I really love Twitter and find it one of the most useful social networks I use. But I regularly get people saying to me things like, “What’s the point of Twitter? I think it’s stupid. I don’t get it.” And therein lie two different things. Asking what it is and saying you don’t understand it is like saying, “What’s the point of French? I don’t understand it.” Well, if you learned French, you’d understand it and find it really useful. Especially in France. So I always try to explain what Twitter is, as that seems to be the best starting point. And that’s not as easy as it sounds.
Half the trouble when new people come to Twitter is figuring out what it really does. And when people like me, absolute Twitter converts, have trouble explaining it, you can see why a lot of people give up on the whole idea. So I was driven to figure out a decent, clear, concise description. Here it is:
So what is Twitter?
Over time, with a bit of effort, Twitter becomes a self-curated news feed of information, gossip and conversation that you’re personally interested in, with all the noise you don’t care about filtered out.
If people are still interested after that, we can spend a bit more time explaining it. Notice that I open with, “Over time, with a bit of effort”. This is a fundamental point. You can’t just go to Twitter, look at the thing and expect to understand it and benefit in any way. It doesn’t take much time and effort to get started, but it takes some.
You start by setting up an account. Once you have an account I highly recommend a third party Twitter application. I use Tweetdeck, because I can sort my feed into columns and keep much better track of things that way. Using Twitter directly from the Twitter site is messy. Also, I have Tweetdeck for iPhone, so I can tweet and read tweets wherever I am. Once you have an account, you must fill in your bio and pic, then you can start to tweet things, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Getting the most out of Twitter is all about following the right people. Whenever someone you follow posts a tweet, it will appear in your news feed. So don’t follow people who don’t interest you – only follow people who you think might say stuff you care about. Initially you can do a few searches with keywords. For example, you can search for things like:
The list above is an example of the kind of things I’m most interested in. Those are the sort of searches I started with. When people cropped up with those things mentioned in their tweets or their bio, I followed them. If they tweeted interesting things I would reply to them, maybe retweet them to share what I found interesting with people who follow me. If they were boring or inactive, or just on a hard sell, I’d stop following them.
Once you’re following a few people you’ll start to see who they follow. It’s a fair bet you’ll all have shared areas of interest, so follow some of their friends. The hashtag #ff or #followfriday is useful for this. It’s when people list all the people they follow who they think their followers might enjoy. So check out some of those people too.
You see how this is taking a bit of time and effort? It doesn’t have to be much. You can have a search and follow a handful of new people a day. Before long you’ll start to have a very busy news feed. And a lot of those people will start to follow you back. You’ll start to interact with them and away you go.
What do I post?
So, let’s get to what you post. First, you absolutely must fill in your bio and add a picture. Twitter is all about interaction and sharing, so you have to tell people something to help them decide if they’re interested in you. Here’s my Twitter bio:
Alan is an author from NSW, Australia. He writes dark fantasy, sci-fi & horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu.
It’s concise, as it has to be in the restricted world of Twitter, but says plenty about me. It says what I do, what I like and where I’m from. That’s enough to start with. After that, people will read my tweets and continue to follow if I interest them. So what do I tweet? Everything!
I tweet interesting or funny things that happen to me or that I notice.
I tweet about writing projects, progress on them, ups and downs of publishing.
I tweet about my dog and cats and regularly tweet photos.
That’s all the chit chat stuff. I also share all the links that I find interesting. And here lies the real power of Twitter. On the one hand I interact with people and have a chat and a laugh. On the other, I share information I find interesting. I also find stuff that the people I follow post. If I really like it, I’ll retweet it and share it around some more. Interesting blog posts, news articles, submission calls, new releases, movie reviews – you name it, if it’s interesting, I’ll post the link. That way my followers can see the tweet, which might say something like: Great review of the new X-Men movie, and they can choose to go and read that review or not. If you spend a bit of time reading the tweets of others you’ll soon get the idea.
This is where it becomes a self-curated news feed. I only follow people who interest me, so they’re likely to post links I’m interested in. In the reverse, my followers are likely to be interested in the links I post. There are Twitter users posting links to pony club announcements and Barbie Doll parties (whatever the hell they might be), but I don’t know about it because I don’t follow those people. The folks interested in ponies and Barbie Dolls follow them. See how it works?
I get most of my news from Twitter now, as I follow the BBC, ABC, Reuters and a few others. They post headlines and links and I’ll read the stories that catch my eye. If people’s tweets start to bore me, I’ll stop following them. I’m always following new people who strike me as interesting. And you have to accept that most of what happens on Twitter you’ll miss. Just get used to only seeing the tweets that happen to go by while you’re actually checking Twitter and let the rest slide. All the really good stuff comes around again in retweets anyway.
Finally, here’s a few things not to do:
Don’t just promote yourself – I’ll often talk about my writing and occasionally promote it and ask people to buy my books in one way or another, but very infrequently. I want at least 10 tweets about other stuff to every 1 tweet about myself, and a much bigger ratio when it comes to actually pushing my stuff. It’s not about selling yourself – it’s about being yourself. If you’re interesting, people will check out what you do.
Don’t just vomit minutiae constantly – If you have a really good breakfast, sure, tell us about it. But we don’t care about what you have every day.
Don’t spam people – Just chill and interact, all casual-like.
Here’s a golden Twitter rule:
Will this tweet entertain or inform my followers in any way?
Ask yourself that question before every tweet and don’t post if the answer is no. Of course, a lot of people are pretty poor at judging that stuff and think they’re a lot more interesting than they really are, but we’ll let natural filtration take care of them.
Here I am – follow me if you think I’m interesting: @AlanBaxter
What about you? Do you tweet? Feel free to offer your tweeting advice in the comments.