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Should You Use Twitter?

Welcome the Twittersphere! To all you soon to be Tweeties the Hive-mind is waiting for you. In this post, we’re going to look at the ins and outs of Twitter, how it works and ask the question “Should You Use Twitter?”.

Yes, really, this is how people interact on Twitter. When a friend first told me about the usefulness of Twitter I laughed. I was firmly in the Cameron camp of ‘too many Tweets makes a t**t’ – but I am now that most dangerous of things – a recent convert!

Twitter, for those of you who have so far managed to escape it, is a social media phenomenon allowing real-time broadcasting of ideas and information to global or local audiences. This audience is made up of ‘Followers’ and these people self-select by interest group.  The source of the information (in the form of Tweets) is all of those people with a Twitter account sending out into the ether – or Twittersphere – their 140-character thoughts and ideas.

It has got a bad name for the pointless and mundane Tweeting of daft ‘thoughts for the day’ or ill-informed opinions (these can be simply avoided, just don’t follow them) but in its most useful form, Twitter is the most wonderful source of instant market research and feedback you will find.

When you get more familiar with it you will start to notice that the information has a trail, it moves through the system like a shoal of fish.  If something catches the attention of the popular mind the information appears first on Twitter.  You will notice a few Tweets on the topic, probably from those people who are normally ahead of the game, then a lot more,  then suddenly every second Tweet will be on the same topic; next you will be told it is trending.

Leaving the nest

Twitter is a Social Media platform. Go to the Twitter website and register for an account –it’s free and you can have more than one.  You will be asked for a brief description of what your Twitter-self is about which will appear at the top of your Twitter webpage and will be what everyone sees when they check you out.

You will also be asked to upload an image. This is important as it will be seen in every tweet. It can be your logo or a relevant image, many people put up a photo of themselves, but almost all do something quirky with it, you can go back and change it later.

You are now ready to Tweet!

The information on Twitter arrives as a stream of Tweets called a ‘Timeline’ which first shows Tweets of the last hour or so.  Different people check their Timeline at different times of the day; it’s a sort of eco-system. You will soon notice the busy times for your target audience, and you can send out your tweets then.  The mass of followers is often referred to as the ‘Hive-mind’ and often a question is thrown out to this and will even get a response.  A very broad topic has a Hashtag ‘#’ added to encourage a general following, sometimes this takes off other times not; just keep an eye on it!

Think of your Twitter account as part of your personal brand, online. Mostly you just want to keep it consistent, so it should also support this public persona. By its nature it’s a bit more chatty and informal that many other online spaces, but do not be lured into the trap of being too personal. Your potential customer may love your muffins, but follow the other Rugby team! Stay on message all the way.

Joining the flock

The first question I keep being asked is how to get followers. A Tweeter without followers is a fairly hopeless case,  of course, with no followers no one would see your Tweets.  However, fear not!  You will be followed! It is the nature of Twitter that people experimentally attach themselves to anything new until they decide if they like it, so a lot of random follows will occur. Others are actively searching for information by category and theme.  Most Twitter users are as keen as drug dealers to get new people hooked and will be very enthusiastic about helping newbies to get followers.

As you follow others, the Twitter platform gets a feel for what and who you are and will automatically offer you suggestions of ‘Similar’ for you to follow. This is how you increase your own ‘Follows’ too – as you add yourself to others’ follow lists, they may reciprocate.  There is also ‘Friendly Friday’, when Tweeters send on the Tweet links they like or recommend, you will find yourself on one of these eventually, especially by those you have followed.  Most people also just ask friends to Re-Tweet their first Tweets for a while or to include them in a Friendly Friday.

How do you find the ‘right’ people to follow? There are a couple of ways. First of all go to all the websites of whatever interests you, most of these have a ’share’ button with  a Twitter option where you can choose to Follow them.  Also, see who is following the Tweeters you like. You open the Tweet, and you can see who has ‘Re-Tweeted’ or ‘Favourited’ their Tweet – someone who likes what you like, possibly following a similar interest. Also, if you go a Tweeters home page or follow a conversation, you can see other Tweeters there too. Once again, the idea is that you will follow them; they then notice you and may follow you back.

If all goes according to plan, they then receive a Tweet from you that they like and forward it to their followers, and one of these – a totally new contact to you – may then follow you and the whole thing kicks off again.  This is simply the nature of Twitter.

Watch out for Sparrow-Hawkes

There are problems of verification – not everyone Tweeting is a reliable source. During Sandy, the recent storm on the East coast of the US, an image of the Statue of Liberty being battered by waves began doing the rounds on Twitter.  It got sent on – that is Forwarded – at a rate of knots until it was realised that it was a fake; a still from a popular movie – not a real life shot.  So, as a source of information the usual online rules apply – be careful who you believe. But this has a positive flip side – you can be that reliable source.

Never, never, never Tweet anything offensive. Ever. Play very safe on this score. You are not aiming for headlines in the Sun; you just want a steady interested following who are happy to introduce you to their followers. There is nothing more disconcerting than a perfectly civilised Tweeter suddenly Tweeting an angry comment – it jars.

Never, never, never, never Tweet anything that even might be slander or libellous. This includes Re-Tweeting. There is no such thing as untraceable; there is a cyber-trail, so you run the risk of being sued. Even if it is humorous, be careful. A joke one day can be an embarrassment the next. Context is everything, and in the Twittersphere this is constantly changing.   You may have heard about trolls or trolling, this is the phenomenon whereby a Tweeter offends the Hive-mind and it responds with a vast quantity of timeline filling Tweets in varying degrees of hostility.

Finally, like all things webby, it is there for eternity, especially the stuff you wish wasn’t!  That is just the nature of the internet.

Finding the worm

The Holy Grail in Twitterland is the Re-Tweet. You want someone out there to love your Tweet so much that they want to share it with their followers. One way to gain followers is to regularly forward information about freebies or the like. But a word of caution, always stay ‘on message’.  If your ‘story’ is about food, then keep everything you do about food. This is the reason your followers are following you, and you become a source of useful information to them.

In fact, it is vital that you do not only sell to people,  Twitter is best used as a way of just letting your presence be known, your home page on Twitter will have a brief profile of who you are and what you do, and a link to your website or blog. Twitter is just the way you get people to look. If you have an offer by all means tell people on Twitter, but if all you ever do is sell you will lose your followers.

There are different levels of engagement in the Twittersphere. You can reply to an individual Tweeter, a DM (direct message), or simply broadcast in general – the most usual way. Different people chose different levels too.  A museum may keep it very detached, and just announce new exhibitions; a comedien may be telling the world what they are doing in a supermarket queue.  Just keep in mind none of this is random, it is all orchestrated.  How much of ‘you’ ends up in your Twitter persona is a personal choice, just keep in mind it will feed into your general public persona.

It is big topics that have a Hashtag ‘#’ typically about a major event but also for conferences and trade fairs. Anyone interested just searches using this Hashtag to read all the relevant Tweets. These days many specialist events are being live streamed while inviting interaction from the online audience via Twitter. In this instance you would not be sending a Tweet with a sales pitch, but be aiming to get noticed in the timeline, so you would be genuinely engaging in the conversation.  Sometimes moderators will read out the queries, and may mention you by name over the live stream too.

If you are attending the conference you can be the source of the information stream and live Tweet to the conference Hashtag from your own Twitter account, reporting on the speakers. You may need to register to Tweet out on the Hashtag but the advantage is that the Hashtag will be advertised by the organisation,  and so your Tweets will go to anyone choosing to follow the conference Hashtag. This is another way for you to both connect with and find new people to follow.

Birds of a feather

There are various kinds of Tweeters. There are lurkers, those who consume but never add to the flow (these are ok to have as followers), there are those who are ‘curating’ information,  that is they are locating interesting resources, selecting from these whatever might be of interest to their followers, and passing the information on – this is what the vast majority of Tweets are doing. Then there are the crème-de-la-crème of the Twittersphere, – the Content Creators.

These content originators add to the sum of knowledge being spread around. Typically these are bloggers, or big organisations running major events. But if you have the capacity to be an information originator that increases your street cred exponentially, the more esoteric the better.

Your Tweet can include a weblink to another resource – but a word of warning, no one forwards a link if they don’t know what it is, and not all mobile devices have speedy Wi-Fi or download capacity  – even now! So always include a sentence about what it is, and ideally use an embedded image – again, Tweeters like instant gratification, if they have got as far as opening your Tweet they will be delighted to see the image there, but may not bother to click a second time to another online destination.

Yes, they are that impatient! But then again that is the nature of Twitter. And that can be used to your advantage. To begin with, 140 characters seems very short, but it doesn’t half focus the mind! You would be surprised how much you can get into those short sentences. If someone is interested they will follow it up, all the Tweet has to do is get their attention.

Most of your Tweets should be about giving your followers something useful, they will be following you because you are a source of useful information to them and their own followers.

Taking flight

If this has encouraged you to have a go, start small and play with Twitter for a while. You will soon pick up the social context.  It can be an idea to set up a starter account to practice on before starting with your  business Twitter. In either case, keep your starter Tweets very simple, perhaps just very harmless newsy information; you are just establishing your category and general presence. When you get a bit more settled in then you can be more ambitious.

Welcome to the Twittersphere, the Hive-mind- awaits you – happy Tweeting!

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