So maybe you've never heard of twitter, or maybe it's old news but you thought it seemed silly. That's what happened to me at first as well. A friend told me to check it out (with no instructions), I took a look at the home page, wondered why I cared what all those people I didn't know were doing right now, and closed it. For those that haven't heard of it, twitter is a social networking tool that requires you to answer one simple question – “What are you doing?” – in 140 characters or less. And I agree, it does sound rather silly every time I try to explain it. However, I've found Twitter to be my favorite social tool. I've basically turned off IM (which can be an extreme time sink for me when friends need CSS help!), but I can still keep up with people I care about.
In light of the confusion of new people looking at the app, I thought I'd write a few tips I've found along the way that make it work for me.
A Quick Twitter Primer
- Your initial job is to find people you want to follow. You follow them by viewing their profile page and clicking “Follow” under their main icon. These are your friends. (They're called “Following” in your Stats sidebar and their icon will now appear in your sidebar.) There are a variety of ways to do this. Most obviously, start with the people you know. Then, check their friends and see who you know, or know of. Don't worry about whether they know you, it doesn't matter. They may not follow you back for now. Just find interesting people you'd like to know about, know better, or simply eavesdrop on. Heh. Once you've pillaged and plundered your friend's lists, use the search feature for other people you know. If you're really outgoing, you can search for people in your geographical area and start getting to know people you can actually get to know in real life! Wow. This is where twitter can become a great local networking tool. You can even watch the main twitter page for random people you might want to follow. I don't personally find this to be very useful with all the various languages represented.
- After adding some friends, you'll likely end up with a few that add you as well. Those people will actually “hear” what you tweet (a tweet is slang for your 140 character post–though you'll hear it called many different things). The tweets of the people you follow will be on your home page when you're logged in. Your tweets will be mixed in chronological order among them. If you're on someone else's profile page, you'll see everything they've written. If you'd like to see the interaction with their friends, click on their With Others tab.
- The people that don't follow you will not see what you tweet. But there's a workaround if you'd really like to interact with them (that is, if they're paying attention). Using the @ symbol and their username (for me, that would start with @stefsull), your tweet to them will show up in their Replies tab. But though it once worked in a different way, currently, the @stefsull must be the first thing in your tweet. Putting it somewhere in the message will not make it show up in their Replies pane. I try to check my Replies pane at least once a day to see what I might have missed (since I don't sit and read twitter all day). Even if I don't know someone, intelligent or witty comments may cause me to add them.
- Once you're set up in this way, just start twittering. Periodically through the day, leave a tweet. Doesn't matter if you only have a couple followers to start with–having a higher number of updates will likely get more people that find you in some way. And the numbers grow over time.
- When you follow people and they follow you, you have the ability to send Direct Messages (DM). These are messages that no one else sees and can be set to be sent to your email.
- Unless you set your tweets to private, anyone can read them, including googlebots which will kindly add you to the index. If you choose private tweeting, you will have to allow people to follow you. I don't do this, but I know some people, especially those who work at larger companies, enjoy that privacy.
- Be sure to check out your settings. You can customize your profile page, add your icon, set privacy, add twitter to your mobile device or IM client, choose how you're notified of DMs, etc.
- And if you're an organized person, you can click the little star icon at the end of any post and add it to your favorites. So if someone posts a URL you don't want to forget, or simply says something that makes you giggle uncontrollably, click the star so you can find it again.
What's the Point Really?
Well, maybe there's not one for you. But for me, a person who works from a home office, travels all over the world meeting people, works remotely with a variety of people and companies, it's an amazing tool. I began by adding anyone I knew of in the industry. Many of them I'd never met and perhaps hadn't even conversed with by email. But reading my page periodically, I began to feel I knew something of these people. I learned who had wicked wit, who had spouses and kids, when they were sick, when they had great accomplishments, when something traumatic happened. Yes, you can argue I don't really know them. And you're right. We haven't sat over coffee and shared our deepest feelings. But I certainly know them more than I did, or could have. When I do get an opportunity to meet them later, at a conference, there isn't that uncomfortable feeling of meeting a person you've only heard of. For me, feeling like I know them allows me to be immediately comfortable, relax, discuss, hang out. For those I have met, I don't lose track. I can keep up with their life until I see them again in the future.
There are companies and organizations using twitter to send out news and notifications. You can even keep up with politics, weather, news feeds, etc. Twitter is a tool. Use it as you will. But for me, the part that matters is it keeps me nicely connected with the little people inside my computer–my virtual, and sometimes real, internet buds.