If you’re looking for a very basic introduction to Twitter, this is it.
Twitter is a social media tool for your smart phone, tablet or computer. People use it to post short messages, no longer than 140 characters, called tweets. It’s a lot like blogging, but small. Some people call it micro-blogging. Tweets, like blog posts, are commonly broadcast, or tweeted, to the world, though they can be private. If you’re interested in reading another person’s tweets, you follow them (like I hope you’re following this blog), and all their messages will appear in your home feed. You can also do a search on anything you like and find many tweets on that subject tweeted by anyone at all, whether you’re following them or not–much as you can google a subject and find blog posts on that topic even if you aren’t following those particular blogs. Companies tweet. Celebrities tweet. Check out your dentist. He may be tweeting.
It’s hard to keep up. Once you’ve followed enough twitterers you’ll realize their tweets scroll by continuously. You’re also likely to find that you don’t want to keep up. Remember the good old days when you used to wonder how people could possibly find anything interesting to say in so little space? Now you know; for the most part they don’t. But sometimes 140 characters are plenty. If there’s breaking news, you can see what people on the ground are saying by doing a search on the topic. And people can include links in their tweets. Imagine Luther tweeting “Read my 95 Theses here!” instead of nailing them to the church door.
I thought I’d found a wonderful way to use Twitter when I began following major magazines. They tweet links to their own articles and blog posts. But, heck, you find ten of these wonderful information sources and you’ll be reading all day. For a while. Then you’ll begin to slack off and the tweets will just roll by when you’re not looking and exhiliration will be replaced with guilt. Just what you needed. Something else left undone, preying on your peace of mind. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. I felt blissful when I unfollowed all those wonderful content producers and took a long vacation from Twitter.
One way to tailor Twitter to your interests is to use hashtags. Suppose you’re putting on an event — say, a lemon festival. (I don’t know what a lemon festival is either, but I like lemons and this is my imaginary scenario.) I want to discuss this festival with people and maybe drum up some interest in the community, so I start tweeting about my plans, and in every tweet I include #LemonFest. I put it on flyers and posters and in my newspaper ads. People who are interested can do a search on #LemonFest and pull up all my tweets. They can tweet questions or comments using the same hashtag and ALL these tweets are easy for anyone to find.
This can also work against you. Just ask the NYPD.
There’s a lot more to Twitter, but for my purposes, here’s what I hope you’ll get from this post:
1) Tweets are short messages that are broadcast to anyone interested.
2) Tweets may be short, but they can include links.
3) You can have another person’s tweets delivered to your feed by following them, and other people can follow you.
4) There are mechanisms to make finding content easier. I’ve mentioned search and hashtags, but there are a lot more.