Friday, July 30, 2010

Twitter: An introduction

After Helena's great run-down on the hard questions of platform building on Monday (and hey, Christina Katz showed up too!), I'd thought I'd offer up an introduction to what seems to be the most confusing option for a writer: Twitter.

Twitter is one of those things that seems incredibly strange when you haven't tried it, can be difficult to explain to others, and feels hard to get going on. Taking thirty seconds to stop drinking coffee so you can tell people you're drinking coffee? Why on earth would someone do that?

The thing about Twitter is it's exactly what you want it to be. If you don't want to sit in on a conversation about what you had for breakfast in real life, you don't need to do so on Twitter. I for one would rather go talk about writing, or get a little industry insight, or even talk tea!

Content, however, is easy enough to figure out once you get going. It's the getting going that can be so daunting. So here's a quick overview of some Twitter basics to help you get oriented.

Getting Started:
You sign up. You pick your name. You're taken to your new home page. That's great! You have 0 followers, 0 following, 0 listed, 0 tweets. Not so great. What do you do?

First, some terms. Followers: the people who want to see what you're saying. Following: the people whose messages (tweets) you want to read. Listed: lists made by other Twitter users grouping together similar people for following convenience (more on this later). Tweets: Everything you say, in 140 characters or less, posted to Twitter.

What do you do first? Tweet! You made the account, try it out! Show the world you're alive, and that this account is real. Don't like what you said? You can always delete it.

Next: find people. There's a metaphor in here somewhere about tweeting in a forest with no one around, but let's not mix birds and trees here. There's no sense sharing your musings with an empty void, so go follow a few people! You've got a few options here.

1] When you make your account, you can allow Twitter to search your email contacts for any friends who are already online.
2] You can click the Find People link at the top of the page and search for people, groups, topics, etc.
3] Six degrees of Twitter separation -- check out who the people you follow like to follow, who they mention in tweets, or look at their lists (again, I'm getting to this.)
4] Off-site links from your favourite authors' pages, from blogs, from Facebook, etc. You'll find people all sorts of ways.

Now that you're tweeting, and following a decent number of people (no need to overkill right from the start), it's time to get a handle on the lingo.

@ - Appears before a user's name, such as @hayleyelavik or @PrairieChicks. If you type someone's username in this format, it will alert them that you're talking to them. Click on the @yourusername link on your homepage to find any time someone has mentioned you on Twitter.

Retweet - A term for the reposting of someone else's message. People may do this through Twitter's Retweet button or may use the abbreviation RT, followed by the user's name (with the @ in front), to prefix a reposted message. Always cite your sources, it's just good etiquette!

Lists - Any user can create lists grouping people of a similar category together. This can be anything from "People living in Saskatchewan" to "My favourite romance authors" to "The Prairie Chicks" (a group we would create if more of us were on there... hint hint). If you're following someone whose tastes you share and whose opinions you value, take a look at their lists (or lists they've been included in) and see if you can find anyone else you like. You can also follow an entire list for convenience's sake.

# - A prefix used for tags. The same as we label our blog posts 'writing,' 'networking,' and the like, you can label a tweet using #topic. For example, if you search #rwa10, you'll find up-to-the-second discussions from people visiting the RWA conference--right now! You can also follow impromptu #askagent sessions. Tagging a topic also helps people outside your followers see your messages, if they follow those threads. A tag can be absolutely anything you want, and through the people you follow, you'll learn which ones are frequented.

And finally, a note on third party applications: if you use Twitter from the website, all the tweets you follow will appear in one long list (newest to oldest). If this is a bit much for you, there are lots of good applications (apps) out there to help organize and sort Twitter, including apps for smartphones. I use TweetDeck, and I see a lot of people use HootSuite as well. You can organize your incoming tweets into separate sections so you can keep friends, writer types, celebrities you're stalking, etc, apart. Apps also allow you to mark things as read, so you can keep up with what you're doing.

So now you have some basics. Go sign up, try out an account, and get tweeting! The worst that can happen is you don't like it and delete your account with an easy click. Share interesting links, follow discussions on writing craft and the publishing world, connect with your favourite authors. Play around, and you'll figure out what you enjoy reading, and what you enjoy tweeting. If you wouldn't be interested in reading it, don't feel obliged to tweet it. We'll only care as much about what you had for breakfast as you do!

Honestly, if you're daunted by the time and effort required for social networking, Twitter is your best bet. It can take as much or as little time as you want, and you only need to jot down a sentence or two now and then! Micro-blogging indeed.

What questions do you have about Twitter? Post your thoughts, concerns, and curiosities, and I'll do my best to answer them!


Helena said...

Hayley! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Now there should be absolutely no excuse for any of us not to get on board with what is evidently the simplest of the network media to get started (and to drop out of, if it doesn't measure up to our expectations).

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Helena, I'm glad it helps! I intended to go into more (actual content, etc) but there's always more a person can say. I figure this way at least if people need to know more about an area I didn't cover, we can discuss it in comments.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Oh! And if anyone would like to leave their Twitter username, we can put together a starter list for anyone who decides to sign up and needs people to follow.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
Thanks for this. I needed a Twitter 101 class to get me started.

I've used Twitter very briefly to post information using the address of one of my publishers. But it felt like sending information out into the ether. I can see that it would make much more sense to get organized with lists and to begin following interesting people.

I wish I loved technology. Right now learning how to use Twitter feels more like a chore. Sigh. But if it gets my name out there I need to get off my butt and get at it.


Liz Flaherty said...

Thank you so much for this. I'm not ready to Twit--okay, tweet--yet, but I know it will come. I so appreciate your tutorial!