Twitter for Smarties or What Would/Should Oprah Do?

April 20, 2009

It’s Friday, April 17, 2009. You’ve just turned off the TV and you’re excited because Oprah Winfrey just showed you that Tweeting on Twitter is easy. After seeing Oprah’s short conversation with Ashton Kutcher, you’re convinced that tweeting is going to connect you to vast communities of people.

These groups will inform, entertain and support you. And you’ll do the same for the people in those communities. But it’s not really that easy.

People use Twitter in different ways. As do businesses, organizations, governments and news outlets. Even the celebrity contingent is getting into the fray – as we’ve seen. But a lot of people are stumbling and the first thing to do to eliminate the stumbles is to figure out why you want to use this messaging or micro-blogging tool.

Some people use it to stay in touch with friends and family.

Some use it to find new friends, arrange social events and connect with organizations and businesses.

Companies are using it to pimp their products, market to customers and to strengthen their brand.

PR professionals are all over Twitter trying to find out how this free tool can help them make a buck. They’re also trying to figure out how to reach journalists and bloggers via tweets.

Journalists are here using Twitter to inform and report. They’re also here looking for sources (symbiosis between PR and journalists) for stories.

And celebrities are here because it’s hot and new. They’re also here because it gives them more power than they might have had before in reaching and interacting with their fanbase.

But there are rules and techniques everyone should know about using Twitter. Here’s my bootcamp version of what Twitter can and can’t do and how you can navigate some of the unwritten rules of this unique social media tool.

Let’s dive right in. I’m going to go through these top-of-mind, so read the entire column to see if I’ve addressed a concern or question. If not, leave me a comment and I’ll respond to it with an answer or a resource that you can use to learn more.

Twitter is for everyone. Naysayers abound, but if you want to be on Twitter, jump on. You’re probably going to make some mistakes and get banged up, but it really is like riding a bike. Get on and get dirty. Write some tweets and see what comes back. It’s really the best way to figure out how to use it.

Only follow the people you want to follow. Some people get on a high horse about follower/following ratio (I do for some clients actually) but if you’re just using Twitter to connect with friends and family and maybe some social groups, go wild. Follow the fun people and listen to what they say.

*Basics like how to follow people and how to compose a tweet are covered in the upcoming book Laura Fitton is authoring for Wiley and it’s already listed on Amazon.

In the meanwhile, to follow someone just click on their Twitter name in the EVERYONE stream on Twitter. If you like what you see, click FOLLOW and you’ll then see their updates in your HOME stream.

*I use the word stream to mean the list of updates that flow down your screen. Here’s a shot of my recent Twitter stream…

Abbreviations can mean actions or words and they can be confusing. Here are some you should know.

RT means Retweet – or the act of sharing an update that someone else put on Twitter first. The format of a retweet is…. RT: @jeffcutler The #redsox won today and I loved the game. Even got a foul ball, FTW!

In that retweet, you can tell that @jeffcutler was the original author. That he was allowing others to search for the word REDSOX (use of the # symbol before a word) and that he was thrilled about the foul ball (FTW means For The Win or YAY).

RR means Rerun. I was part of the four people that decided to start this abbreviation on Twitter. Steve Garfield, Greg Verdino, Melissa Pierce and I were chatting over breakfast in Las Vegas in January when we wondered how people could retweet themselves without looking pompous. I shouted out Rerun and the rest is history.

Now, if you want to retweet yourself, just put RR in front of a tweet. Use RR: instead of RT: and you’re all set.

Most often, people RR tweets when the first occurrence may have been either too early or late to be seen by many people. Or maybe a RR is in order if there are other events being shared on Twitter that render your little message insignificant. For instance, when the plan landed on the Hudson River, every other tweet not dealing with the crash landing was ignored. In that case, I would be busy Rerunning the important stuff the next day.

Oh, that @ symbol. That’s what goes before anyone you want to address on Twitter. If your username is jeffcutler, then the way people would get in touch with you is by typing @jeffcutler. In the case of Oprah Winfrey, her Twitter handle (name) is Oprah and you can address her by typing @oprah into a tweet.

Answer questions. As often as you can, take the time to look at your replies (any message that is @YOURNAME) and then respond to it. I like to look at my @’s a few times a day and give reasoned and valuable responses to them. If you help people a lot, they’ll happily help you when you have questions.

Anytime you type a message @ someone, this is out in the open for anyone on Twitter to see. It also shows up in a person’s @MYNAME field, sort of like an inbox. See circled name in this screen shot – that’s where you’d click to see all @’s to you.

DMs. While the majority of tweets are publicly visible, DMs are the Twitter equivalent of private messages. BUT, you can only send DMs to people who are following you. DMs are a great way to share info you don’t want the entire Twittersphere to see.

140 characters. Yep, it’s all about the characters – not the people on Twitter but the actual number of characters in a tweet. You only have 140 characters in which to make your point. If you go over, Twitter will truncate or shorten your post. SO make your tweets short and sweet.

*The character count includes names, abbreviations and the characters in all links.

There are assorted tools online that allow you to shorten URLs, but I’m not going to digress into side lessons about using the Internet. Back to Twitter.

When you’re on Twitter, you’ll be well served to spend about 80%+ of your time sharing, conversing, responding, retweeting and reading. People on Twitter – as in many communities – want you to care about them. But there’s got to be give and take. If you give more than you take then people will gravitate toward you and you’ll gain more resources from which to learn.

Simply put, if you give more than you take, then Twitter will treat you correctly. The companies and people who just spit out links, pimp their blogs and press, and blatantly use Twitter as a PR vehicle see diminishing returns and eventually lose any followers of any worth.

My advice is to treat this social media tool as a way to meet new people and learn about them. Take my word for it, you’ll see how well sharing and contributing works.

Random Thoughts….

Is what you’re sharing on Twitter part of a conversation? Can you really make friends here? What makes Twitter better than the phone, txt messages, blogging or even email?

I’ve been using Twitter since March 2007. I started introducing people to the tool and creating content specifically for the 140-character constraints since day one. Recently I’ve also been tabbed to present Twitter for Business sessions for the National Association of Women Business Owners, and social media tools for journalists for the annual conference of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Continue the conversation or get out. Two examples… A friend of mine was pretty active on Twitter for about four months. He was gathering followers and building a little community of people with whom he could talk and bounce ideas off of.

He was benefiting from the expertise of that group and was holding up his end by sharing his knowledge. Then he got bored and left Twitter for three months. Now he’s having the worst time getting back into the conversations.

People he used to chat with have dropped him because they see him as someone who used them and wasn’t reliable. Now he wants back in as if nothing happened. When the investment people have in you is predominantly digital, you’re only as memorable or as valuable as you most recent exchanges.

His trail has gone cold and now he’s going to have to work twice as hard to get back into the community. Especially now that Twitter is growing so fast.

The second example is that of a restaurant on the South Shore. This company made a splash on Twitter and touted themselves as the best destination for Valentine’s Day. I was excited to see them enter the fray and was hopeful that they would continue to interact with customers. I was even hoping they might run specials for Twitterers that the general public wouldn’t see.

Not happening at all. This restaurant hasn’t tweeted since February and even recent tweets to them haven’t been responded to. They aren’t aware of, or maybe they don’t care, that this segment of their marketing plan is falling flat.

I advise two restaurants on their use of social media – including Facebook, Twitter and blogs – and the one thing I tell them at the outset is not to get into the game if they can’t dedicate time and resources to social media. I say that social media is a long-term investment and it won’t show returns for possibly as long as other traditional advertising or marketing efforts.

If they’re not going to tweet regularly, they shouldn’t even tweet the first time.

Finally, WWOD? What would Oprah do? Well, if I had the chance to speak with Oprah about her use of Twitter, I’d advise her to spend a lot of time on it. I’d say that she should follow only the people who interest her, but not to be focused on numbers.

I’d tell her, Twitter is jam-packed with interesting, skilled and fun people. They’re willing to share and smile with you and they expect the same. Honor that trust and contribute what you can.

And I’d say that if she doesn’t personally have time to interact, not to use it. She’s got enough going on in her life and media empire that Twitter would probably be a distraction.

That said, I might point her in the direction of her handlers or other content creation specialists. These people could coordinate messaging, updates and info that would assuage the demand of her viewers/followers and would probably allow Oprah to benefit from this versatile too.

I hope that the influx of millions of users take the time to each figure out how to use Twitter.

How about you? How is Twitter affecting your life online and offline? And what do you wish you knew about this social media tool?

What did I miss and what questions do you still have?

Find me on Twitter and @ me, I’ll answer your questions.

*EDITED – If you want to see some of what I tell my clients, here’s an 18-page packet of notes I used for a recent talk to 40 small business owners. Download the .pdf. All I ask is that you share this link with people on Twitter, leave a comment below, or link to this post on your blog. Thanks!

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