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How and Why Should I use Twitter?: An Argument Within a Tutorial

As I’ve said in previous entries, I seem to have been designated an unofficial arguer for the use of modern technology in the publishing industry, just by virtue of how many times I have either been paid to help someone set up their Twitter account, or by the number of times I have had to explain to certain folks that it is not only a tool, it is a vital tool. So here I go again.

How is Twitter useful?

I should start out by specifying that while the Twitter platform is convenient and charming in its way, it is not the only effective social media, nor should it be the only one you implement in your professional life. You can use any, and all of them have a finite lifespan. Just like Myspace before it (for those of you who are not hip or cool, no one uses Myspace anymore) Twitter will have an end, but for now, it is here.

This is the first mental hurdle you must overcome: Twitter is not a game. It is not a silly thing people do because they’re bored. Well, it can be that, but it is not limited to this. In fact, the way it is designed naturally inclines it toward the professional adult audience. There has been a lot of recent data suggesting that kids aren’t on Twitter. You are not talking to twelve-year-olds. You are talking to your peers. This is the secret: a direct line to people all over the world who have the income/interest/understanding of what you are, what your work is, what your industry is, what your sense of humour looks like, etc. Twitter specifically, is a fantastic, passive way of connecting to your fanbase, consumer, companions.

Yes, but why Twitter? Why not Facebook or tumblr, or whatever?

Well, besides the fact that this is the Twitter tutorial…Twitter has been designed with some unique features that make it not only easy to use, but short, passive, and the opposite of obnoxious.

I’m going to take you through each feature, with a few pics here and there, so that you can see how to use them

The New Tweet button:

If you look at your profile page, the “new tweet button” will be in the upper right corner. It is a bright blue box with a check mark in it. If you click it, it will bring up a window where you may type your “Tweet” or message.

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This is important, because of the way that twitter links tweets. For example, if you are inside a hastag, and you hit the “new tweet” button, your tweet will automatically contain the hashtag info. Right now, that looks like a bunch of mumbjumbo to you. I know. Don’t be afraid. For right now, all you need to know is where this button is, and what it does for you.

The 140 character limit:

This is the first and foremost feature of Twitter that makes it so useful. No message, or Tweet, that you read will ever be longer than 140 characters including all links, spaces, usernames, and symbols. While crafting a tweet, people often use abbreviated speech, slang, and avoid punctuation. This is completely acceptable. You will not look like an illiterate ass if you don’t have a comma, or use “2” instead of “too”!!!

But as you can imagine, this might be quite a limitation. You want to write a description of your book and then put a link to its page in the Amazon website, but the web address is too long and you can’t include your description! How is that helpful?

Firstly, Twitter is very smart. To put a link to anything on the internet, you only need to copy its web address and paste that into a tweet. It will automatically become an active link that other users can click on to go to whatever it is, photo, article, website, etc. But often, web addresses are quite long. For example, the web address for my blog is http://www.kristinameister.com which is 30 characters long. So how can we solve this problem?

There are websites out there to shorten your links. Go to http://bit.ly, paste your web address into the field, click “shorten”, then copy what is spit out at you. It will be many characters shorter, which will give you all the space you need to write your sentence of description.

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As you are writing your tweet, Twitter will track your character length and let you know when you have overtweeted:

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The @:

Every username on Twitter has an @ sign in front of it. This is a coding clue. It tells Twitter that you are attempting to talk directly to another person. If your tweet has @kristinameister anywhere in it, I will be able to see that tweet more easily. It will appear in my “@ folder”. Anything referencing me, talking to me, favoriting me, following me, etc. — basically anything involving me in any way, will appear in this @ folder.

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But it doesn’t stop there. Twitter turns that @username into a link, so that any person who is reading the tweet will be able to click on the name and pull up the profile. So if you are having a conversation about the books you are selling, and someone happens to be reading and likes what you have to say, they can click on your name, find your 140 character long biography, and follow you.

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This brings us to

Following:

Following is a term that means a person is watching what you say. If you are following @BBCNews then you will see every message they post in your “home feed”.

Your home feed is simply a running ticker tape of messages posted by all those you Follow, almost like an inbox, but in no way requiring your attention. You do not have to read every single tweet. You can scroll through them. You can ignore them. In other words, you are getting constant info from all of the people/organizations whom you follow in a passive fashion that does not take time out of your day unless you want it to.

You will also gain followers. The more followers you have, the greater your visibility. For example, if you have 3,000 followers, then 3,000 people are viewing every word you say. This means that they can gain access to any info you broadcast. You have a huge platform on which to build.

Any time you wish to follow someone, all you have to do is open their profile, by clicking on their picture icon, and hitting the little button that says “Follow”.

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You can also “Unfollow” any time you wish by clicking that button again. So if you’ve followed that movie star you’ve always imagined playing your main character in the blockbuster film adaptation of your novel, only to find that they tweet incessantly about coffee, or what annoying party they’re attending, you can unfollow them, so that their tweets no longer appear in your home Twitter feed.

The ReTweet or RT:

Retweeting is what happens when a person sees something you’ve said, and wants to share it with all their followers. Imagine two classrooms. One is yours, where you are teaching a class on literature to 500 students. The class next door is being taught by another writer to 1000 students. You say something clever and insightful, and put up on the board a web address for a fantastic grammar lesson. On Twitter, your clever quote and web address is visible to that other teacher with the much larger class. She can instantly put it up for her entire class to see. One message, 1500 viewers. Needless to say, you can gain new followers or new exposure, just by saying something worth saying.

To ReTweet, just hover your mouse over the tweet and a link for retweet will pop up. click on it, and a box will appear as in the pic below

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This is yet another feature of Twitter’s natural evolutive quality. Twitter tends toward the professional because a person posting ridiculous crap is not going to get Retweeted, and thus will not gain followers. The profile will die out. The survival landscape, as geneticists call it, of Twitter forces it to remain a professional setting.

You may also Retweet anything you see. If you are big into politics, you may retweet news stories, articles, studies. That way, anyone following you, who has come to enjoy your witty sarcasm about modern history, can see these tweets and possibly follow those people that you have retweeted.

It is one way of building a community.

Reply:

You can reply to any tweet. To do this, hover the mouse over the tweet and a link called “reply” will pop up. Click it. and the window will expand to include a field in which you may reply.

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Your reply will automatically include the name of the person to whom you are replying, and any other persons who were involved in the original tweet. These will detract from your character count, but will be essential in having conversations.

For example:

@A and @B are having a conversation. You follow @A, so you can see all of their tweets. You are enjoying their critique of the film adaptation of Cider house Rules and you want to participate. Click Reply. Automatically, your tweet will begin “@A @B ” And then you may type in whatever you wish to say, within the character limit. You may include photos, website URL’s etc. They will then be able to reply, retweet, etc.

All of the replies will be linked in a scrolling chronological order. You will see @A’s original tweet, @B’s reply, and on down the line, including your tweet, until you stop replying to one another. all linked. Easy to reference.

Favorite:

The favorite feature allows you to put, literally, a gold star on anything you find interesting.

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You can use this to favorite funny tweets, interesting tweets, tweets about your favorite subject. I personally use it as an organizational tool. Because you can look at all your favorites all together at one time, you can save useful links and news stories for later reference.

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So essentially, your Favorites are like a file folder full of clippings, and you can view them any time. Also, any friends you make may view your favorites folder too. It gives them an impression fo the kind of person that you are. You can also “unfavorite” any time you lose interest in something.

The Direct message or DM: 

So, as you’ve seen from reading all of this, the world of Twitter is public. It’s all about visibility, which is something you want if you are using this as a business tool. However, there are times you may not want such visibility. While you can delete a tweet any time you like, it’s still not wise to tweet your email or phone number. So what if you make a business connection, and want to give someone your private details? You use the DM.

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To do this, go to your profile page. There is a little envelope there. This is your DM inbox. You can safely message privately to and from this inbox. However, your message will be confined to the 140 character limit, as always.

The Hashtag or #:

The hashtag is a fantastic organizational tool. Any word with a # in front of it, will link with any other tweet containing that word or #. For example, during the recent Oscars, the #oscars was linking hundreds of thousands of people, all around the world. But how?

Just as the @ symbol turns the name of a person into a link, the # turns a word into a link. If you click on a # in a tweet, you will then be able to see any and all tweets containing that word, in chronological order.

This will allow you to find friends or associates via interest. In the case of publishing, you can follow a literary convention taking place. You can watch the #amreading, which will allow you to read any person’s review of any book they’re reading. You can see what fellow Tweeters think about a film, a show, a song. And you can even use it to keep track of news.

For example. the night of the Batman Dark Knight Rising premier  my friends and I went to the theater for the midnight showing. After the film was finished, I went onto twitter to tweet my review. I clicked on the #batman and was instantly bombarded with news about the Aurora shooting. But that wasn’t the half of it, because some of the victims were tweeting from the theater as it was happening. Horrifying, but it gives you an idea of why the FBI would petition the Federal Government to use twitter as an organizational platform.

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Lists:

Lists are another organizational tool. They can be created to group people you are following by interest. Thus, anyone viewing your lists can see that ten people you’re following are great resources for sewing tips, or that you follow fifteen chefs. Etc. And you can also see if you are on any lists. This is a great tool because it gives you an idea of why the person who listed you is following you.

For example: you believe that you are a professional wrestler, but you tend to tweet a lot about politics. You find that someone has listed you as a “Fellow Liberal” when your goal for your twitter feed was to emphasize your professional life, your events, matches, appearances, etc. This will tell you what you should and shoul not tweet or how many people have swallowed your particular koolaide.

You can also follow a list to see who is included at any time.

Trending:

Any time something is being talked about by a large number of people on Twitter, the hashtag is considered a “trend”. So if something is “trending” it is being discussed. You can see the top ten “trends by scrolling down to the lower left of your home feed, as seen here:

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In addition to all of these features, Twitter will suggest subjects and people for you to follow. For example, I follow most of the cast of Star Trek The Next Generation. And at least three times a month, Twitter suggests I follow @StarTrek which is a twitter feed for the Star Trek cable network. See?

And finally, if you have a smartphone or tablet, you can interface with Twitter on that as well and stay connected 100% of the time. I love this, because I can talk to my agent, my publisher, and all of my readers any time I wish, with no exchange of personal details, phone calls, interruptions into their lives, etc, because they will only see what I say, if they are looking. I just arranged to have a tattoo designed by an artist that lives on the other side of the country. I did all this via twitter. And If I can do that, then you can set up paid business deals, supply chains, etc, any time, anywhere,

You can also put twitter information on your web page, so that people on your site can see your twitter activity and follow you. This is essential. The idea is that you keep any visitor in a continuous you-loop of awesome. Anyone who finds you on twitter can find your site or blog posts (via links you’ve tweeted), and once someone finds your site, they can go to your twitter. You have made it difficult for any visitor to leave you.

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In summation, if you cannot see how this tool will help you network, put out your product, contact business associates, learn new facts, be more connected, etc. then you are an idiot. No, I will not take that back. Whether or not you choose to use it, you cannot deny its usefulness. And if you choose not to use it, you are handicapping yourself needlessly.

Go get a profile and make use of it.

3 comments on “How and Why Should I use Twitter?: An Argument Within a Tutorial

  1. What a great, user-friendly guide. You had me at bit.ly!

  2. Reblogged this on Stonehenge Writers and commented:
    For those of us just starting on Twitter, or considering using it for the first time, here’s an all-encompassing guide to the features, tools, and its reason for existence.

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