I get asked about Twitter -- often. Questions range through all of the traditional journalistic queries: who, where, why, how, etc. I even have a Twitter lesson that I give now, because it is such a hot topic. I decided it's time I wrote it down so I could just say, "read my blog!"
First of all, you should know I resisted Twitter with a passion. My friend Julie Weathers (or@JulieWeathers) made me do it. If I pretend I did it willingly, Julie will laugh at me. The truth is, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the twitterverse.
Why did I resist it so strongly? Privacy issues are huge with me. Secondly, I really don't have time for more social networking. I'm already socialized, thank you very much. (For those who don't know, I'm a home school Mom and socialization is an in-joke in the home school world.)
But she dangled a carrot I couldn't resist in front of me. She said I would learn something. She said it would be educational. One thing about Julie -- she's usually right.
Imagine a cocktail party -- a really big one. You walk in...and what do you do? Everyone is talking. Some people are listening. There are a few people who have already over-indulged -- they're sporting lampshades and dancing on tables. There are quiet corners and noisy nooks. Welcome to Twitter.
I think it is best to stick with your normal approach to social situations, even in the electronic world...but I know lots of people who say this is a great opportunity to get beyond your social anxieties! If you'd never ever ever ever be caught dead at a cocktail party even if your boss made it mandatory and your best friends were all going...well, then maybe you won't like Twitter.
The first thing you'll notice about this party is that someone forgot to decorate the room. Twitter's home page is pretty ugly. Actually, the truth is: you're the one who forgot to put up the streamers, but don't worry. You'll get around to it. So, ignore the bland, ugly, institutionalized space for now. A receptionist at the door asks you for some basic information, scrawls your name on a name tag and slaps it on your chest before turning to the next person in line. You're in. If you were expecting hand-holding and an introduction...sorry. Fortunately, other folks have written some very good tutorials. I've included a video to give you some help getting started.
Look around and see who is talking. It helps to have a friend who will introduce you to people. You can use the search on the right hand side and look for topics you enjoy. For example, I was recently looking for people talking about Seattle. You can search for this by typing #Seattle. The #word combination is called a hash-tag. Once you find the hash tags for things you are interested in, finding interesting people to listen to gets a lot easier. When you find someone talking about something interesting, you can click on their @name and then click "follow" underneath their picture.
About this time you start to wonder: "Wow, how did they get that cool home page? It had a picture and information and all those people were following them...." That's when you find out you need to decorate the room. Click on the word "settings" in the upper right hand corner of your screen. You can fill in more information about yourself, learn about privacy issues, and customize the design of your site. If you want a cool background and you don't like the ones they have, you can upload your own. If you want to get overwhelmed with beautiful ideas, I suggest the Absolute Backgrounds Archive. Their samples load fast and they are small so they'll upload without grief. Use the drop down menus on the right and follow the instructions to download the ones you like. You can then upload the image to your Twitter home page. There, isn't that better?
Regarding privacy issues: don't tweet about anything you don't want to be common knowledge. Sorry folks, privacy is an illusion especially on Twitter.
When you want to say something, you type in the box at the top. You're limited to 140 characters. It does a count-down for you. This leads to butchering the English language. Welcome to Twitterspeak. If you want to talk to someone, use @ followed by their Twitter name in your tweet. You can also click on the (invisible until you hover over it) arrow to the right of a tweet you want to reply to. Want to just talk on a topic to random people? Use a hash tag -- you can even make one up! Of course, if no one knows your tag...you may find yourself in a quiet corner.
Want to know what people are saying about YOU? Search for @yourname -- there's even a button for a quick search already on the right hand side. Sometimes that can be interesting.
You can create custom searches on topics you like. Conferences are often assigned hash-tags for Twitter. You can "attend" some of these conferences virtually by following their twitterfeed-- the tweets sent by the conference goers. I've heard some amazing stories of information being passed around the world at the speed of sound this way. If anyone doubts the power of Twitter -- just watch Iran.
Invite your friends. Join in other conversations. If you're the kind who tends to put on a lampshade and prance around on tables -- have fun. This is a great place for learning, sharing and socializing. Before long, you'll be twittering like a bird.