Recently, I’ve had a few friends ask about Twitter
and how to make sense of it. There are those that only see Twitter as a novella of recent meals
highlights. The fact is that Twitter, with a little bit of management, can help you cull down the noise of the Internet and create a best-of list for the web.
So how does someone new to Twitter make sense of this massive onslaught of Tweets? It’s pretty easy to start. Go to Twitter.com and click create an account. Once you’re account is set-up, search for your friends and the names of sites and blogs that you go to regularly. You can also let Twitter help you with a list of people they think you should follow by using the link in the menu bar “Who To Follow”.
It’s likely that you are already regularly visiting websites and news source on the web. Equally likely is that those same sites have some presence on Twitter. So look for an icon or “follow me on Twitter” button and give follow-them (don’t be surprised if they follow you too). So these are the basics.
Live with Twitter for a few days and get a feel for the cadence of those you’re following and if they’re Tweets are of any interest. Don’t be afraid to “unfollow” those people who just aren’t producing anything of interest for you. What will make Twitter useful to you is parring down the incoming “stream” of tweets to the content that is interesting or beneficial to you.
After several days of reading people’s Tweets, you’re going to start seeing how the people you’ve followed are using Twitter. Some people use it as a life-journals, others as a way to promote their content or products, others to aggregate links and videos on the web they find beneficial. You’re also going to begin to see how people are “Re-Tweeting” (re-sending a high-quality Twitter post) and mentioning people with strong links. Start to follow those people too. You’re going to start to see that as you expand the list of people you’re following, you’re going to start seeing more and more links that are of interest and you may have not been seeing previously.
As your Twitter follow lists grows, you’re going to start seeing the “stream” or incoming links move fast and faster through the interface. This is where Twitter Lists come in. Twitter provides an explanation and tutorial on how to make a list, but essentially, it’s a subset of your Twitter group. You can put as many as 500 users in a list and catagorise it in anyway that you like. To make it useful, I have arranged my lists so I can focus on content at any given time. For example, I have a list for design, a list of people I work with, a list for of pharmaceutical industry observers and so on. The list feature can give you the ability to organize and quickly focus on a particular interest when you review your Twitter feed.
In addition to lists, you can also search twitter using keywords or phrases. Like a search engine, Twitter will return posts from the entire Twitter community that contain your particular search string. If you are searching from Twitter’s website, you can then search through the results by last date posted, geographically (tweets near you) and person who is tweeting. All very powerful tools. Google and Bing both provide search features that can focus searches on Twitter and show results in real-time.
You can also search Twitter using hashtags. These tags are a created by putting a “#” sign infront of any word or phrase. Doing so allows that phrase to be easily searched and parsed. Users can then follow a particular hash-tag in a fashion similar to the way that you might follow a user. Some examples are #mobile, #design, or #fdasm. Hashtags are an organic product of the Twitter community and not part of Twitter’s supported API. To use hashtags properly, apply the “#” symbol infront of any word or term without any spaces. Upper and lowercase characters can be used to discern words in a phrase. Managing these hashtags becomes easier if you use Twitter in a desktop or mobile client.
Once you’ve conquered some of the ins-and-outs of Twitter, you may want to start mastering Twitter. Although Twitter’s web interface has come a long way, many power-users make use of desktop clients like TweetDeck (Mac and PC), Tweetie (Mac) or Twirl (PC). Twitter, having recently purchased several third-party companies creating Twitter clients has released their own platform clients. Twitter for the iPhone and Twitter for Mac are two examples. Personally, TweetDeck is a fantastic client developed using Adobe AIR. It works on all major platforms and is very powerful supporting multiple accounts and several other services.
Twitter is as powerful a tool as you make of it. With a little management, careful curating and a little bit of use, you can turn Twitter into a powerful way to pull in information from all over the Internet ranging from topics you are familiar to information that you may never have known existed. It’s important that you spend a few minutes to review some of the etiquette of Twitter as well. It’s a very fickle community and being aware of when to cite a source, what a retweet does and how to direct-message are all important to being a good citizen in the Twitterverse. Chris Brogan has a wonderful Twitter Etiquette post that summarizes everything for the nube and veteran Twitter user. Mashable has created an equally useful Twitter Guide as well.
Follow me on Twitter and happy Tweeting.