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Friday, March 13, 2009

Twitter: Micro-Blog Phenom

Twitter is one of the most intriguing social networking/new media phenomena to catch on in the past year. Users create a profile and post “micro-blogs” [tweets] limited to 140 characters. The general premise is to answer the question “what are you doing?” But users have taken it much further, turning Twitter into a place for making friends, sharing ideas, driving traffic to interesting content, and evolving an entire lexicon of styles and conventions not necessarily unique to Twitter, but which have at least become emblematic of it.

We’ll explain as much of this phenomenon as we can, and share a few tips and ideas for how to become a successful Tweeter. The important thing to remember is that we don’t Tweet just for the sake of Twitter alone – a well-integrated Twitter-strategy can help to drive traffic to your site, engage peers and colleagues in an exchange of ideas, and convert spectators of your content into advocates for you.  To the right is a screen cap of the Twitter homepage navigation bar.

Newswise can be followed on Twitter here.

The Tweet, basics of style and substance:

Practice, Practice, Practice! – the more you tweet, the better you will get at it. Start simple; what did you observe or do today, and why was it interesting? For instance, many people have daily routines where they post a tweet about their morning walk, comment about a morning news story, express dread or enthusiasm for some event coming up, etc. As you become comfortable with this daily type of “journaling-tweet”, you will became more adept at making it interesting. Remember, it’s not necessarily the information you convey that makes it interesting. Often, telling something mundane in an interesting way will gain people’s attention.


JOHNABYRNE Having lunch today with fellow Tweeter and digital media maven Dorian Benkoil. 5 minutes ago from web

Alevs34 Note to all San Diegas: learn to drive in the rain...was a witness to a woman getting t-boned by a truck on Florida by Park. 7 minutes ago from web

omarg Working on a list for a blog post: what things people do on Twitter annoy you and are grounds for unfollowing? Shoot me DMs with your ideas. 10 minutes ago from web
This last one is especially noteworthy in that omarg solicits his fellow-Tweeters for their feedback. On Twitter this is commonly referred to as “crowdsourcing”.

These are all fairly mundane tidbits, when they are seen as isolated bits of information. However, in the context of each Tweeter’s style, users become accustomed to a certain tone and voice in their writing, and it adds a personal touch and certain level of personality. In the context of a complete level of Twitter participation, these tidbits add authenticity and can endear you to your Twitter friends.

Quick Tips:
  • Write concisely
  • Post frequently
  • Remove extraneous words to save valuable character space
  • Provide context when replying to your friends
  • Develop a style
  • Solicit feedback
  • Don’t be afraid to get personal (without getting too private)
  • Be self-referential – it helps people “get to know” you

Making Friends [Following/Followers]
Twitter’s user interface [UI] includes a page where you can view each user’s entire Tweet history. The url for each user is simply username.

To follow another user, simply click the "follow" button that appears beneath their user icon.

Once you are logged in, the “home” page [] displays your tweets in-line with all of the other Tweeters that you are following. Inversely, other users will see your tweets in line with theirs if they choose to follow you. There is a link to view “everyone” – the entire world of Twitter in one time-line – from the home page, as well as your direct messages [like email] and @replies [email that everyone can see]. More on these functions later. For now, a few tips on selecting Tweeters to follow and make friends.

Quick Tips:
  • Find users/people you know with the Find People tool – Twitter accesses your webmail address book (yahoo, gmail, etc.) and searches for Twitter users you know via their name and email address.
  • Look at who is following other Tweeters, and follow them.
  • Look at who other Tweeters follow, and follow them.
  • When you’ve added many Tweeters to follow, use tools like Twitter Karma and Tweepler to find out if any of them are following you back. [more on these advanced tools in Part 2]
  • Have a strategy – or at least a vague idea of your goals. Do you want to follow/be followed by colleagues in a particular industry or field? Are you looking for a certain demographic that might be interested in your content/product? Are you willing to read copious amounts of tweets on your homepage (following many people) or do you want to keep it to a minimum (following few people)?
  • Be as selective or as inclusive as you want, according to your goals.
  • Many websites, media outlets, and celebreities have Twitter accounts – find them! Search google with “ ____” and fill in the blank with whoever you want to find. This is how I found The Daily Show, Kanye West, and Barak Obama, for example.
  • Searching Twitter is easy: Find everyone talking about any topic by searching on this page. More complex searches like hashtags get even more specific resluts [more on hashtags in Part 2]

Master the @Reply
When you’ve developed a flock of friends, it is encouraged that you begin to interact with them. The @reply function is the best way to interact, and an added benefit is that it provides the opportunity or appearance of interaction with someone you might not necessarily know personally.

How it works: If you type any Tweeter’s username after the @ symbol, it automatically creates a link to their Tweets. Tweeters use this to respond and engage with one another, while showing the Twitter community what they have to say and who they are saying it to. It is also possible to reply to a tweet by clicking the reply-arrow to the right of a specific tweet. This creates a link to the tweet [in reply to ___] and can be used to engage in a more personal conversation with a fellow Tweeter, while still allowing your followers [the public] to view your interjection. You can view all of the @reply messages directed at you by clicking the “@replies” link on the home page.

The most private method of interacting with other Tweeters is the use of Direct Message, or DM. This is as private as email, and only the user can see their DMs by clicking the “Direct Messages” link on the home page.

Recap: @replies are good for conversations of a public/forum nature, DMs are private.

Linking to Content
Choose something interesting and informative, add your commentary to provide context.
After you’ve developed a sense of style or voice, and developed a group of followers interested in what you have to say, start sharing links!

If you consume news or entertainment on the web, share what you find interesting with people on Twitter by linking to it, including a little bit of introduction or commentary.

doshdosh The Smoking Gun has the 20 best mugshots of 2008. Funny, cute, sexy and sad. 30 minutes ago from the web

ScottBradley Are You A Toilet Tweeter? 6 minutes ago from web

micropr @TechCrunch death to the embargo - half a minute ago from web in reply to TechCrunch

You can also use a third-party service like TwitterFeed to automatically post Tweets via RSS feed. Post links to your Blog, content from a google alert feed, website content, Digg posts, etc. Using RSS to automatically post to Twitter gives you regular posts at manageable intervals. This is an easy way to put your content from other sources out for the Twitter community. With enough followers, something exceptionally interesting could end up going viral and making a big splash.

Quick Tips:
  • Use tinyurl to condense your links
  • Say how your link is interesting to you
  • Don’t overdo it and risk looking like a spammer
  • Say where the link is coming from and provide some level of context

This brief how-to introduction is meant to give you the basic info on how to get started with Twitter. Within only a short time, you may notice that Twitter is extremely useful for both professional reasons, and for making new connection on the web on a personal level. Remember that it’s always good to ask questions and solicit feedback, and if you can provide valuable content and/or commentary, you will quickly develop a following.

In part 2, we’ll discuss some of the more innovative phenomenon surfacing on Twitter, including feeds, karma, crowdsourcing, hashtags, and we’ll recommend some advanced tools and tactic to reach your Twitter goals.


  1. Helpful tutorial. For an idea of how a new era TV news reporter in Washington uses Twitter look at

  2. Thanks, Scott, I'm adding you to my blogroll

  3. Excellent tutorial. Very nicely done.

  4. Very useful -- and great to see Newswise start a blog!

  5. Joe and Christine - thanks for visiting, and thanks for commenting!

  6. My favorite social media tool is Twitter, because this website tool is so light and easy,But there's an art to using Twitter well, especially if you're tweeting as the voice of a business or brand.

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