A short break from photography to talk about Twitter...
I signed up to Twitter in spring 2009 with an ‘oh all right then’ attitude, expecting to come away with a ‘who cares?’ conclusion. I was ready to mock. Another website to get to grips with? And if I don't join up I'm not cool any more? Pah. But within days I was hooked. And I still am. Why?
With its 140 character limit, Twitter’s a hostile environment to people who like to bore, dominate or waffle. As it’s on the internet, it attracts the tech savvy. As a public space (anyone can read your updates) it also asks you to be a bit brave. So to be on Twitter you’re already my kind of person.
But what do people who are really into Twitter do?
Imagine a dinner party where a few mouse clicks changes the seating plan to put you in the middle of things; your definition of ‘things’. Antarctic researcher, fashion designer, photographer (currently in Afghanistan), children's illustrator and ordinary soul who shares your humour, there’s your table for tonight. And you can change it at any time. Eavesdropping, chatting across continents, making an exit to *put the spuds on*, and absolutely no need to brush your hair.
For a girl from a small town with a very curious mind, this is epic. Genuinely.
And yes, with Twitter’s list of trending topics, you actually do know there’s an earthquake, plane crash or a new baby for Jamie Oliver, long before it’s reported on the networks. What’s more, you can locate and read the tweets coming from the centre of breaking stories.
So are you interested in the world? Then go sign up.
This blog is not about the mechanics, though. If you want to know them, put some pertinent phrases into Google. I’m cutting to Twitter’s oohs and ahhs.
But one quick tip. Move away from the Twitter website to Twitter clients like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite as early as you can. Why struggle with a Walkman when someone’s invented the iPod?
The Real Life Friends
We all start with people we know in real life. Like any party, it’s nice to turn-up with your gang. So join with some mates and follow those mates who are already tweeting.
Then it's time to follow the celebs, and experience the jolt of seeing your mate Dave's avatar alongside Stephen Fry and Lady Gaga's, like they're all best buddies.
A good place to make sure you’re following the real stars and not the fakes is www.valebrity.com.
It will take you around 125 tweets to realise celebs a) can be dull and b) cannot reply to your every tweet. Shocking, I know. Chatting with celebs does happen on Twitter, and it is thrilling when it happens, but if that's all you're interested in it's going to be a long wait for a tiny bit of attention.
You may have a Twitter account but your name's still not on the list, sweetheart.
But what about the real Twitter diamonds, those friends-in-waiting? People you will adore who will adore you, if you can only find the buggers? Use the search box to see who’s tweeting right now on your current obsessions. Coco Chanel, Firefly, Machu Picchu. It’s like shaking a snow globe and up they float. Pick a few (not just the pretties), look at their bios and read a few tweets. If they tickle your fancy, click follow, and introduce yourself, that is, type an @reply to their username.
But don’t just stick with your kind of nerd. Cast the net wide. Take a gamble. If your followers remind you of those lovable real life friends, you're kind of owning a Ferrari and only taking it grocery shopping.
Within a few days of following someone, you’ll know if they’re for keeps. If they are, plunder the list of people they follow for more goodies. If they’re not for you, un-follow and shake the snow globe again. It's your dinner party.
Once you’re following around 50 active Twitterers, you’ll understand why I call Facebook a ghost town.
Don’t forget to throw in some quality news feeds too, with my pick being @BBCbreaking and @BBCworld. And hunt out the journalists who work in the newsrooms if you want your ear to be even closer to the ground.
You’ll also want to follow The Names. Brands, governments, charities, football clubs, festivals, museums… Twitter’s full of organisations attempting to hang with the cool kids. I'm a copywriter so it's fascinating for me to watch them sign-up and set out their stalls, with sites like www.mytweet16.com letting you snoop on anyone’s fledgling tweets.
And they can really get it wrong.
Have you ever been in a day of meetings and broken for lunch to find someone still doing meeting talk? Corporate language, only one topic (them), only one opinion (theirs). That’s corporate Twitter at its worst.
People follow Names to hear their latest, of course, but they also want to see personality and charm. They want to venture off topic because that’s fun. They want to see a Name ask questions and listen to answers. To loosen the tie. No one wants a 140 character brochure.
The next Twitter challenge is finding the movers and shakers who link to the best of the web as it breaks, and are often at the heart of fascinating, fearless debates that then make the headlines. How? Explore a trending topic that excites you, and you find a lot of tweets coming from one source. Hmm.
To really enjoy Twitter you need to be in the thick of it.
Plump-up your follower list by following and tweeting yourself. Shake your Twitter booty.
Follow back with a generous spirit, block the spam and anyone you find offensive.
And if someone does not follow you back right away, relax. They may need you to strike up a few conversations (do an @ reply to their tweet) before they notice your wonderfulness. They may simply not want to follow you: that is allowed.
Once you’ve got around 100 good followers, you’ve got a ‘hive mind’ to ask stuff. Any kind of stuff, and you’ll be amazed at what comes back.
I must confess it took me a long time get hashtags.
What are they? A word or phrase with # at the beginning - no spaces - which creates a ready made, clickable search so you can see all tweets with that tag at that moment.
Do you remember picking out a string of matching buttons that someone had kindly threaded together in your granny's sewing box? A hashtag does that, but with a planet full of tweets.
If you want a whole new dimension to watching an event on TV, follow the hashtag, you can do this even if you don't have a Twitter account. Lots of TV programmes now tell you the tag to use in the opening titles. The appeal? It's a like a theatre audience took a wrong turn and ended up at a wrestling match. Or perhaps the reverse. It's naughty, but I like it.
Twitter for the Copywriter
But for the writer Twitter has extra appeal. Making your point within seconds is what copywriting has always been about, so for me Twitter’s a trip to the writing gym. I follow a lot of professional writers, and people who simply write well, and love to see what they do with so little space. And I love the instant feedback. When you watch a tweet skim (being re-tweeted over and over) it sharpens your instincts for what excites. And when a tweet sinks without a trace, you also take note of what bores.
The fly in the ointment?
Not everyone’s a darling, or course. There are people you won’t find exciting on Twitter, oh yes, but you know what, you just don’t follow them. And rude people? Try blocking. And like anywhere else, there is spam. People trying to gate crash the party wearing a sandwich board. Did they think we wouldn't notice? But avoiding them is so much easier than in real life.
So hop over to Twitter now and search for something that matters to you.
The party never stops. The venue's planet sized. The guests are just your cup of tea. And here's your invitation.
You can find me on Twitter @Angpang
This post is a based upon an article by me first published on the lovely Sarah Lamballe's Copywriting Blogspot here http://copwriting.blogspot.com/2009/05/this-twitter-thing.html