Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Are you Tweeting Yet?

I have to admit, when I first heard about Twitter, I immediately conjured the image of hundreds of my new ‘friends’ bombarding me with notifications about how bored they are or how much housework they managed to accomplish that day before droning onto the Internet.

For those that don’t know, Twitter is referred to as a micro-blogging utility that is part of the new social media craze that was made popular by sites like MySpace and FaceBook (to name only a couple).  The difference with Twitter is that you are limited to a very brief (140 characters or less) post but the idea is that you post more frequently and since messages are short, it favors mobile use via SMS.

Since I have been guilty (once or twice) in the past of driving my head in the sand when it comes to the evolution of the Web, I decided to take a closer look into this new micro-blog service and see what the point was.  What I found was a bit surprising.

The Timeline

Basically, the timeline shows all of your updates, and those updates which you have chosen to ‘follow’ in the order that they were posted to the twitter servers.  If you are keeping up with lots of people and have a lot to say yourself, this could be a very long list.  Not to worry though, you’ve only got 140 characters per friend to read through.

Following and Followers

I guess the main point of Twitter is to collect as many followers as possible.  I had heard about the battle between Ashton Kutcher and CNN to be the first twitter user to reach 1,000,000 followers.  I guess this was where I first got the feeling that twitter wasn’t really for me…I mean, after all, what the hell do I care what the Punk’d artist is doing right now.  CNN tweets might be interesting, but I envisioned a barrage of messages about OJ Simpson and Barack Obama news that isn’t all that relevant to me.

The long and short is, when you start to follow another Twitter user, you are then notified every time that they post something to twitter.  If you follow 100 people and they all post something every day, you will see what all 100 people are doing every day.  The flip side of this is that if they follow you, and you post something every day, 100 people will see what you are doing ‘right now’.

Sounding a Re-tweet

Unlike the ‘head for the hills’ call that you may be thinking of right now, a re-tweet is like the quintessential ‘grape-vine’ of the twitter world.  Very simply, if one of those 100 people who are following you decided that you posted something useful, they can simply re-tweet your message so that people who follow them will get your message too.  If you assume that each of your followers has 100 followers and 5 of your 100 followers re-tweet your post, then you can reach 600 people with your short 140 character message in very short order.

Usually when someone re-tweets one of your messages they will give you a ‘mention’ so that their followers can decide if they want to follow you directly or not.

Di – @Mentions

Think of a mention as an introduction of sorts.  Twitter’ers (or is it tweeters) will often include the username of someone they are somehow linked to when they are basically inviting their followers to check someone out.  If you see a tweet with @shawncrosbys in there somewhere, in most cases you will get linked to my profile where you can then choose to follow me.

Essentially when a tweeter puts a @mention in a tweet, they are basically saying, “meet my friend @shawncrosbys, perhaps you might like to follow him too”.

Saved Searches

I finally ‘got’ what twitter was all about when I started using TweetDeck as a front end for twitter.  It wasn’t the program itself that made the difference, but what it did do was allow me to arrange a number of searches on one screen and keep updating the results in near-real-time.

You see, when you’ve only got 140 characters to put out a thought, people tend to be very specific and clear with the words they use, this ‘frankish’ manner of posting makes for surprisingly relevant searches.  Try searching for your company name or your industry, there’s some tricks to searching, but since these updates are frequent, you can get the latest information on your search term by searching the public timeline and saving the search to refer back to later.

The flip side of all this is that other people use these saved searches to keep track of keywords that they want to keep up with.  Any time you tweet with a keyword they may be watching they may see your tweet (so long as you leave your profile public) even if they aren’t following you.  Chances are good that if you tweet something useful, you will pick up a new follower.  There are some special types of keywords that you can use that are basically ‘accepted’ as keywords throughout the twitter-sphere (does this ism exist yet?).

Hash Tags

These are special ‘keywords’ that may or may not show up in saved searches with other twitter users.  They are intended as a way to group tweets informally so that if people typically keep up with a particular hashtag (as opposed to specific people) then you can add these hash tags to your tweet and people will see them when they search.  If you check out wefollow or similar websites, you will see a listing of #hashtags that people say they are keeping up with.

Say for instance, I want to tweet that I will be attending the ITANS meeting in Halifax this thursday night, I may tweet something like:

I’m heading to #ITANS in #Halifax this thursday, anyone else?

The idea is that if people are following the #ITANS or #Halifax hash tags in a saved search, they will see you message even if they aren’t following you specifically.

Address Shortening

Something you will see quite often in twitter is little, basically un-readable internet addresses.  When you click on them, you get redirected to another longer URL.  Supposedly the idea is to conserve the number of characters it takes to post an internet address and there are a number of free services that allow you to do this.

An added side benefit to this is that there is some tracking put into some of these services so that you can then go back and track how many people actually clicked your link.  For instance, if you click http://bit.ly/NWMmT you will get to my blog and I can log into bit.ly and see that someone clicked this link from this blog post.

For someone like me that publishes a blog, this is a neat way of promoting my blog and then seeing how useful twitter is for getting my blog promoted.

Putting it all Together

So there you have the basics, I’m sure there is a whole mess of other Twitter-isms that I haven’t covered here, but the basics are simple.  You can use these little 140 character posts to reach lots of people very quickly.

I’m sure that many a teenie-bopper may find ways of keeping in touch with all their peeps or the latest actor/actress gossip, but there are many benefits that allow businesses and professionals to reach many people very quickly.

No comments: