Tips to Tweet With
I get a few people ask me for advice on using Twitter. I have to say I find it the most useful and enjoyable social media for me as it’s endlessly customisable though different interfaces/software/websites/clients and having so little to it that it’s all about the content and the interactions rather than the site itself.
So here are some tips:
Give it time
It takes a while to get going. You need to spend a few weeks building up your profile and streams before you discover how good it can be. It can be pretty slow going at first until you are following some great tweeters and people are following you. Give it time and keep refining your twitterstream. If you don’t like someone’s tweets unfollow then and follow someone else.
Twitter is not reciprocal
Well it can be. And it often is. But just because someone follows your stream doesn’t mean you are obliged to follow their’s. In fact there are many people on twitter who follow you purely to get the artificial ego-inflation of a follow back to boost their follower numbers. It’s sad isn’t it? If you don’t follow back these people will usually unfollow you a few days later. You should follow people firstly because you dig what’s in their twitterstream and/or secondly because they interact with you and that should be that.
Interact with people by putting an @ followed by their username and tweeting it. You can even @ reply someone you’re not following. Feel free to join in others’ conversations – some think that’s rude but I do that all the time and don’t get any complaints. You can have great conversations in 140 characters at a time – it really limits people’s ability to get long-winded. Be sensitive, occasionally a private DM (direct message) is more appropriate than an @ reply but don’t overuse DMs as they create notification emails.
If you appreciate someone’s tweet, want to share their link or share their good news or publicity then you can retweet. The retweet button on Twitter’s site is unpopular as it inserts avatars of people that aren’t followed in streams, does strange things with the timeline, doesn’t allow the communal commenting sharing aspect of retweets etc. Instead, if using Twitter.com, type RT followed by @username of the person you are RTing followed by the content of their tweet. Or if you’re using a client (software like Tweetdeck or a site like dabr) you can do an old fashioned retweet automatically. It’s cool to shorten tweets in order to fit them in and to comment on them though you should clearly separate what you are RTing and your comment.
Because Twitter is basically a light stream it can then act as a pathway to interesting content. So links on Twitter can be a useful way of sharing and discovering good stuff, much as emails used to be quicker and simpler. Simply add the link and a description to the tweet. Because of the 140 character limitation, people often use automatic URL (web address) shorteners using services like bit.ly – only open them from people you trust though as you never know where they are opening to.
The whole celebrity thing is kind of fake, isn’t it? It’s a reflection on a sad aspect of our current Western culture and Twitter is not immune. I do follow some famous musicians on twitter but only ones who either interact a lot or tweet interesting stuff. Early on I followed one famous bassist whose twitter stream consisted of the shallowest anecdotes imaginable so you need too filter this out carefully. I think famous people should form a tiny percentage of those you follow – unless you are celeb obsessed. I enjoy following @RealBillBailey @Timlefebvre @brianbeller @dalailama @deepakchopra @eddieizzard @geoffreykeezer @imogenheap @johngoldsby @johnsentamu @livingcolour @mbase @melvingibbs and @vurnt22 all of whom are justly well known in the right circles but then I follow over 500 people, most of whom are not so well known.
Twitter.com does it for some people but not me, at all! My personal favourites are Tweetdeck on the computer which allows you to create columns to keep track of people/tweets/filter things and http://www.dabr.co.uk on the mobile phone. There are loads of good ones out there. Explore and experiment! Tweetdeck also lets you update Facebook and MySpace through the same platform.
Twitter is public, unlike Facebook which is more like a walled garden (although it’s trying to become less private). If you know it’s public you treat it as such and don’t tweet things which could turn up permanently in google searches. You should only set your profile as private if you have suffered from online abuse and want to guard your stream. If you want to be private, send a DM.
Twitter is not suited to spam as if you post the same narcissistic, self-promoting material over and over again you won’t find an audience as they will unfollow you. To avoid being mistaken for a spammer, make sure you have a profile picture and short biography and try to keep your numbers following equal or greater than the number you follow. It’s not about the number of ‘friends’ you have! In the first month or so you might have to follow a few more than follow you but keep it in proportion.
Don’t try to read everything!
Better to dip into and out of the Tweetstream and join in a few conversations or pick up on some great links. Concentrate on reading your @replies which Twitter is now calling ‘mentions’ where people have used your username (e.g. @philwbass) in their tweet either to namecheck/credit you or to communicate with you. You should try to read all of these – often as a beginner I would miss these and probably seem unfriendly
Finding twitter users to follow
Don’t add too many to start with! Treat each twitter users output as what it is, a stream and decide whose streams you want in your stream – customise it! If you use Tweetdeck or similar it can help to have different streams in different columns and this dovetails with and incorporates Twitter’s groups. Start with people you actually know or know via other social media, forums etc; look who the people you follow are following and interacting with; look at some twitter lists (my bass and jazz lists are quite comprehensive); add a few news type feeds and special interest feeds to taste. The BBC, the Guardian and @Breakingnews have some great twitter feeds. Oh and some local interest twitters can be good to follow too!
I’m @philwbass and I hope this was useful. Feel free to ask questions!