Twitter is all the rage now; I wish I had a nickel for every time a client mentioned it. Succeeding in it is another matter, though, and at first it can be hellishly confusing.
When I first started, and was following dozens of people, I felt like I was in a busy sports bar during the Super Bowl. I remember thinking: I don’t know these people. I don’t know what they’re talking about. I must be in the wrong place.
It helps to know the rules and a little about the culture before you jump in. It’s not rocket science but it does take a little study and work.
1) Plan: First, think about why you’re even on Twitter.
Know what you want out of Twitter. Are you there for networking, building a brand, driving traffic to your blog? Determining this early will help guide your strategy and improve your odds.
2) Package yourself: First you need to pick out a Twitter ID. Consider your name first (I use @markivey); alternatively, you could use another name with your company, role or skills (example: @mediaphyte). You want something that will build your brand and/or illustrate your expertise.
And don’t skimp on your profile; make it sound engaging, and choose some nice wallpaper—this part is all about personal packaging (you can also customize your own wallpaper, using your company’s logo if you want). Study other Twitter examples because you need to get it right.
3) Follow the right people: Twitter is about following and being followed (more on connecting/conversing later) You can use the basic Twitter search or, better, one of the tools I recently reviewed. These search engines can make life much easier for you by identifying the right people to follow.
Start with the influencers and industry experts in your industry. Find people with common interests and/or just people you want to track because they’re interesting. Check out some of the really big names here. Look for interesting directories and specialized lists; for instance, here’s 10 journalists worth following. And don’t forget your colleagues–you may have people all over your company tweeting. As one example, here’s a partial list of employees tweeting at Cisco.
4) Learn the lingo: Before you jump in and start tweeting, get up to speed on the lingo and abbreviations. Some common terms*:
• “tweet”: is a message.
• @ ID : A message with the @ sign preceeding the Twitter ID is a reply message; so if you want to send me a message, start with @markivey. (Note that your entire network can view this message).
• DM ID: Putting a DM in front of someone’s ID is a private message (you can only send private messages to people who follow you).
• RT: a retweet. If you find a post particularly interesting, you can copy and paste it and retweet it, as long as you give credit (tools like Tweetdeck have a RT button). (this is one of Twitter’s most interesting features, and how some Tweets go viral).
5) Manage efficiently: The last task is to download a “client” to manage your tweets and traffic. Twitter.com is ok for starters but you’ll soon want to move on to a better platform. These include clients like Twhirl and TwitterFox, which have built in search features, URL shorteners (which you’ll need) and nice interfaces to view and respond to your Tweets. Twitterfox is a Firefox extension, while Twirl is a downloaded application.
My favorite, though, is Tweetdeck.
What I love about Tweetdeck is you can arrange the people you follow into separate, manageable categories. I currently have four categories: “social media” (people who follow social media); “individuals” (business contacts, other influencers in other areas); Favorites; and “all.”
But you can set up categories for almost anything–influencers in your industry; friends/family/close contacts, sports/hobbies; special lists, like journalists or even by twitterers in your geographical area. Just add a new “pane” for each group.
You can also set up search features in separate categories to hunt for certain keywords, like your company name, personal ID or an issue or event (ex: China or World Series) . I have searches set up for “Twitter tools” and “Twitter tips.” The default search is search.twitter.com and Twitscoop, which reports on hot trends and keywords in Twitter.
One warning: Tweetdeck is a memory hog. It can also be addictive. Plan to set aside designated times, say 20 min. 3 times a day, to check it or you may wind up sitting there watching it for hours.
One way to become more efficient is to integrate Twitter into Outlook with a tool like Outwit. You can update your Twitter status and follow your friends without having to open any other applications.
Outwit allows you to schedule your Tweets to be delivered every minute to an hour, and dump them into a separate folder. This way you can check them at your leisure. You can also easily categorize them by name and save them, something you can’t do with Tweetdeck. One downside: your email box can quickly get overloaded (as if you need more email).
* Resources: there are hundreds of terms thrown around in the Twitter universe, some of the downright goofy. For instance, Twittish means “took skittish to twitter”. Check out this glossary for more.
Next: building a community with Twitter.