Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to Use Twitter (A Beginner's Guide)...

The media has recently grabbed hold of Twitter and officially annointed it, "The Next Big Thing". But amidst all the hype, people are continuously failing to understand how to use it or what to do with it. What's all the fuss really about?

First of all, do NOT think of Twitter the same way as you think of Facebook. On Facebook, you create a social-network of "friends" who you know in the real world. On Twitter, you create a network of "followers", most of whom you don't know at all. They are merely people who find your updates interesting.

You may ask yourself why bother. The magic of Twitter lies in two things. First, the purpose of Twitter is to have real-time conversations with like-minded people in cyberspace. If you have, say, 200 followers who share your interests, then you can post a tweet that says, "Desperately in need of a good book recommendation. Any ideas?". I've done this myself. Within a few minutes I had a dozen recommendations from different people.

Second, Twitter is fabulous as a source for real-time news and information. For example, remember when that U.S. Airways plane crash-landed into the Hudson River last month? When I first heard about it, I didn't go to the New York Times website nor did I turn on CNN. Both of those have a varying time lag from the moment when something occurs until it is actually covered. Instead, I went directly to Twitter and already there were hundreds of people talking about it, a few eyewitness accounts, and helpful links for emergency hotlines, etc. Basically, because Twitter posts messages live, you can read and discuss things as they are actually happening.

The second most common thing that I get asked about Twitter is how to get started. As The Nerfherder Gal so delicately put it, "I can't for the life of me figure out how to use Twitter!".

Here are the steps for newbies to take. After creating your account, I'm willing to become your first follower, so just go to http://twitter.com/rdomanski and click on "Follow" underneath my picture. Now, whenever I post a new tweet, it will show up on your home page - which is kind of like your News Feed on Facebook. And once I follow you back, your tweets will likewise appear in my feed.

Still with me? Ok, what you really want to do in order to make Twitter useful is create a whole network of people that you find interesting. On the right-column of your home page, click on the link for "Everyone". Find a few people who are writing about your favorite topics or just writing in an entertaining way, click their profile picture, and "follow" them. Many Twitter users will automatically start following you back, thus creating for you not only a source of information you find interesting, but also an audience to whom who can broadcast your own messages.

Once you've created a rich network of followers, you'll be amazed at how much useful information is out there, as well as the dialogues taking place around it. Remember, the real power of Twitter is in the conversations. The more you comment, re-tweet, and reply to other people's messages, the more you'll get from the experience.

Finally, when you want to play a little, you should check out the Twitter search engine which displays the hot "trending topics" of the moment (what people are talking about the most), Twitturly, which displays the most popular hyperlinks that people are sending around, and, when you really want to geek out, download either Twhirl or Tweetdeck as a desktop client. Also, definitely link your cell phone to your Twitter account so that you can remotely post tweets simply by sending a text message.

If even 80-year-old U.S. Congressmen can figure this out, then you really don't have any good excuse :-)


At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. I've been signed up to twitter for over a year now - but my jury is still out as to the real usefulness. I was interested to come across tweetminster http://tweetminster.co.uk/ yesterday.

Good luck with your project.
I'm doing a PhD in the UK.
check out my blog at peacockbird.co.uk

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

Thanks, Chloe. Trust me, Twitter can be very helpful when it comes to getting news and info in your specialty field. Just build a solid network and it will make life much easier.

Doctoral students of the world unite!

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Perfect!
I'm a huge Twitter fan but no one else I know has it because they don't get it.

I was about to type something like this myself but 100% of what I wanted to say is already here!!! Thanks a lot, friend!

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

Thanks for the compliment, David :-)

Feel free to spread the link around.


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