Getting started with twitter–and tips and tools for beginners

Deanna Zandt and I did a workshop at WAM! on using twitter and we shared a lot of tips that I realized were worth capturing both for this blog and as a handout for people who’d like one. So, here’s a recount of what we covered, tools we talked about and links to note.

Twitter newbie set up tips
Why are you using twitter? And for what purpose? If you’re tweeting to share knowledge, build community or have a virtual water cooler, set up an account for yourself. Use your real name, or a virtual name, whatever works.

Tips on setting up your profile
On your profile, make sure you add a web link. People are going to go there and check you out. I’ve seen people point to a LinkedIn profile or a Facebook page in lieu of anything else, but, clearly, pointing to a blog, a tumblr, or a web site is better–after all, the idea is to provide more data about yourself for people who might want to follow your twitter stream.

Also make good use of those 140 characters you get to put in your bio.  Because twitter is searchable, people will look for specific terms that match their interests. My current twitter bio says:” blogger, urban homesteader aspirant, product developer, consultant & geek.”  
Deanna Zandt’s bio says: “Je suis techgrrl extraordinaire, occasionally silly & surly, etc. I love pirates. And lamp.”

Point here is to remember that people are going to search on terms that interest them on twitter search (search.twitter.com) and phrases in your bio are going to pop up. So add phrases to your bio that reflect your interests–and feel free to change them as often as you want.

Adding a picture
You MUST add a picture to your twitter profile. No picture=Dork=Not real–and not in a good way. Find a picture. And add it. Pronto.

Setting up a Twitter account for your organization or project
You can have multiple twitter accounts, for yourself, for different personas, or different projects. Each one can have a unique user name and/or a unique (or the same password). It’s better to have a unique user name for an organization or project than to use your personal twitter account; that way your own digital identity stands independently–and persistently–from your current work and focus.

Protected and open updates
Everything you post to your twitter stream is public and index able unless you lock your tweets and make them private. This means that someone who is not following you (i.e. importing your tweets into the twitter stream of their twitter account for a specific user name where they appear as you post them) can still see your tweets by searching search.twitter.com on your user name, or typing your username into the twitter.com URL (ex:  twitter.com/susanmernit). In other words, twitter is not private unless you lock your updates–On the other hand, it’s very hard to participate in the conversation if you lock your tweets.

Following people-and being followed back
The way you build community on twitter is to follow people and have them follow you, then have a conversation via the tool. Here are some ways to find people to follow:

The Find people tab
The Find People tab on twitter allows you to search for people you know, and to import your email contacts from many web based services and  see who you know and then follow them. However, you don’t need to follow everyone you have ever exchanged email with; be more selective.

Searching on an interest or keyword
Another way to find people to follow is to search on keywords that interest you. Whether you are searching for “board member” or “reproductive justice” or “social media” or “micro-donations” you will get results, tweet by tweet. Check out the links to those posters; you will find people who share your interests and concerns; follow the ones that interest you.

Some, but not all, will then follow you back.
Search Google for the name of someone you’re interested in and see if they have a twitter account.

If you search for “Susan Mernit” + twitter, my twitter account comes up. You can click to that link on twitter, get my user name, and follow me. Delightfully, this system works as well for people who have accounts using other names (like randomdeanna) as for “real” names. (Try searching for Deanna Zandt + twitter and see what comes up, just for proof it works.)

Click on a name in a tweet or retreet
Serendipity and exploration are tools to use. As you see references to other twitters in your stream that seem relevant, check them out. There is no stigma to following someone you do not know, quite the contrary.

Getting started and jumping in
Deanna has a great post about getting going with twitter right here.
Some of the highlights of her post about what to say (and do read the whole thing):

Here are some methodologies you can try out:

  • Pure professional. You’re an expert in your field and you want to share this with the world. Pick a couple of “beats” and focus your twittering on those beats. Find other folks tweeting about these topics and have conversations with them.
  • Pure personal. Your cat is hilarious, you’re thinking about moving to Wisconsin, you’re on your way to Miami for a much needed vacation. You get the idea here, but do try to keep your audience in mind as you post some of your life’s minutiae. I’m guilty of posting weird stuff, for sure.
  • The blended model. This is the way to go, and what ultimately makes Twitter so interesting, in my opinion. If I wanted to know people’s political analysis only, I’d go read their blogs. There’s a humanizing effect of reading about a distant colleague’s child’s first words, or seeing that people you think are on top of the world have bad days, too. It creates empathy and insight. When I tweeted that I’d had a really rough, emotional weekend once, I was surprised to see which followers spoke up to say, “Hey, we’re with you.” And it helped further complete a picture of me for them, as well.

Also remember that Twitter is a conversation. One of the joys most everyone gets out of it is talking to one another. Reply often (remember your vocab? the @ symbol is your friend!) to your followers and people you follow. Use Twitter as a two way street, with many, many lanes going both directions.

The toolz
What tools do we like and use? In addition to Twitter (at twitter.com), which of course is your starting place, there are lots of other tools to enhance or modify your twitter experience. Some of the ones we currently favor include the following:

  • Socialtoo:  Sign up for a free account that will report on twitter follow and unfollow stats via email updates, also use to create automatic follow-backs if you like.
  • Twitpic: Great too to take photos with your cell phone camera or camera and then post to twitter, viewable web site.
  • Qwitter: track who unfollows you and which tweet it happened after..
  • Twitterfall: Twitterfall gives you a way to follow tweets on a specific topic in a constantly refreshed, almost real time basis. This is a great tool for tracking breaking new stories or conference updates. You can select both a term or a hashtag and a location and sort geographically as well.

  • Tweetdeck:
    This downloadable client allows you to create and view multiple twitter streams at one time, by sorting them into groups. Great for high octane twitter scanning, overwhelming for many folks.
  • Backtweets: Search for web links at twitter 
  • WeFollow: twitter directory created by Digg founder Kevin Rose. Add yourself and your #hashtags to a category.

Download this post as a white paper right here:
Twitter tools that work for me–and tips for beginners.pdf

(Note: This post is based on a workshop on twitter presented at Women! Action! Media!, Boston 2009)