An Introduction to Twitter: How—and Why—to Tweet

In my last blog post, I promised to get “practical and tactical” with social networking.  What better way to begin that process than with a “Twitter 101” of sorts?

Twitter has been a media darling for a while now; 2009 was the certainly the year of the tweet!  Many of you reading this may have gotten all a-Twitter, hurriedly opened an account (everybody else was doing!), tweeted something like “trying to figure this out,” then never touched the site again.  Everybody kept chirping, but your life rolled merrily along.  Surely Twitter was gonna put the “fad” in “fade.”


Just when you thought all that bleating about tweeting mightdie down, the cacophony of Twitter news, usage and growth did an uptick.  So…  Maybe you should revisit the Twitterverse, now that the root system’s grown and more of your competitors, colleagues or acquaintances are on board.

What the heck is Twitter anyway?  Here’s how home page summary:

And if you’re like most business people I talk with, that summary is likely followed by you furrowing your brow and muttering “Huh?”.  So, let me try to encapsulate.

I refer to Twitter as the world’s message board.  Tweets are conversation starters, not full conversations.  It’s a place to get information, give information, glean ideas, share ideas, offer an update, get an update.

Here are the Twitter site basics:

– Set up a Twitter account (I’m posting a how-to tutorial on account set-up later this week!), and then you can follow anyone (well, anyone who hasn’t “protected” their tweets).  There is no relationship vetting, whereby the person you follow must confirm or approve the connection (this differs from Facebook or LinkedIn).

– Following is not automatically reciprocal.  In other words, just because you follow Ashton Kutcher doesn’t mean he will follow you.  Twitter connections may just be one-way, with reciprocal following totally at users’ discretion.

– Twitter posts may not exceed 140 characters.  Mind you, that’s “characters”—not words.  They call this “microblogging,” because it’s a miniature web log.  This forces everyone to be succinct; there’s no choice but to keep those tweets short and sweet!

– Twitter profiles are very basic.  You can upload a profile photo that will be tiny when shown online, and your bio is nearly as character-limited as the tweets you can post.  You are able to upload a background image and alter the color palette of your profile page (I’m gonna offer a tutorial in my next post), so you at least may elude to your branding on the site.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, yet you’re still wondering why in the world wide web you need to start following tweets on the world’s message board.  Here’re a few pointers for making your first Twitter experience manageable and potentially meaningful.

How to start using Twitter effectively:

Start with the mindset that you’re a guest at someone else’s party (and you might not even be that cozy with the host).  You wouldn’t show up at a cocktail party already in progress, tap your glass to demand attention, then pound everybody with your sales pitch.  It’s about social cues.  When conversations are already midstream, it’s best to shuffle around the room, ease into a circle where you sense you might fit in, and start connecting through smiling and responding to what others are saying.

Decide why you’re using Twitter in the first place. The reason you’ve shown up should give purpose to everything you do in the Twitterverse.  Are you hoping to grow business by connecting with potential or existing customers?  Are trying to learn market trends and buzz?  Are you hoping to follow the “who’s who” of a certain industry, market segment or interest of yours?  Determine why you’ve joined Twitter so that you then know how to use it.

Follow other Twitter users judiciously, always bearing in mind your purpose for participating.  Avoid that common newbie need to follow-follow-follow just to fill a Twitter feed that looks so lonely and empty at first.  Choose to follow only those from whom you’d really want to glean information or engage in conversation.  If you’re uncertain who to follow, find a respected colleague or friend with shared interests,see who they’re following and fall in line accordingly.

Let those in your circles know you’re now on Twitter and mutually follow one another.  Just as you start to seek out those to follow, it’s certainly going to be nice to know at least a few folks want to follow you.  Going back to that cocktail party analogy, isn’t it nice to find a familiar face in the crowd when you show up a little late?

Be a listener first and foremost. Again, you’re new to the party, so please—take your time and get familiar with the workings of Twitter before you start bantering.  While you may end up the life of the party, it’s wise to suss things out first, find out what you respond well to in the Twitterverse, and incorporate those moves as you ease into finding your voice in the conversation.

Consider creating groups in which to place those you follow (again, I’ll include how-to info in an upcoming post).  For example, if you plan to use Twitter for business and pleasure, grouping will give you quick access to targeted posts.  And it’s best to start those groups at the get-go, because it’s a chewy process to conquer after you’ve tallied up a large number of people to follow.

As somebody who’s keeper of multiple Twitter accounts, I’ve learned so much about how to make the most of this unique social network.  Obviously, the Twitter tips above come from my experience and knowledge.  To back all this up, I’ll soon be posting a Small Biz Big Time webisode  to share specifics about what I’ve learned in the creation, care and use of my three Twitter accounts.  Perhaps learning some insider tips can help you start on solid footing…to take your small biz big time!

Thanks…and back to you very soon!

Find me all a-Twitter:

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