Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Twit this!

I did a quick post a while back about Twitter. That was when I had just started using it and before I really had much of a concept for how it can and should be used.

I'm no Twitter expert. Just because I use the service doesn't mean I know all the ins and outs, but what follows is my attempt at a bit of education for my readers who don't yet know what all the fuss is about.

What is it?
Twitter is a "microblogging" service. Yeah, I don't know what it means either. Essentially Twitter lets you express your views for the whole world to see, but you have to do it in 140 characters or less. This forces you to keep your thoughts brief, or to tweet multiple times. Twitter is constantly indexed by Google. In fact, you can easily make it such that your Google search returns only the latest Twitter results. Sometimes though, Twitter acts very well as a search engine, especially when you are looking for information (or opinions) on the *latest* news. Twitter users tend to have a fairly short attention span. For instance, the day Michael Jackson died - Twitter was the place to go for information (and rumors and opinions and straight up lies too).

Twitter users have "Followers," which are just like your "Friends" on Facebook. Your followers can see the things that you tweet. A lot of new Twitter users seem to think that sheer number of followers is the most important part of Twitter. It isn't. The number of followers you have doesn't matter. This is *not* a popularity contest.

Twitter introduced some fun ideas to Web 2.0

To Tweet = To Twitter. It's official. Either form of the verb is acceptable. "I Twitter" is the same as "I Tweet." I tweet, therefore I am (?)


RT = Retweet. If I see something cool on Twitter, I can retweet it to share it with my followers. Retweeting is the way that most information on Twitter gets around.

# = Hashtag. Hashtags are great for categorizing your tweets or for joining large conversations within the Twitter community. For instance, when my hometown of Boulder caught fire a few months back, I tweeted news and then included #BoulderFire in the tweet. That let other users on Twitter (and search engines like Google) find my tweet more easily.
In the photography community, Chase Jarvis regularly invites his followers to ask him questions or leave comments via a specified hashtag like #CJlive

@Mention. If I want to include another user in a tweet, I can include the @ symbol, then their username. For instance "Man! Just had a totally awesome convo with @simonhucko about #photography"

 "Tweetups." A Tweetup is a meeting that allows Twitter users to meet each other face-to-face rather than interacting entirely on the internet.

Why bother?
This seems to be the issue most people have with Twitter. Why should you bother? Nobody wants to read about what someone had for lunch, or the last time you took a pee. Luckily, that isn't what Twitter is for. I use it for a few main purposes:
1) to complain To seek customer service. Many successful companies are using Twitter to monitor the opinions and word of mouth that revoles around their good or service. If you want quick service, find whether the company in question has an actively managed Twitter account. Oddly enough, complaining via Twitter tends to produce faster, higher quality results than calling customer service (in India!).
For instance: Qwest DSL has been pretty bad in Flagstaff over the last couple months. I called customer service (in India!) and talked to a rep for 35 minutes. I had to deal with all his BS about "is your router plugged in? Pull up Internet Explorer please (F that), Please reboot your computer." I worked in IT and I know how to fix a problem when it's on my end. Screw him. After 35 minutes of screwing around with "Jim," I was moved up the chain and learned: "I am so sorry for the inconvenience sir, there is nothing we can do."

Really? Honestly? Rawr.

Annoyed, I turned to Twitter. Using Google, I discovered the Qwest customer service Twitter handle. (@talktoqwest) and I posted something like "Internet goes down every night from 6pm-6am. Thanks for nothing @talktoqwest !"

5 minutes after I posted that, I had a Direct Message from the rep running the Twitter feed. He asked for my DSL number and a contact number.
The next day, I got a call from Qwest corporate headquarters in Boise, ID. A lovely (english-speaking) gentleman explained to me that the problem was hardware-related: one of their servers in Phoenix crashed. He gave me a time frame for when the problem would be fixed and promised to move my traffic through a new gateway.

That's some VIP treatment, and all I had to do was complain on Twitter. I could go on and on with examples like this. It just works.

2) I also use Twitter to promote this blog, my business and anyone I respect. The trick here is doing it with the proper frequency.

3) Twitter is great for when you're bored at work. A lot of twitter feeds are run by people who seek only to amuse followers. @Lord_Stewie impersonates the Family Guy character Stewie. Hilarious. @shitmydadsays is great too.

4) Sharing. The vast majority of tweets that I see, especially those from photographers, include a link, a photo or a video. Sharing is caring and it gets information around *really* quickly.

Etiquette on Twitter is tricky. I've been chewed out by other users before - but here are a couple things I've picked up over the last year or two.

  • It is polite to follow your followers. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt and follow them. If they do something that annoys me, I can always "unfollow" them later.
  • Generally speaking, less than 1/3 of your tweets should be self-promotion.
  • Your tweets should be spaced out such that you don't hijack anyone's entire feed. Seeing 10 posts from one person in quick succession sucks.
  • Long Twitter conversations should be had via Direct Message (DM) instead of @reply to keep from hijacking feeds

I'm sure I've forgotten a whole bunch of important info about Twitter. I'm no expert, but I hope that this post gave you a better idea about what Twitter is, how it can be used, and how to use it without pissing people off.

Time for this (micro)blogger to head to bed. Goodnight world!

BTW, you can find me on Twitter: @mattbeaty