This is a broad topic, really. Someone brought it to my attention this evening that I do an awful lot of evangelizing for Twitter amongst my friends and associates, and I haven’t really explained it very well to my inner circle.
Essentially, twitter is what is called “Status Micro-blogging.” Don’t worry. The term didn’t make much sense to me either. I remember being in an airport or somewhere and reading a Wired review of the service, and then getting home, and every single feed on my list was talking about how great Twitter was, and how much of a huge hit it was at the SXSW conference, and it’s the next big thing.
For someone who’s such an avid user of technology, I must admit that whenever I hear that something is the ‘next big thing’, I get a little queasy in my tummy, and have an immediate desire to distance myself from said technology. Usually, I’ve learned, it’s best to ignore this instinct. The same feeling I had about podcasting, I had about twitter. To me, it seemed destined to fail, especially since it revolved, at least in part, in sending tons of SMS messages to people’s mobiles. In a world where text messages can add literally pounds to your phone bill, set aside dollars, I can only imagine how poorly the service is going to do.
As with podcasting, however, I was sorely mistaken in my initial reaction.
I’ll describe Twitter from my perspective, which is that of an independent content producer, and how you can do the same as I.
Robert Scoble often describes his usage of Twitter as ‘constant chat room.’ This isn’t far off the mark. What twitter does, is take your friends (who can almost effortlessly create an account), and make it so that any time they send a message to Twitter, it appears in your favorite chatting mechanism, be it IM or SMS on your phone.
Now you’ve got the overview, let’s graduate you to power user.
At first, it’s not going to seem like much, especially if you don’t spend a lot of time on IM. My best suggestion to you, is if you’re not there already, always keep a GMail window open. It’s hands down (in my opinion) one of the best email utilities out there, and it allows you easy, unobtrusive access to GTalk. Add twitter functionality to GTalk through the twitter settings interface, and you’re hooked up.
There’s a couple things you’ll want to do right off the bat. First of all, go to your favorite bloggers or new media producers in your niche. For me, it’s obviously technology, so I’ll use that as an example. I went to the bigger names in tech, like Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, CC Chapman and Steve Rubel, and then added them to my twitter friends. Don’t worry if some of them don’t add you back (Scoble will, but he’ll add just about anyone, so don’t think you’re all that special!).
Things will start moving a bit faster now. At this point, you’ll want to turn off the DING every time there’s a new message.
What are you looking for with this? This puts you a step closer to getting your finger on the pulse of your niche. Depending on what that is can mean either connecting with folks who are movers and shakers, or it can mean having that scoop ten minutes sooner than the next blog, which can make or break you on traffic.
You’ll also start to notice conversations breaking out on twitter, signified by tweets with @username. If it interests you, you may want to follow that person (you can do this easily now, from within GTalk by typing “follow [username]”. Chances are that for every two or three you do that with, you’ll gain a follower yourself. Now you’re building a platform from which to speak to larger and larger groups.
Before we move on to what you can do with your platform, let’s get into the “track” feature. By simply typing “track [keyword]” into twitter, now you’ll be alerted anytime anyone on twitter talks about a given keyword. It’s a good idea to go ahead and track your all variations of your user name, company name, and given name. Chances are, at some point, someone will talk about you, and you always wanna know when that happens, right?
It’s not just for ego-searches, though. I like to be up on all the gPhone news, so I track gPhone. I’ve found a few juicy rumors to track down that way using this feature. Marshall Kirkpatrick claimed last week that Twitter is responsible for 5 of the last 11 leads he used for ReadWriteWeb.com stories.
The other stuff you’ll find is that it’s a great platform for broadcasting your message, be it blog or podcast. RSS is your friend, as you know. That’s why I suggest you stick your RSS feeds into RSS2Twitter. It reformats your links so that they fit into the character restrictions, and puts a short description of the items in your feed as they pop up.
You’ll find, as you grow your Twitter network, that this will be one of the more valuable tools in your box.
It’s late. I’m leaving things out, undoubtably, but this gives you a starting point. EMail me with questions (and I know you will!).
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