Last weekend I was at a gathering of some of the folks from Christians on the Internet (www.coin.org.uk). We are an online community, but once a year we meet up in, as they say, real life.
I was asked about Twitter – what’s it for, how do you use it? So, I thought I’d give an answer to those friends on COIN and anyone else who’s interested.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a means of broadcasting short (less than 140 character) messages. I say broadcasting, because you are sending a message out that can be recieved by anyone who has a Twitter account. So it is different to sending an SMS message to someone – and closer to posting a status update on (say) Facebook.
Hang on a minute … anyone?
Although there is a facility in Twitter to send direct messages to an individual user, pretty much all of the messages handled by Twitter are broadcast.
Why? You can think of this as democatising the Internet – anyone can sent out a message. Anyone else can receive that message – that tweet – (although there may be some parts of the world where this is not true, but those places are not renowned for freedom of speech). You don’t need a subscription to an expensive service, just something to say.
So what do I need?
First of all, get a free Twitter account from http://twitter.com/.
Second thing you need is a Twitter client. The website is quite usable, and you may find that it does everything you need – however if you are on a mobile device (iPhone, Blackberry, Windows phone, or of course Android – my weapon of choice) then there are a number of apps available. Many of these can link to other social networks.
Third thing you need is … (drum roll and fanfare) … something to say.
My preferred app is HootSuite (http://hootsuite.com/) but there are other apps there. HootSuite has an app as well as the website. If you have a free account, you can connect up to five social networks to HootSuite. You can then decide whether to post to Twitter, or Facebook, or Linked in (say), or even all of them, simultaneously. It also has some advanced features (such as the ability to schedule tweets … more about that later, and to save searches).
Who will buy my sweet red #roses?
(OK, at the time of writing, I’m rehearsing Oliver!)
I said that anyone can receive your message, but how do you know that it will happen? You don’t. In many ways, tweets are ephemeral – you send them out into cyberspace, and you don’t know if anyone will read them. But there is a fair chance that someone will, especially if you have some followers.
People can choose to subscribe to you words of wisdom – they can follow you. That means that tweets from you appear in their Twitter feed, along with tweets from others that they follow. If you don’t follow anyone, you won’t see many tweets yourself, and if you don’t have any followers. it’s unlikely that anyone will see any of your tweets.
You can search Twitter for tweets – try it (in Twitter there’s a search box – here’s a link to search Twitter for #twitter ), and that’s one way to find out what people are twittering about. But there is a convention among the twitterarti (and tweeps “twitter peeps”) – the hashtag.
Hashtag (#tag) are so called because you put the hash character # before a word (or a group of words run together – so “this is church” becomes #thisischurch). The # symbol is also known as the number or pound symbol in other branches of English, but in Twitter terms we use the Commonwealth name.
You will see hashtags around – many TV programmes display a hashtag so that you can join in the comversation and comment on the subjects they are discussing, often including relevant tweets during the program. BBC East Midlands Today, our local new programme, uses #bbcemt. This shows the immediacy of the medium, and allows immediate feedback to the programme editors.
Another convention is that your Twitter name is preceded by the at symbol (@), so you can follow me (or search for my tweets) using @ronfromkwon. Not only will you find tweets that I’ve sent, but you will also find tweets that mention me.
Hey, have you seen this?
So you are following someone, and they say something so important (or funny…) that you want to share it with your followers. Easy peasy – you re-tweet.
Now, sometimes I notice that there’s a tweet by someone I don’t know in my Twitter feed – but looking closely I can see that it has been re-tweeted by a friend (well, someone I follow, at least). This is a way to connect to people with shared interests – maybe you’d like to follow them.
So you start building up your network. Someone may follow you – check out their profile, maybe you could recipricate the gesture.
The good, the bad, the …
So what about etiquette (twetiquette?) – yes, take any word, put tw at the beginning and you have a Twitter-related neolgism. There are some good ones – I suggest you check twiturgy (like liturgy, only shorter; or Gerard Kelly’s @twitturgies), twurch … but this probably shows up my bias.
First rule of Twitter club … take care what you tweet. Assume that everything you tweet will be read by your boss (present and future), significant other, mother, … and that once you press send it will be there for all eternity (or until Twitter runs out of storage space). There have been a number of stories in the press about people who have lost their job (or maybe, not been able to start the job) because of some posts they made on social networks.
Don’t overpost. From time to time, like when I was trying to tweet the proceedings of a meeting, you may have to send a large number of texts in a short time. But in general, don’t send too many tweets in a very short time. (Someone I follow has the bad habit of sending out 10-20 tweets all at once). Better to pace them – some apps (like HootSuite) allow you to schedule posts. Having said that:
Do share and re-tweet. I tend to re-tweet things that catch my eye – sometimes techical, sometimes inspiring, sometimes political – but hopefully things to make people think. Maybe someone who follows me will see the tweet and find someone interesting to follow.
Do join in the conversation. Twitter is social media. Have your say – but be polite and respectful please. Oh, and forgive people speeling mistakes and bad punctuation – #autocorrect changes words and sometimes we don’t check too carefully before pressing send. There is an immediacy about Twitter that can give us a sense of community – watch what happens on Twitter when a big event like #eurovision is on.
Link to other social media. Everything I tweet on my main Twitter account is sent to Facebook – I have different followers there. But, I use other social media (like foursquare) – sometimes I allow Foursquare to tweet, but usually I don’t (honestly, you probably don’t care that I’ve just got to the office, and I may not want you to know! I want a record in my journal though – another story).
Keep a thick skin. Don’t feel you have to respond, don’t get too upset about what people say. We are all imperfect humans (well, present company excepted, of course), and sometimes people just don’t think or care what effect they have in what they say. (Other times, they do. Ignore the trolls who just want to cause unpleasantness.