Newbies Guide to Twitter

twitterlogo Roy Jacobsen asked if there was a newbies guide to Twitter. There might be, but for those of you who want a different perspective, I feel up for writing another one. So why not? DISCLAIMER: This is how *I* derive value from Twitter. You might do it differently. Here it is, a Newbie’s Guide to Twitter.

What Is Twitter?

Twitter is a multi-modal messaging platform. That means users of Twitter can send and receive messages via the web, SMS, Instant Message clients, and by third party applications. If I want, I can send SMS, and you can read on your web browser. You can send via your 3rd party application ( find some here), and I’ll get it on my IM client.

Posts are limited to 140 text characters in length. Dave Winer got clever and made Twittergram, a way to point to audio posts automatically. He’s doing the same with pictures now, too. But ultimately, Twitter is used for text.

What Do You Do With Twitter?

People use Twitter to communicate. This might be one-to-many, or it can be as part of an online conversation. Officially, people answer the question, “What are you doing?” I believe this is the wrong question to answer. I like to answer the question, “What has your attention right now?” But there are lots of ways to use Twitter.

Some people use Twitter to ask questions. (I do!) Some use it to say, “I just posted this on my blog here.” Others use it to say, “Where did everyone just go? I’m in room A104.” That’s how people used it at SXSW Interactive.

I use Twitter to ask for advice, directions, support, and to ask others for their open-ended interpretations to general questions. How else do YOU use it?

Twitter as Personal Branding

I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead. – Samuel Johnson.

I think this is one of the best tricks of Twitter. Twitter is an appetizer for who you REALLY are and what you REALLY represent. I’ve found that Twitter is a great way to bring a human conversation into a digital world. One hint: mix it up between posting tweets and COMMUNICATING with other people on Twitter. People don’t like being simply spoken to; they want your updates without a little give and take.

Twitter as Social Network

You want to learn about social networking? Do it at the speed of Twitter. Follow someone like NewMediaJim, the incredible Jim Long, who’s made an ART out of bringing community conversations together on Twitter. But it works. Twitter can hook a lot of like-minded, geographically-diverse people together.

Used this way, Twitter is a great way to drive awareness of something of interest to your larger community. If it’s of interest AND entertaining, extra points.

Why Bother?

Most people who see Twitter the first time either flat-out “get it,” or they say, “why bother?” Here’s what people miss. They believe one should read every single update that rolls across your screen of choice. Don’t. Just let it roll past like a stream. Use the Replies tab and Twittersearch to make a better sense of who’s talking with you, but don’t obsess over reading every little scrap. Participate when you can. Leave when you can’t.

And why bother? Because that’s where the accelerated conversation is being held. That’s where we’re at (as they say). So go there, be part of the conversation, and see what Twitter does for you.

Your Turn

What addendum will you add to the Newbies Guide to Twitter? What did I miss? Add to the conversation. Share your references, posts, links, and ideas. Let’s make it even bigger!

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