So you are not ‘on Twitter’ because #hastags are stupid and the whole thing is just people telling you what they had for lunch and what mundane task they are engaged in. Yet, you cannot escape its ubiquitous presence in everything from politics to sports. Therefore, it’s time to give you a primer on the ways people use Twitter, and what it’s not.
Twitter allows users to create accounts and post ‘tweets’, which are messages limited to 140 characters. Twitter allows the native posting of photographs that do not count against that 140 character limit, and hyperlinks–which do. Why is 140 characters useful? Brevity encourages clarity, it cuts down on the fluff and gets to the point. You want more, click on the link to the story or blog post. The 140 character limit forces the writer to communicate the essential elements in clear and simple language. Twitter allows you to follow other users and read the tweets they post. Who is on Twitter? Everyone.
Kids use Twitter to talk to each other, friends chat on it as a kind of instant message service. Most of these conversations are public, others are meant to be private. Once there was a United States Congressmen who used pick up women on Twitter. His admirers would sending him messages and he would reply using Twitters private message feature and relationships would develop. At least, they would exchange racy photographs of themselves. Until the day he accidentally posted dirty pictures of himself publicly. Before he could delete it it was captured by a prolific blogger and so started a bizarre scandal that lead to his registration.
Humor- some accounts exist to tell jokes.@honesttoddler chronicles the life of a young man struggling with his daily experiences and answers the question of ‘What is my two year old thinking?’ @80sDanDraper tweets advertising pitches in the style of the fictional Mad Men character, but set in the 1980s. @goldmansachselevator tweets out the conceited macho crap of the kind that can be over-heard, allegedly, in the elevator at the Goldman Sachs Investment banking firm.
Folks create parody accounts by the dozens, get bored and move on. For example, my brother in law created an account that features pictures of kids sleeping in class at his high school. Other kids tweet at him photos taken with smartphones of kids drooling on the desk in AP English, and he retweets them out. Accounts often pop up to mock a specific current event. Senator Corey Booker created a fictional drug dealer friend that he used in speeches. When it was revealed to be a lie numerous accounts of ‘T-Bone’ appeared to satirize the event and tweet at the Senator. There is a fake John Madden, fake SportsCenter, and numerous other parody accounts that are entertaining enough to follow.
Sports junkies fix. There are almost no sports writers, analysts, radio hosts, etc. that do not have an twitter account in their byline. Beat writers and bloggers tweet out links to their latest story. Every trade, every development hits twitter before it hits ESPN, sometimes scooped by @espn. Interact with players, coaches, beat writers, ESPN cast members, and bloggers. Following the right mix of players, journalists, fans and bloggers can give you insight and information to quench the thirst for information of any sports fan.
News and Politics- want breaking news as it happens? Before its on CNN or FOX its on Twitter. There is live commentary on the events you care about as it happens by people who’s views you choose to hear. You hire and fire your reporters as you see fit. Follow live debates, find new points of view, and join in the conversation. Facebook wants to be a news aggregator, and these apps multiply by the day at the App Store. Twitter can be a great news aggregator–and is the primary reason I don’t use other news aggregation apps. You can customize your newsfeed, change it over time, based on who you follow. Read articles shared by people (friends, news organizations, sports teams, etc.) that you follow, right in the app, share or close the story and move on.
Celebrity Worship-People have been following the comings and goings of celebrities since the dawn of media. Now you can get the gossip before the checkout line. Alternatively, you can follow the celebrity’s personal account. Many of these are not run by staff, but feature the sometimes alarming realtime uncensored thoughts of the ‘famous’ people. Many of them engage with the public, answer questions, or just make someone feel special now and then.
Find the expert and ask them questions or be the expert.
Engagement is key to Twitter. Have conversation with CNN’s Jack Tapper. Go round for round with a political flack, challenge the insights a noted blogger, share a pie recipe with a movie star. One guy complained to a Fortune 100 Company CEO on Twitter, who involved himself and resolved the customer’s issues. Talk to a plumber, a software engineer, or an accountant. Twitter accounts that engage with other users are fun, useful, and will build a following.
Sell your wares. Engage the public, advertise and brand yourself.
What it’s not–and this may doom it in the end, Twitter is not an ad space. Your free business account will quickly be un-followed if it robotically sends out daily ad blurbs on repeat, forever. A live person needs to be engaging with followers and others to add value to their lives and sell your service or products. I followed a criminal lawyer I know, and enjoyed his targeted tweets for young men who live in world of poverty, drugs and constant involvement with law enforcement. After a couple dozen tweets the record goes on repeat and loses its value.
Hastags for the kids, for you, and for me. While the world…okay, while those of us watching the 2014 NFL Draft followed Johnny Football’s fall, the twitterverse created the hashtag #BeforeManzielGetsDrafted. Click on it and see all the tweets using that hashtag and scroll through the hilarious things that people were saying would happen before Manziel gets drafted. These kind of hashtag games happen all the time, and some of them are even enjoyable to read through. Hashtags can be used to search for what people are saying about a topic, and have a conversation with them, but that’s about it. Ironic use is annoying and dated. #sooverhashtagsusedirconically.
Twitter is a river, flowing, even now, with volume and pace and you will never read it all. You don’t read through your timeline and read every tweet by everyone you follow going back until the last time you were on the app. You don’t miss a tweet, like a tweet is a TV program in the days before DVR. It is a river for you to dip your toes in while on the elevator, while eating a snack at your desk, or while taking care of other personal business. You dip into the stream and you pull your toe back out and go on. Twitter can also provide a way to augment other viewing. News events and sports games are good examples. A beet writer can give you insight into injuries, player’s performance and stats before the guys in the booth. When I’m watching a 49ers game there are a dozen or so accounts (fans, beet writers, and bloggers) that I’m reading the whole time.
On Twitter the information comes in fast from a wide variety of sources, so for those news events that glue a nation to a TV, the kind that cable news tries to generate every five minutes, Twitter gives you information faster then the news folks. How often have you heard a news report cite to Twitter? Normal people, posting live, sometimes with photos, can give you instant access to first hand information. When news breaks, I don’t click on a news story from ten minutes (or two hours) ago, I click on Twitter to see the highlights and whats happening now.
Twitter handles are now included in journalists bylines, on TV along with a person’s name, on business cards, Linkedin profiles, websites, and sometimes on baked goods. At the start of every TV program, whether a sitcom or sports event, the network invites the viewers to engage each other on Twitter by suggesting a common hashtag. And now that Twitter is posting some earnings, it’s unlikely to ever go away. I encourage everyone to create an account and follow some people, news organizations, groups with similar interests, etc. If nothing else, it is a signal that you are current. Better still it another way for people to contact you. Failing that, it can be the world’s best news aggregator. And if you end up using it to meaningfully engage with other people, then so much the better.