What is Twitter: Microblogging 101
What is Twitter? Well, when I think of Twitter, the first thing I think is: too much information. Do we really need to share the blow-by-blow of our lives with the world, or follow along on our friends’ every move? Yet with over 300 million users, it’s the second most popular social media outlet (following behind Facebook’s behemoth 850+ million users) – they can’t all be wrong, right? I set out to figure out what I’ve been missing, or rather, if I’m missing something about Twitter.
What makes Twitter different from other forms of social media? Facebook helps you stay connected with your circle of friends and family, but Twitter connects you with people all over the world. Search for subjects that interest you and join the conversation, even if it’s with someone you’d never connect with in real life, like your favorite celebrity or a politician. If you like to stay on top of what’s hot (i.e., “trending”) online, Twitter’s little “sound bites” from around the globe are a constant stream of instant information.
If you’re familiar with blogging – a stream-of-consciousness forum used to connect with as many people as are willing to read it – Twitter is considered to be micro-blogging. Why? Because your 140-character message, known as a “Tweet” can be used to instantly share your information with anyone, anywhere. All messages on Twitter are public by default, though you can restrict your messages to just your followers or Directly Message (DM) a user who is following you. If you read something that interests you, you can quickly share it by Retweeting (RT).
Every user has a unique username, or “Handle,” used so people can follow you. People can link their tweets to you by “Mentioning” you, using the @ symbol in combination with your handle. For example, @CNN links to CNN News. Users are notified when their handle is mentioned, and it allows you to conduct discussions in a public forum. Lastly, “Hashtags” (#) are used to notate a topic of larger conversation, linking words together without spaces: say, #BatmanBegins or #BarackObama. It’s used as a discovery tool that allows users to find tweets related to a particular subject as it allows you to see all the tweets that mention the topic in real time, even from people you’re not currently following.
Ready to start tweeting? Signing up is simple. Visit www.twitter.com, create your account (name, password, email) and you’re off and away. You start by building your Timeline, which looks a lot like your Facebook Wall (in Twitter-world it’s called a “feed”), filled with the Tweets people have posted. You can choose to “follow” anything or anyone you’re interested in, whether it’s your favorite TV show or celebrity, or even your brother George if you can find him within the myriad of Georges. Twitter can suggest friends from your Facebook list, or you can search for people you know using Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail or AOL accounts.
Once you’re signed up you can begin tweeting right away, but the best way to get your voice heard is to reply to tweets you’re following and use your @mention liberally. The power of Twitter is the one-on-one connection you can have with some very influential people. The more you interact, the more you’ll be heard, and who knows? Maybe they’ll even strike up a conversation with you! To see the power of Twitter in action, look no further than last year’s wave of political protests across the Arab world: Twitter is credited with having a large influence, as activists used social networking sites to publicize and mobilize the movements (http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/facebook-and-twitter-key-to-arab-spring-uprisings-report).
Businesses are connecting with their customers through Twitter. With millions of active users and over 300 million tweets sent per day, it’s likely your industry and competitors are already in the midst of the conversation. Use it to get the word out about your brand while gathering insights about what your customers want so you can deliver.
It’s no surprise that Twitter applications are available for your Smartphone. The official Twitter application is free and will help you when you’re starting out, but check out Tweetbot (http://tapbots.com/software/tweetbot/, iPhone, $2.99) when you’re ready to get serious about your tweeting. It allows you to create lists of tweets you’re following so you can easily separate your world news from your friends’ with the tap of a finger. Its fun to use, too, with its cute sounds and animations and easy integration with other Twitter apps you’re using. All other users should check out TweetCaster (http://tweetcaster.com/, all platforms: ad-supported is free, otherwise $4.99). The paid, pro version has extra features and no ads. Links are shared easily with a handy copy-paste feature and a simple-to-use interface.