How To Overcome Your Fear of Twitter (David Fallon)
Twitter.com, one of the most popular social mediums of today, is also one of the most intimidating. Why does it scare people, particularly in business? On the other hand, why do some people like it so much? And how can you start using it for business or personal purposes?
There are a lot of things that are intimidating about Twitter:
- It’s so big! Millions upon millions of people tweet every day. How can you keep up with that? And what about the different types of people who tweet? It’s an odd mixture of teens and young adults, celebrities, politicians, and specialists and business people. How do you fit in with that? How do you share the same space with A-list actors and singers?
- It’s so small! A lot has been made about the famous 140-character limit on posts. How can you possibly use a service with that restriction? How can it possibly be so popular unless if it is filled with crass jokes and one-liners? That’s certainly not something you want, is it? So why bother with it at all?
- It’s so… weird… Yes, you will see all kinds of crazy things on Twitter. There is the incredibly and unexpectedly complicated LEET or TXT speak, there is a ton of references to things you may not know anything about, and there is a wealth of spammers looking to take advantage. How can a system so polluted with garbaldygook possibly be useful or entertaining?
(Those are probably the biggest fears, but if you know of others write them below in the comments!)
Now, I’m going to address and clarify the different intimidations from above and hopefully make a case for you to at least try Twitter. If you’re game, read on and I’ll give you a few quick tips to get started and enjoy tweeting.
The hallmark of social media is just that: being social. You use it to communicate with people, from your closest friends and family, to distant relations, to old school friends, to people you don’t know personally but have something in common with. Twitter is no different. Using Twitter, you can communicate with people who want to hear from you, and you can listen to people you want to hear from. It’s that simple. Of course, this only works if you have control over things, but you’ll find that Twitter offers a lot of control: over whom you follow and even over who follows you. Those controls mean you won’t be overwhelmed (unless you want to be), and you can share a platform with all sorts of different people without problem.
The 140-character limit looks stifling at first, but it’s actually remarkably freeing. Because of the limit, you can easily and quickly skim massive amounts of posts for things of interest to you. Also, it forces you (and everyone else) to boil down that they are saying to just the important things. Depending on your diffusiveness, getting used to the shorter posts may be difficult at first, but you may find that practicing “being brief” helps you in all your communications…
Perhaps because of the 140-character limit, the posts can seem awkward or obtuse. People frequently refer to things happening in sports, the media, entertainment, or even just in their own private life. Also, some people deal with the character limit by squeezing as much meaning out of each character as possible, a practice often called TXT speak. Finally, because you only have a few words to judge, you may click a link thinking the poster was talking about one thing, only to find it is actually something completely different, or that it was pure spam. I’ll address dealing with these in the tips below, but suffice it to say they are all things you can and should deal with. Again, social media is about being social, and sometimes that means awkward conversations at first. Once you get going, though, I promise you will pick it up.
So what do you say? Want to give Twitter a whirl? What have you got to lose?
Actually, depending on what you want to use the Internet for, you could be missing out on a lot by avoiding Twitter. If you are a news junkie, or want to follow your biggest heroes and celebrities, or even just keep up on your particular industry or profession, keep in mind that often Twitter is the first place news breaks. Everyone, from celebrities to corporations to news outlets will often tweet what is going on in nearly real time, and though the tweets are necessarily short, they are telling because they are also usually direct from the minds of those involved in whatever news there is.
If you are more interested in talking and sharing online, Twitter is perfect for that as well. Whether you are doing it for marketing purposes or just because you have something to say, people on Twitter are listening. Twitter is an unusual medium in that it is both timely and timeless at the same time. As I said before, Twitter is “near real-time”, and your posts can be read right away and shared instantly to people you never knew. At the same time, people search Twitter for information and can come across your Tweets days or weeks after you posted them. Twitter tends to cut off older posts on some subjects, but there are services to search old tweets that are used by people researching a variety of topics.
- First is re-read the two paragraphs above and ask yourself: What can Twitter do for me? Come up with an idea of what you want to use Twitter for first, before you get in there and start posting or following. Do you want to listen? Do you want to talk? Or do you want a combination of the two?
- Second, spare a thought to whom you want to listen and talk to. This is important, as I said there are a lot of controls on Twitter, and everyone has them. With such a wealth of information, people do tend to look for certain keywords, so if you are selling widgets, you are talking to people who buy widgets. If you are listening to Madonna, you are looking for people who have something to do with Madonna. Get it?
- Third, dive in! Yes, go to www.Twitter.com, type in your email address and get started. Twitter walks you through the steps, but here’s an idea of what you will need to do:
- Your Twitter handle: you can try your name in different ways (first_last, firstinitial_last, last_first, etc), but if those happen to be taken, don’t fret! Just get creative! What are you using Twitter for? Who do you anticipate communicating with? Pick a term that says that!
- Your contact info: It’s up to you how comfortable you are with giving your real name and location, even a general location. But keep in mind that hiding your name behind something obviously fake (like “Mickey Mouse” or “Michael Jackson”) may be amusing but it also may come across as childish and untrustworthy. Twitter doesn’t let you leave this field blank, so if you really don’t want to use your real name, maybe use something generic but not silly, like “Joe Smith” or “Jen Doe”.
- Your website and bio: Twitter gives you up to 160 characters for this, so you get to start being brief early. A good strategy is to just list what you’re tweeting about. Are you a marketer? Are you a rapper? Are you a librarian?
- Your picture: Think about this before you post it. If you want to be professional, use a professional picture. If you are OK with symbols or logos, use that. Don’t leave the stock “egg” photo because spammers frequently do that and it can ruin your trust.
- Next, follow some Twitter folks. It all starts with this. Be somewhat selective at first until you get used to it. Maybe just pick five to ten people who seem to match what you are interested in. A good way to find them? Use the search feature in the upper corner. Or click Discover on the top and then look at Who To Follow. Twitter also offers options to find people on your email address book or those who are your friends on Facebook.
- Start Tweeting! Don’t be surprised if people don’t add you right away. That’s OK and probably expected. Instead of waiting for the masses to find you, try listening to the conversations of the people you are following and then respond to them. You can click the Reply link at the bottom of each post, or you can “mention” the person you are responding to by putting their twitter handle after an @ sign.
- Avoid spam. It isn’t always easy, but you’ll start to get the hang of how spammers operate on Twitter. First, just because someone follows you, doesn’t mean you have to automatically follow them back. Often, spammers follow droves of people hoping to get a follow back. It’s better to follow people after you’ve seen their posts and have determined that you want to follow them. Also, don’t be alarmed at the “direct messages” you may occasionally get that are obviously machine-written. Remember, you can always mark messages and posters as spam, which Twitter takes seriously and will resolve, and you can always unfollow or even block them if they get annoying.
- Play and learn. You will get the hang of things like hashtags, retweets, and short linking. Don’t let them intimidate you up front, though. They are easy to get used to after you’ve been tweeting for a while.
Twitter is great, but tools that help you use the information and the service are even better. There’s a ton of them out there, but here are two of my favorites.
- Hootsuite: This free application allows you to schedule posts and organize your lists easily in a single interface. There are others like it, but Hootsuite has always been my favorite.
- InboxQ: I have only found and started using this recently, but it’s already my favorite. Create a “campaign” by listing keywords of things you are interested in, then InboxQ will find and list questions by posters on Twitter whether you are following them or not, and present them to you to reply to. It’s absolutely the best at finding people who are asking about what you want to talk about, and gives you an easy way to approach them and start interacting. Better yet, get the plugin for Hootsuite or for your browser!
I really believe there is no one that can’t learn, enjoy, and benefit from Twitter. If you have never tried it before, don’t let the different factors about it deter you. Give it a try! You may find it’s your new favorite thing!
Have a favorite piece of advice about Twitter? Share it here, or give us a link to it. Have questions about Twitter? Ask!