Clay Shirky’s Foreign Affairs article, The Political Power of Social Media (registration required), is a fascinating read that rebuts and shreds Malcolm Gladwell’s view about the power of social media to facilitate change. Shirky doesn’t like our Administration’s “instrumental” approach — social media used as short-term action-oriented political tools with the focus on computers rather than phones — because it “overestimates the value of broadcast media while underestimating the value of media that allow citizens to communicate privately among themselves.” He prefers an “environmental” approach using social media as “long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere,” a role that media has played throughout history — providing access to conversation. His discussion of the conservative’s dilemma, formerly known as the dictator’s dilemma, reminds me of the fear of loss of control that many organization leaders have about social media.

Why not give Malcolm Gladwell a share of the spotlight too? In this 2-1/2 minute video (transcript provided) on Big Think, he discusses the creative urge to collect and consume what we come across, to not edit the chaos, but to embrace it. For who knows what nuggets of inspiration might lie within?

I would love to see organizations take to heart Soren Gordhamer’s Five New Paradigms for a Socially Engaged Company. Creating the organizational culture that will bring about these changes? That’s the challenge. Take for instance #2, Mindset. Yes, it would be great if staff had the right mindset for innovation. But how can an organization facilitate that when an employee is juggling a to-do list that’s three pages long. Nevertheless, these are important cultural concepts that must be absorbed.

My pal Jeff Hurt, a prolific writer and brain, explains Why People Join Social Networking Sites. Oh, you thought you already knew? Well, you might be half right, but let Jeff take you a little deeper to the root causes – motivation you need to consider when developing your community strategy.

I have a feeling that Josip Petrusa’s post, Attracting Millennials to Your Event and Why You’re Failing at It, will be the seed of one of my future blog posts. His reasoning applies to more than only events, think organizations too. Boomers may not like reading this, but his perspective is good medicine and rings a bit too true.

social media networking political millennials membership events creativity

Manila protest January 2001 ~ flickr photo by M.a.c.a.r.o.n.i.

Chris Brogan inspired me to think about online communities and “platform fatigue.” In a post aimed at public relations pros, he says:

“We want to connect on maybe two or three networks tops. One or two of these will remain the “commons” services like Facebook or Twitter. The rest of people’s interactions are going to fall into smaller communities, often private or self-selected in some way.”

Our time, attention span and dedication are limited. How much can we spare for a new online community if we’re already spending time on Facebook, Twitter and other sites?

Think about your usual online haunts. Where do you spend time? How do you get there? Do you have to make an effort to go there or does it come to you? It makes a difference when a community isn’t yet a habit.

My homepage is Google Reader. That’s where I start my online day, reading and visiting blogs to comment. I generally return to it for more reading later if I get my work done.

I use Hootsuite to visit Twitter once or twice a day, unless I’m taking a day off. While on Twitter I chat, click links and open tabs to read later. Twitter is my most valuable professional and personal hangout, well worth the time spent there.

I dip into Facebook about once a day to read and comment. Ok, ok, sometimes more than once a day if it’s the weekend. Like many, Facebook is more of a personal hangout.

I scan LinkedIn network updates and questions in my Reader and get my group discussions delivered by email. I don’t go to the LI site unless I’m changing my status or commenting on something. Could I live without LinkedIn? Definitely, and I may change my habits, but I feel strangely compelled to have a presence there, for now.

Isn’t that enough online action? It is for me. If you’re hoping to get my participation in yet another community or social platform, you’ve got a challenge on your hands. My time, brain and heart are already stretched too thin. If you want to play with me, you’ll have to come to one of my playgrounds — blogs, Twitter, Facebook — unless you deliver value, packaged efficiently, that I can’t get anywhere else. But considering the value I already get from my existing networks, that’s a stretch. Do you feel the same way?

However, an online community might be a good stepping stone for people who aren’t yet immersed in social media like I am. Again, only if it provides value they can’t get anywhere else in real life. Sometimes the key to attracting and retaining new members is an old-fashioned remedy — local face-to-face events. Those real life experiences make it easier for social media newbies to deepen their relationships with other community members and with the community itself.

Brogan tells brand managers to settle for “small bites” – small communities. Focus on the quality of the interactions, not the quantity of members. A quality experience leads to member loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing.

I agree there’s a place for small or niche communities, but it might be 3rd or 4th place unless they provide unparalleled value or one-stop shopping plus value. I’d love a niche community where I could do it all — check my Twitter stream, read and comment on blogs, and see Facebook or LinkedIn updates. If I can do that and get to know and learn from others in my niche – be they writers, association professionals, frugal home cooks or craft beer geeks – then you might have a potential resident.

How about you? Are you a member of any niche online communities? What is it about that community that makes you find time to spend there?

The longer you’re on Twitter, the more interesting people you find to follow. Following hundreds (or thousands) of people can be either a positive or negative experience depending on how you handle it. Having many voices in your stream brings you valuable resources and good conversation. But how do you manage it so you’re not overwhelmed with tweets? How do you make sure you see the really good tweets?

Keep in mind that you will never read all the tweets of those you follow and that’s okay. I once heard someone say that Twitter is like a river you dip in and out of. If there’s a really good post, you might miss the first reference to it, but you’ll probably see a subsequent retweet. Just like in real life, you are not going to be part of every good conversation; take advantage of the ones you do come upon.

Lists

Applications like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite allow you to create columns of lists (or groups) of people. Arrange your columns so the priority ones (the people whose tweets you don’t want to miss) are the first ones you see on the left when you log on. I’ve created private lists categorized by my professional and personal interests, including lists of local tweeps categorized either by my relationship with them or by our common interest. If I have limited time on Twitter, this arrangement allows me to check my priority lists and temporarily ignore the rest.

I don’t completely ignore the rest; I usually make time to scan my All Friends column at least 15 minutes a day. I aim to interact with or retweet folks in that column so I can keep expanding my circle of Twitter friends.

You can also create columns for keywords or hashtag searches. Use these columns to follow conference or Twitter chat hashtags or to “listen” to any mention of a keyword that relates to your business, profession or industry.

Follow Management

I showed in my post on Settings how you can have emails sent to you when someone follows you. I created a filter in my email client so that all “new follow” emails go to a specific folder preventing clutter in my inbox. Every week I go through the new follows and make decisions on whether to follow back.

Although it’s time-consuming, I analyze my Twitter follows a few times a year. My favorite tool is Twitcleaner. Besides telling me who’s not following me back, it also tells me who hasn’t tweeted in a long time and who broadcasts instead of chatting. Another service, Friendorfollow, shows who’s not following you back and which of your followers you’re not following.

Time management

It’s easy to lose track of time while tweeting, and easy to rationalize that time since you’re learning and developing relationships. However, as I discussed in my post about engaging on Twitter, stick to a pre-determined schedule. When your time on Twitter is up, close down the application or website. Remove temptation.

How often you get on Twitter (or any other social media platform) will depend on your social media goals and how important it is for you to be interactive and present. I try to get on at least twice a day, although I don’t always do that on weekends. I aim to be responsive, even when I’m not on; therefore my mobile application is set so that I’m alerted if I get a mention or direct message. <Update: I no longer get notifications on my phone — too distracting.>

Mobile applications are a great help in managing Twitter time. If I’m standing in line at the supermarket, I can quickly check my Hootsuite app to see what’s happening. If I get an alert that I’ve received a direct message or mention, I will often pick up my phone and reply to those tweets right away. But I don’t linger on Twitter unless it’s my scheduled Twitter time.

Automation

If you have a new blog post or other valuable tweets to share and your schedule doesn’t allow you to get on Twitter as usual, you can use your Twitter applications to schedule tweets. Hootsuite is my preferred tool to do this. I only schedule tweets when absolutely necessary because I want to be present when I’m tweeting so I can be there for conversation.

Think carefully about automatically feeding your tweets to your Facebook page or LinkedIn profile.

  • Do your Facebook friends understand what RT, @ and # symbols mean? Do they care  about or understand the professional content of those tweets?
  • How often are you tweeting? Will your tweets overwhelm your connections on those platforms?
  • Are your tweets appropriate topics for your connections on those platforms? Are your tweets sometimes personal? Is that appropriate for your professional LinkedIn connections?

Be considerate of others, just like in real life. You can always send specific tweets to Facebook and LinkedIn by using applications for those platforms. Automation may be a time-saver, but you must find out if there is a cost to it.

If you use Foursquare or other location-based services, consider whether every check-in needs to go to Twitter and/or Facebook. I only send my check-ins to those platforms if I’m feeling social and willing to meet up with or say hello to other tweeps in the area, otherwise, to me, it seems like too much noise.

That’s how I use Twitter. Do you have any time management suggestions for a new user?

Update: How to Manage Social Media with Hootsuite and Buffer explains how to use your time on social media more effectively.

—–

Twitter Basics series:

Scott Stratten aka @unmarketing is one of social media’s must-follows on Twitter for his common sense speak-the-truth advice on how to use social media tools. He’s just released his book, UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging, and it’s already a best-seller. The Triangle social media community was rewarded with a stop on his UnBook tour at the Triangle Chapter of the American Marketing Association’s lunch on Thursday due to Chris Moody’s persuasive efforts. If Scott comes to your town, you must go see him. He’s full of wisdom about social media, communication, business and people, and he’s hilarious.

He started off by telling us his UnRules. I know that all my event and association tweeps will like these.

  • Turn on your phones.
  • Turn the ringer on if you think I’ll like the song.
  • Tweet what he says and use the hashtag.

Scott loves Twitter. He once called it the greatest mastermind group in the world, 24/7.” At first he didn’t get it, so he lived on Twitter for a month to figure it out. He discovered that Twitter is all about people. He says that if your market niche is human, Twitter might be for you. Heck, even cats are on Twitter (paging Mr. Scrubby). But, it’s not a business platform; it’s a communication platform that businesses can use – a big difference.

Be consistent, present and responsive on Twitter. Spend a half hour a day on Twitter. His Twitter stream is 75% @replies. Twitter is about talking with people, not to people. Focus on pull and stay, not push and pray. I’ve often seen this advice of his retweeted: “Reminder to take at least five minutes to reply/retweet others. Nothing about you. Interact, engage, give.” He advised us to check out our tweet cloud. The highlighted words will give you a clue about your Twitter behavior.

Conversations –> relationships –> trust –> business. The key to business relationships is trust; you do business with people you know, like and trust. Twitter doesn’t replace real life networking, but it enhances it. But remember, relationships take time.

Twitter is publicized customer service. We avoid confrontation so instead we whine on twitter to the world. Be present and responsive. All we want is validation.

Just because you say your video is viral doesn’t make it so. People spread awesome, not meh. Evoke emotion from people and they’ll spread the word.

If your product or customer service sucks, it sucks harder in social media. If you are a moron in real life, you’re a bigger one on social media.

Someone asked how to reach people who aren’t normally on social media. He said to write great content. That’s the best SEO.

There are a lot of tactics on his “stop it” list. Pay heed.

  • Don’t piss people off with slimy sales tactics like obnoxious buy-now pop up windows, fine print and cold calls.
  • Don’t automate tweets to Facebook. That’s confusing and obnoxious to those who don’t use Twitter.
  • Don’t automate Facebook updates to Twitter. They usually result in cut-off tweets with a link back to a lame Facebook status update.
  • Don’t schedule tweets to go out if you’re not going to be present to participate in the resulting conversation. The shelf life of a tweet is about five minutes. Be present or be an unresponsive jackass.
  • Don’t RT others’ compliments about you. That’s just you talking about you. Lame.
  • Ignore the trolls. They live in their mother’s basement and have bad moustaches. There are too many other good people on Twitter. “My job is not to be the jackass whisperer.”

If you couldn’t make it to the lunch, here are some resources to check out:

Photo credit: David Armano on Flickr

If Twitter perplexes you, you’re probably not following the best people or you’re not sure what the heck to do on there. In my last post I explained how to find the best people to follow. Now it’s time to learn how to tweet.

Twitter is a social media platform. The same people skills that work well in real life will work well here too. Imagine you’re at a conference reception talking to a bunch of people. The guy next to you constantly talks about himself. He doesn’t try to engage in conversation with any of you. He doesn’t even reply when you ask him a question. What is up with him?

Despite how anti-social and weird that sounds, Twitter is full of people like him. They don’t get that Twitter is a conversational interactive platform and they approach it the same way they use traditional broadcast media. Even some PR agencies are guilty of this.

In a social space like Twitter, whether you’re an individual or a business, your tweets should be a mix of sharing resources and conversation with a bit of promotion, if you need it for professional or business reasons. Opinions about the ideal mix are all over the place. Here’s something to start with: 60% of your tweets share resources, 30% are conversational (responding and chatting) and 10% are promotional.

Does that seem like a lot of content to share? It might if you only use Twitter for personal reasons. Take some time to think about your reasons for using Twitter, the value you want to bring to others and the type of relationships and reputation you seek. Maybe your witty banter will be enough, but you might decide to supplement that with retweets and links to posts that you think others will find interesting too.

The secret to good sharing

How do you find those good retweets and posts? By following people who share good stuff and subscribing to good blogs. Always keep an eye out for good content to share. I keep a document going in Word called Tweets for Later and when I find something good, I jot down the link. I try to keep those tweets under 120 characters so it will be easy for others to retweet it without editing. Always use a URL shortening service, like bit.ly or ow.ly, to shorten any links you wish to include in your tweets.

If I see a tweet sharing what looks like a good blog post, but I don’t have time to read it, I’ll mark that tweet as a Favorite (Like) and get back to it when I do have time. Between these two methods, I usually have enough to share with others.

Twitter Time

How much time should you spend on Twitter? It’s best to have a regular dependable presence. If you only show up once every few weeks, no one will have a chance to get to know you. Twitter is made up of many communities. You’ll find that after a while you’ll feel like a part of many different ones. Commit to those communities and relationships by being there. I try to log on every weekday, usually for a bit of time in the morning and then again later in the day. When I have more free time, I may do more. And of course on some days, it’s a challenge to get on at all, but I try. On weekends, if I log on, I tend to tweet more about my personal interests. Experiment and find times that work for you, even if only for 10-15 minutes at a time.

I strongly suggest you find a way to limit your time – set a timer if you must. I often set my kitchen timer so I have to get out of my office and stretch my legs. It is very easy to get sucked in and find that an hour has elapsed and it’s far too easy to rationalize your time spent there – after all, you’re learning and nurturing relationships. Be mindful.

You also will have to decide how personal you want to get on Twitter. Some people keep things strictly professional and others, like me, allow our personality and interests to permeate our tweets. I find the latter approach to be more real and interesting and I prefer following people who do the same. If you do get personal, always imagine your mother is reading your tweets (mine does!) so you don’t embarrass anyone, including yourself. Even when you’re not at work, you still do represent your company in other people’s minds. All your tweets are indexed by Google and will live on Google search forever; keep that in mind.

Update: How to Manage Social Media with Hootsuite and Buffer explains how to use your time on social media more effectively.

A well respected tweep about town

Bringing your whole personality to Twitter will differentiate you from others. You become more than just a source of good content; you’re a real personality. If you tweet on behalf of a business, consider including your name and photo somewhere in the bio or background. People connect to people, not logos.

Set up listening tools that will alert you when people reply to you or mention you, so you can reply back or thank them. Due to Twitter wonkiness, some mentions slip through the cracks and don’t show up in Twitter applications. Instead of relying on Twitter, set up Google alerts on your username and any variations, for example, your username without the ‘@’ symbol and any common misspellings. If you tweet out links to your blog posts, create a bit.ly or ow.ly account to shorten and track mentions of those URLs.

Give the spotlight to others as often as you can. Share the good tweets of others by retweeting and giving credit to them. Thank others when they share your content. Be a good social media citizen by helping others when you can. Every now and then filter your All Friends column by “?” to see if you can answer questions. Connect tweeps who might be able to help each other or find each other interesting.

If you are a source of good content, and a good social media citizen, people will come to like and trust you and that can lead to deeper relationships. And, if you’re a business, those relationships can lead to referrals, leads and sales. That’s good social media karma.

In the next post, I’ll talk more about managing your Twitter use and time.

Twitter Basics series

When I talk to people about Twitter, some of them have tried it out and just don’t see the appeal. After digging deeper I find out the problem is related to two issues – they don’t know how to find good people to follow and they don’t know how to engage. I’ll discuss how to engage in my next post. If you’re not following the right people, it’s like being at a party surrounded by uninteresting, and possibly obnoxious, conversations. Spare me.

Whom do you want to follow?

Think about what you hope to gain from Twitter and that will help you figure out what types of people to follow.

  • Those who are in your industry or profession so you can chat, learn from each other and/or share resources with each other? Perhaps even become Twitter friends with them? Or maybe in-real-life friends?
  • Those attending the same conference or event as you?
  • Those who have the same interests or hobbies as you? Those who send out good information about those interests or hobbies?
  • Those who live in your community?
  • Prospective or current customers/members?
  • News and information sources?
  • Interesting people – celebrities, athletes, authors, thought leaders, etc.?
  • Family, friends, acquaintances and/or colleagues?

On Facebook, and even LinkedIn, you usually know the people you friend or add to your network. Twitter is different; you don’t need to know people to follow them. Complete strangers follow me all the time on Twitter, it’s perfectly acceptable. And remember, you don’t need to follow them back. Check out their profile (bio, location and website) and review their tweets. If they can provide value to you (interesting information, conversation or laughs), go ahead and follow them; you can always unfollow them if you change your mind.

Find those you know.

<Twitter and LinkedIn instructions, functions and features change frequently. These instructions may not match how these sites work today but you’ll get a sense of how to find people.>

Click on Find People at the top of your homepage. You can use Find on Twitter to do a search for names of people you know, but this can be tedious. A quicker way is to click on Find Friends and upload your email contacts to find matches.

If you want to see if your LinkedIn connections are on Twitter, first export your LinkedIn connections by going to Contacts > My Connections > Export Connections at the bottom of the page. Import the .CSV file into your email account (Gmail or Yahoo – create an account if you don’t have one). Upload those email addresses to Twitter using the Find Friends tool.

Find those you don’t know.

Twitter provides some suggestions for people to follow by interests in Find People > Browse Interests, but these are generally people with huge followings who may not be very conversational. However, they could be worth following for the information and/or insight they share. You can also click on Suggestions for You to see the people whom Twitter thinks you might like. You’re more likely to find good people this way.

Twitter Lists are very handy for finding people to follow. I’ve only created a few but many people have created several categorized by topic. If you know people from your industry or profession who are on Twitter, check their profile to see if they have any lists you can check out for follow recommendations

Once you start following a few people, notice whom they are retweeting and check out their profile. I’ve found many interesting people to follow this way.

Do the authors of the blogs you read have a Twitter account displayed on their blog? Look for a widget in their sidebar, header, footer or About/Contact page showing either their tweets or the blue Twitter icon or bird. Whom do they follow?

Hashtags are added to tweets to mark them as related to a conference (like #asae10), a Twitter chat (#blogchat) or a topic (#ncbeer). Use the Twitter search function to see the recent hashtagged tweets from a conference or chat. Check out the profiles of those using the hashtag to see if they are good follows.

Twitter does have an advanced search function where you can filter searches by keyword and location to find people. Unfortunately their search function only goes back a few days at most. You’re better off using Google by typing in ‘site:twitter.com <your keyword(s)>’.

One of the oldest hashtags on Twitter is #followfriday or #ff. People use it to recommend other tweeps to follow. Those who do it well will include a reason for following but this isn’t always the case.

There are many Twitter directories where you can find people who match your search terms. A few of the most popular are:

Follow or not?

Remember, it’s okay to follow strangers; it’s not considered stalking. Here are some things to consider when making the follow decision.

  • Review their profile’s bio, location and website. Is there anything useful there? Have they uploaded a photo? The completeness of their profile gives a clue as to their experience with Twitter.
  • Are you following for information, conversation or a mixture of both? Review a page or two of their tweets. Do they talk to people? Or do they merely broadcast and have no engagement with others?
  • If they only broadcast but their links and information have value for you, they might be worth following.
  • Do they RT others and share good information? Or are their RTs only references to themselves? If all they share are self-promotional tweets and RTs, they aren’t worth following.
  • When’s the last time they tweeted? Some folks take a class about social media, start an account, tweet a bit and then disappear forever.

Before you start following too many people, think about what they’ll see when they check out your profile. Give them enough information to make a fair follow decision. Make sure your profile is complete. Have enough tweets on your page to make sure you look equally as interesting and valuable to them. In my next post I’ll show how you can be engaging and successful on Twitter, but until then you want to have a page worth of tweets that are a mix of sharing and conversation, with the emphasis on sharing:

  • Share links to good blog posts. Include a brief description and give credit to the author using their twitter username, for example @deirdrereid, if they have one. Use bit.ly or ow.ly to shorten your link.
  • Find someone to talk to – a friend, colleague or stranger – and either remark on something they tweeted, ask them a question (something they can answer in a 140-character tweet) or answer a question they ask.

If you’re already an experienced Twitter user, how do you find people to follow?

Twitter Basics series

In previous posts in this series, I shared ways Twitter can help you with professional development, networking and relationship building, and personal branding; gave step-by-step instructions on creating a Twitter account and profile; and explained how Twitter works. Now it’s time to review your Settings to understand the available functions and to have your Twitter account best optimized for your use. Start by selecting Settings at the top of the page and then click on Account.

<Twitter instructions, functions and features change frequently. These instructions may not match Twitter’s website today but you’ll get a good sense of how to edit your settings.>

Account

Email – Check ‘let others find me by email.’ Your email will not be displayed to anyone, however those who know your email address will be able to find you by using it to search for you.

Tweet location – ‘Add a location to your tweets’ – I don’t check this box. I don’t feel the need to share my location with the whole world. More and more people do share their location, particularly with the growing popularity of location-based services like Foursquare and now Facebook Places. Remember that Twitter is public, your tweets are viewable by anyone who goes to your profile page; keep that in mind when deciding whether to add a location to your tweets.

Tweet privacy – ‘Protect my tweets’ – I don’t protect my tweets so I don’t check this box. I usually don’t follow those who protect their tweets. How can I check them out if I can’t see what they tweet? You limit your opportunities for networking, relationships, branding and professional development if you protect your tweets.

While we’re discussing privacy, let’s talk about spam and phishing. Despite what many people think, spam and other tomfoolery is not causing problems for most people on Twitter, including me. Here are some ways we avoid spam and such:

  • Only follow those whose profiles you review. I don’t auto-follow – a method where you employ a third-party Twitter application to automatically follow back anyone who follows you. These auto-follow apps save time but in return you end up following hundreds of spam accounts. If you don’t follow a spammer, you won’t see their spam.
  • Don’t click on links in direct messages that seems out-of-character, suspicious, vague or make reference to a video or link that promises something, even if from a friend. If someone gets their account hacked, meaning someone has gained unauthorized access to their account by using software to figure out their password, it can result in the hacker sending direct messages with bad links to the victim’s followers.
  • Beware of phishing schemes where a user is tricked into disclosing their username and password. This can happen on a fake Twitter login page, a page promising to get you more followers or make you money, or via a DM or email. Authentic Twitter pages will always have http://twitter.com/ as the base domain, and will never have a word in between “twitter” and “.com.” Twitter will never send you a DM or email asking you for your password. They might send you an email recommending that you change your password if they discover, before you do, that your account has been hacked, but they will never ask you for your password.
  • Use strong passwords that are not found in dictionaries – combos of letters, numbers and punctuation.
  • You can block a user if they are overly spammy or vulgar (porn accounts). When you block someone, they cannot follow, mention you or add you to their lists. You can also report a user as spam. There are buttons/options to both block and report as spam on your Twitter homepage and in Twitter applications.

Notices

New follower emails – yes, notify me. Set up a folder and filter in your email client so that all Twitter emails go to that folder and don’t clutter up your inbox. Check this folder weekly, so you can check out profiles and make all your following decisions at one time.

Direct text email – yes, email me when I get a direct message. Even though I get direct message (DM) alerts on my phone, I also like to get an email in case I don’t see the alert or want to flag the message for later action.

Profile

See Part 2 for a thorough explanation of this section.

Design

Twitter has a default background, or you can choose one of their suggested options or upload your own image by selecting Change Background Image. There are also many companies who create customized Twitter backgrounds for you. If you are uploading an image for your background, make sure it is large enough or it will tile. Twitter limits the file size to 800k. The image must be in the PNG, GIF or JPG formats. Because monitor resolutions differ, it’s suggested that your image is around 1600×1200 in dimensions to scale properly on large monitors.

Connections

This is where you can see the applications that you have authorized to access your account. You can revoke access if you don’t recognize one of them or wish to get rid of one of them.

Next time, we’ll get to the most critical information of all — how to find good people to follow and how to really use Twitter — how to engage.

Twitter Basics series

Let’s get back to Twitter. Part 1 of this series shared ways that Twitter can help you with professional development, networking and relationship building, and professional reputation and branding. Part 2 gave step-by-step instructions on how to set up an account and create your profile. Now it’s time to learn how Twitter works and how to use it.

How to access Twitter

There are two ways to access Twitter: from the Twitter website or from a third-party application. Most regular users, including me, choose one of the Twitter applications because they have more features to enhance the user experience. The most common applications are Tweetdeck (desktop-based — you download the application and any updates to your computer), Hootsuite (web-based) and mobile applications for your cell phone. I use Hootsuite for my iPhone, iPad and laptop.

How does Twitter work?

Twitter is a micro-blogging or public texting service. You send messages, also called updates or tweets, that are 140 characters or less to your followers, and you see the tweets of the people you are following. How do you follow someone? You go to their profile page, for example, http://twitter.com/deirdrereid, review their bio and tweets, and decide whether you want to follow them. If you do, click on the Follow button underneath their header photo. When you follow me, it means you are subscribing to my tweets. When you are signed in on your Twitter homepage (http://twitter.com), my tweets will appear there along with the tweets of all the other people whom you are following.

If I choose to follow you back, I’ll see your tweets on my homepage. Unlike Facebook where ‘friending’ is mutual – that is, if I’m friends with you, then you’re automatically friends with me – on Twitter, following is not mutual. I can choose to follow you back or I may not. Despite what some say, you don’t need to follow back everyone who follows you. Why should you? They may tweet about topics you don’t care about. Why should you be obliged to see that? Be selective in whom you follow. You can unfollow anyone at anytime by going to their profile page and unclicking the Follow button.

In your settings (the topic of my next post), you can choose to receive an email alert when someone follows you. When you learn of someone following you, review their bio and tweets and decide if their content is interesting or valuable enough to you that you’d want to follow them.

Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so you have to get creative with spelling, punctuation and grammar to stay within the limit. Because links can take up much of those 140 characters, Twitter applications have built-in URL shortening features.

The @ symbol is used directly in front of a username (@lancearmstrong) when you are talking or replying to that person, or mentioning them in a tweet. You will never see a username without the @ symbol preceding it (except in Direct Messages — I’ll explain further down).

Twitter reply

Twitter mention

Your conversation — your @ tweet (message or reply) to a person — is seen only by the two of you and anyone who follows both of you. Those mutual followers can eavesdrop or participate in your conversation but no one else will see it in their stream of tweets, unless for some reason they are looking at your profile page where all your tweets are displayed to the public. For example, I send a tweet to @Mary. @Scott follows both of us so he will see it in his stream (on his homepage) too. However, @Allison only follows me and not @Mary, so she won’t see that conversation in her stream.

An RT is a retweet – when you share someone’s tweet with your followers, giving the original author credit for their tweet. There’s a Retweet button or option on each tweet on your Twitter home page or in your Twitter application. Retweeting simply copies the tweet with the author’s username and resends it under your username as well.  Retweeting is a great way to share interesting or valuable messages or links with your followers.

Twitter retweet – first Mike retweeted Neal’s tweet, then I retweeted Mike’s

A DM is a direct message – a private tweet to a person who follows you. No one else can see it. You write a DM to @Mary like this, “D Mary What time shall we meet on Friday?,” preceding your message with a “D” but no “@.” There are also options (buttons to select) to send DMs on your Twitter home page and in the Twitter applications; that’s how direct messages are usually sent. Direct messages go to your email and a special area on your Twitter home page or Twitter application. You cannot DM someone who does not follow you; it must be a mutual follow in order to DM.

The # symbol (hashtag) is used to label or tag tweets. People will add a hashtag to their tweets from or about a conference and its content, for example #asae10 in the first tweet shown above. Hashtags are also used for Twitter chats – public chats at set times, usually weekly, in which anyone participating will use a hashtag, like #blogchat, to mark their tweets. Participants will set up a search on the hashtag to see all marked tweets so they can participate in the chat or simply read its tweets. You can do this by setting up a search column in your Twitter application.

In the next post we’ll review your Settings to understand what features are available and to have your Twitter account optimized for your use.

Twitter Basics series