.
Logging onto the Twitter website and tweeting through the web interface is the wrong way to use it — at least if it’s the ONLY way you’re updating your feed; like many things, the success of your implementation will be related to how much it fits in with your current routines and lifestyle.
Lastly, Twitter is useful if you wish to stay “plugged in” to your online social networks without being tethered to your computer; It makes syndicating your online presence a snap; and it is one of many terrific ways to tap into the cloud of knowledge out there.
Part II: Getting Started
There are technically two ways to set up your Twitter account. You can do it either online or via your cell phone. Online registration is a bit easier (IMHO). Just go to twitter.com and click on the “Sign Up” link. It will walk you through the necessary information. If you’ve ever signed up for any other online service (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) a lot of the verbiage should be quite familiar to you.
You can use the search tool to find some of your friends — if you happen to know their twitter usernames, you can “follow” (aka “friend”, “add”, whatever) them by going to http://www.twitter.com/theirusername, then click the “Follow” button.
One last thing: Don’t make your status updates private. Unless you’re the type of person that gets stalked, you have restraining orders against one or more people, or you plan on tweeting about sensitive data (in which case I don’t think twitter is the right thing to use), there’s no reason to do it. You miss out on a lot of potentially cool people by privatizing your tweets. Try it fully public for a while, and if you decide it’s too much, then go set it to private. But give public a shot.
Part III: Tether your Twitter account to your Cell Phone
This is probably the most convenient way to tweet. You don’t need a fancy-pants iBerry or Blackphone to use Twitter. If your cell phone plan includes text messaging (particularly if you have a monthly allowance, or better yet unlimited texts), that’s all you need.
In your online twitter profile, sign in first, then click on the “Settings” link at the top-right; choose “Devices”.
Enter your cell phone number, check the checkbox, and click “Save.” You may have to send a confirmation text from your phone — just follow the instructions.
Also on this page, you will want to turn OFF “Device Updates.” This is a little confusing, but “Device Updates” are when you RECEIVE tweets from your feed, not when you yourself tweet. Trust me. Once you follow enough people (depending on who it is, it may be as few as 10, or it may be 20 or so), you will NOT want your cell phone buzzing every 2 minutes. Stick with tweeting from your phone, and reading your tweets from other media.
On your cell phone, add a contact named “Twitter” (or “Tweet” or whatever you want to call it) — the phone number is “40404”. To update your twitter feed, simply write a new text message addressed to your Twitter contact (40404), and when Twitter receives it, they’ll update your twitter feed. It happens almost instantaneously.
If you happen to have an iBerry or Blackphone, the twitter app makes this whole business moot. Kudos to you. You can send / receive updates via the mobile web interface, and everything is hunky-dory.
Part IV: Tether it to Facebook
If you don’t have Facebook, you can skip this step. I don’t know how to update your Myspace status with Twitter.
Log into Facebook. In the lower-left corner, click the applications button and choose “Browse for more applications”. Search for “Twitter”. Look for the one that is provided by twitter.com (the “Official” one) — it should have the most number of subscribers. Add that application to your profile.
You will need to provide it your account credentials, be sure you check the box that says “update my facebook status with tweets” (something to that effect).
Now, everytime you update your twitter status (even from text message!) it will also update your facebook status.
Part V: Set up a Twitpic account
(this step mostly applies to people that have camera phones, although you can also do it strictly with your computer)
Go to http://www.twitpic.com and sign up. You’ll use the same credentials for twitpic that you use for twitter.
Once you have signed up, it will provide you an email address that you can email photos to and have them tweeted out automatically.
Edit your contact details for the Twitter contact on your cell phone — for “email address” enter the email address mentioned in the previous paragraph (it will be your username plus some extra numbers / characters).
Now, when you take a photo with your cell phone camera, you can “Send” it to the twitter EMAIL address, Twitpic will receive it, and a tweet will be automatically sent out on your account with a link to the image online. You can track how many times it was viewed, and people can comment on the image. No fancy phones required!
There are some Twitter / FlickR linkages — my wife has it set up, but I haven’t done it myself yet. There are also a number of other similar services, including one that will allow you to put cell phone videos up online via a similar service.
Part VI: Tether it to your Blog
If you happen to use WordPress (like me), there is a terrific plugin called “TwitterTools” — it will automatically send out a tweet when you post a new blog (and if your twitter account is tied to your Facebook account, that alert will also post to your Facebook status!) — it also shows your 3-5 most recent tweets on your blog sidebar as well (look to the right –> ). When I’m out and about, I can continuously update the content on my blog (as well as facebook) simply by text messaging my twitter feed.
Part VII: Get software to make Tweeting easier
If you’re a Firefox user, you can get “TwitterFox”, a plugin that allows you to read and tweet from a tiny little box in your browser (regardless of what page you’re viewing). This is how I do most of my tweeting from my computer, incidentally. When a new tweet comes in, I’m immediately alerted. It also filters out tweets that specifically mention your username, which is nice.
Many of my co-workers use “Tweet Deck” — this is really more geared for the hardcore Twitter user — it has many powerful features, including being able to track multiple accounts, track tweets that mention certain keywords you specify, and update your facebook status manually, as well. It’s pretty neat — but it might be a bit over the top for a beginning user.
Part VIII: Learn the lingo
Crash course in twitter lingo:
A mention (formerly called an “@ Reply”) is when a tweet explicitly names another twitter user, prefixed with an “@” sign. Something like:
@aaronmhill Dude I totally read your blog!
Will cause that particular tweet to be treated slightly differently by whatever software I happen to be using to view my feed. Some software apps highlight mentions, others separate them entirely. Generally, it is considered standard to use a mention whenever you are talking about (or to) another person that also has twitter, rather than using their real name. So something like:
Just saw @therealshaq at the airport! Man he’s tall!
Eating lunch with @johnoakdalton – he’s eating a gigantic steak!
are both good usages of mentions.
A “Re-tweet” is generally prefixed with “RT” and typically copies the original tweet verbatim, although many people will incorporate a mention of the original tweeter as well. These are typically used when something is worth repeating. Perhaps a friend tweeted a link to a news article, or said something profound / funny, or maybe breaking news just happened. Regardless, RT’s are common enough that it’s good to be familiar with them.
Hashtags are used when there is a particular topic or event that is being discussed by twitter users. At the recent Blog Indiana conference, people that were tweeting about things happening there would use the hashtag #BlogIndiana — when we had the Chancellor Celebration at IU East, we used the hashtag #Celebrate (I think that’s what it was).
The advantage of hashtags is that it provides an easy thread to search out all tweets regarding a particular topic — some really neat conversations emerge from viewing all tweets on a single tag. Our consultant at work, Brad Ward, did a really neat experiment with a hashtag he thought up: #watchitspread (google it) — it was retweeted 1500 times in under an hour, and over 10,000 times by the end of the day. Twitter is amazingly powerful.
Lastly, “direct messaging” is twitter’s version of private messaging. Direct messages are not part of the public timeline / feed, and are only viewable by the sender and recipient — this mode of communication is what is probably familiar to MOST people, but try to avoid over-using it — Twitter is really cool because so many people are talking in the public timeline; direct messaging is really more intended for private responses or followup information (perhaps providing an email address or phone number). Don’t use it simply because you’re paranoid. 🙂
Part IX: Ways you can put Twitter to work for you
Next time a company or product pisses you off – tweet about it. Many companies are obsessively searching twitter constantly for mentions of their product (at work we get daily alerts about mentions of IUE). If you are a company or producer, make it a habit to regularly search on twitter for your own name and products — see what you find. These are opportunities to engage directly with an otherwise problematic situation, and seek or provide immediate redress.
Have a question or need a recommendation? Tweet it out! My wife regularly tweets for recommendations about fabric or craft products — she frequently gets coupons and communication from fabric outlets. The coupons are ONLY available via twitter. I’ve tweeted questions out for other people’s opinions, and gotten some good information. If you use an obvious hashtag (#Linux, #Dell, #iueast, #Obama, etc.) you may find that your tweet is even automatically retweeted by one of the many retweeting services out there, allowing you to reach an even greater crowd.
Stuck somewhere? Looking for company? Just trying to reach out? Tweet! I’ve heard stories, that I half expect to turn out as urban legends, about people that were stranded in the middle of nowhere, or were being arrested, or were in jail, etc., and were helped out solely because they tweeted for help. The Iranian protest is a terrific example of this — they coordinated massive turnouts publicly using twitter to communicate.
See something cool? Tweet / Twitpic it! There have been many times when I’ve been somewhere and wanted to share it with my friends, or maybe I saw something weird (“Grandpa’s Cheese Barn”, en route to Penna. — seriously.) — I’ll tweet it out. The Farmer’s Market had a really good turnout this past Saturday, so I twitpic’d it. If I had remembered to bring my cell phone with me when I went to MayhemFest, I could have twitpic’d pictures from the concert. All kinds of opportunities.
Twitter is a powerful tool that can help you reach many people with very little effort, and do so in a focused way where the recipients are people that care, to some degree, enough to actually read them. Give it a shot!