“One could change the world with one hundred and forty characters.”
This article is intended to give people new to Twitter or people who don’t have a good understanding of the application’s capabilities a brief overview of why Twitter is powerful and how they might start using it themselves. It’s focused on companies/departments/groups for an Indiana University audience, but the information is applicable for everyone.
What is Twitter?
This might seem like a simple question to answer, but in reality, if you look at each of the following definitions, you will see that they’re all different.
- Twitter’s Definition: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
- Wikipedia’s Definition: “Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read each others’ updates, known as tweets.”
- My Definition: Twitter is a technology that facilitates synaptic, asynchronous, and individualized communication between its users.
They’re all similar in one respect, communication. The truth is that Twitter is whatever you make of it. The service’s architecture is open-ended and loose allowing users to use Twitter for whatever purpose they desire. Whatever you put into the service by way of interaction will be returned.
Check out the rest of the post after the jump!
Twitcabulary – The Vocabulary of Twitter
Before I go any further, I want to list some of the Twitter-related buzzwords in the Twitter vocabulary.
- Tweet – short update of 140 characters or less, answering the question “What are you doing?”
- Follower – someone who has subscribed to someone’s updates.
- Tweeps – friends/followers on Twitter.
- Tweople – people using Twitter.
- Twitterati – Tweople who attract thousands and thousands of followers. Sometimes they are real-world celebrities or sometimes their celebrity comes from their online presence only.
- Hashtag – meta information (think categorization) added to a tweet. Hashtags are prefixed with the # sign i.e. #bloomington or #iub. Hashtags allow for quick searching to reveal related tweets.
- Reply – a reply to a specific user using the format @username. Replies are public.
- Direct Message (DM) – a message sent to a specific user using the format d username. DMs are private and can only be read by the recipient.
- Retweet (RT) – passing along someone else’s tweet to a larger audience, sometimes with extra commentary.
- Tweetups – a meeting of Tweople outside the virtual world (real life).
Brief Twitter History
Twitter was born out of the idea of staying in touch with one’s friends. It evolved into a service that would allow its users to do just that, in addition to finding places to hang out and hot spots around town.
You can take a look at the history of Twitter in a lot of places. If you’re looking for something brief and graphical, see the Manolith article here: http://www.manolith.com/2009/06/21/the-story-so-far-of-twitter/.
In recent history -Iranians use Twitter to communicate important news about the happenings in the country using the hashtags #gr88 and #iranelection. The US State Department urges Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance that would have cut out daylight service in Iran citing Twitter as an invaluable and important communications tool. Many Twitter users change their location and local time to Tehran +3:30 GMT to help obfusgate the legitimate Tweople in Iran. Tweople, using the hashtag #cnnfail, expressed their desire to hear more about the Iranian election rather than coverage on John and Kate Plus 8 and American Chopper… and CNN listened, beefing up their coverage of the Iranian election.
In My Experience – Recently in a Cascade Server: Site Managers workshop, I was teaching a large group how to use IU’s new WCMS. A lot of them use Twitter regularly and I noticed as I walked around the classroom that they were using Twitter during the workshop, so on breaks, I started finding their user accounts and read their tweets. They created a hashtag for use in the workshop and I was able to see what they were saying and customize the workshop experience based on what they were saying.
More on “The Real Power of Twitter” – http://www.seomoz.org/blog/the-real-power-of-twitter
Using Twitter Effectively
There are a lot of opinions on how to use Twitter effectively and they change drastically depending on what your role is in your company/department/group. The truth about Twitter is that you get out what you put in, i.e. if you interact and are an active part of your followers’ conversations, your group will benefit most from Twitter.
This is probably the technology that adds to the usefulness of Twitter more than any other. To use a hashtag and have it cataloged, you must be following the user @hashtags. This ensures that when you use the hashtag, #example, it shows up in the hashtags.org directory with all the other tweets that use the same hashtag allowing users to easily find people who are talking about what they’re interested in.
Finding a hashtag is simple. Simply point your web browser to search.twitter.com and search for the tag you desire. For example, one of the hash tags I follow and interact with regularly is the #climb tag (clicking the tag will take you to the search for #climb).
Use Twitter to Follow Current Trends
Now that you’ve found hashtags you want to follow, how do you keep up with what’s being said in conversations of interest? You could constantly be heading back to search.twitter.com and constantly be searching for the tags, or you could do the following:
- Use an application that allows you to save and update searches in real time (TweetDeck).
- Discover the hashtags that relate to topics you have interest in using either http://hashtags.org or http://search.twitter.com.
- Create a saved search looking for the topics of interest.
- Find trending topics on http://www.twitter.com/home or at http://www.twitscoop.com.
Use Twitter as a Marketing AND Interaction Tool
The most successful companies using Twitter aren’t those companies using Twitter to update users only on new products or company news, they’re the companies that use Twitter to interact with their customers as well as inform them of news. Take these feeds for example, @Direct2Dell compared to @JetBlue.
That’s not entirely fair to Dell because they use Twitter to allow their employees to directly interact with their customer base. For example: @RichardatDell, @JohnatDell, @LionelatDell, etc. Dell’s strategy is to have specific accounts for marketing and others for interaction. JetBlue, on the other hand, uses one account for everything from communicating promotions, interacting with their customers, and disseminating corporate news. For more information, see http://www.dell.com/twitter.
The most important consideration is context, for example, @cnnbrk simply reports news and has little to no interaction other than being a fountain spewing breaking news stories, yet they have almost 2 million of followers (at the time of this writing).
Another important consideration is audience, for example, @aplusk has well over 2 million followers (mostly because of a follower race with @cnnbrk becoming the first person to have over 1 million followers). Something else important is going on with @aplusk as well. He has over 2 million followers, but is following less than 200 himself. The beauty of Twitter is that you can follow who you like, but they don’t necessarily have to follow you back.
Twitter also serves to bring people of celebrity status down to the “normal people’s” level. Again, the example of @aplusk comes to mind, also @feliciaday, @danecook, @stephencolbert, @chickmcgee1, @oprah, @mchammer, @the_real_shaq, and many, many others.
To sum it all up, Twitter is whatever you make of it. If you’re the kind of person who wants to sit and observe what’s happening, don’t expect hundreds of followers. However, if you’re going to participate with a community or two, you’ll find your time on Twitter to be much more rewarding.