A few words about using the social media and 'micro-blogging' site Twitter.
Know why you're there...
There are several reasons people join Twitter.
Some people treat Twitter as a micro-blog. They write short posts several times a day about whatever pops into their heads. This 'stream of consciousness' style of writing can be appealing. (Try to remember though, you're still posting to an audience – and treat them with respect. Tweets pointing out 'I fancy another cup of tea' or 'wouldn't it be fun to watch paint dry' will lose their value after the twentieth time.)
Many people use Twitter for social updates - similar to a status updates on Facebook or an 'away' message on instant messaging.
For businesses and institutions, Twitter has become one of the many ways to announce a new product, a special promotion or link to a press release. To hang on to their followers, their tweets will need to be more than just shameless self-promotion, however. Which leads us nicely into...
Try and write something interesting...
Not always that easy, I know. Sadly, we're not all James Bond...
However, according to a recent Neilsen poll
, Twitter is the fastest growing social networking site. With so many users joining the conversation, the competition for followers is becoming intense. To attract and maintain followers, users need to share content that others find interesting.
You might think that 140 characters isn't enough text to communicate anything relevant – but you're wrong.
People who have success with Twitter share information in a variety of ways. They post a link to an interesting news story. They ask questions to learn what their followers are interested in. They follow other Twitter feeds and engage in conversations with people they're following. They also use Twitter frequently. As with most things, practice is essential. The only way to get comfortable using Twitter is to dive in and use it.
Use Twitter wisely...
There's using Twitter as a resource, and then there's prevaricating and wasting time. It's good for both.
If you want to use it wisely, use Twitter as a research aid. Twitter provides you with a ready-made audience to ask questions. You can plug keywords into Twitters search function to find information on a topic you're researching and see what other people are saying about it.
If you're a blogger who wants to drive traffic to your site, or if you're running a business - or even working for a large engineering and technology institute - you can use Twitter as a marketing tool to build name recognition. It's not even necessary to have a long list of followers to have success. When you reply to someone else's tweet, your name and avatar will show up as well. So if you add interesting, relevant comments to someone else's tweets, you're bringing attention to yourself.
Whatever your interest, look for what people are saying about it on Twitter by using a hash mark (#) before the search term. If you're providing a link to a website or blog, run it through a site like tinyurl.com to conserve space.
There's a whole world out there...
Before you get a Twitter account, it's important to decide how much privacy you want to keep. When you're sending out messages, you might forget people are reading them. Twitter lends itself to a more laid-back and personal writing style, so it's important not to be seduced into revealing more than you're comfortable with.
The default setting for Twitter is to allow anyone to follow a feed. If you only want friends and family members reading your updates, go into the preferences and change your settings.
There's no right or wrong answer to how much privacy one should keep on Twitter. Choose the level with which you're most comfortable. Many people make the mistake of letting down all privacy guards, using their first and last names, talking about their community and posting pictures of their kids, assuming only a few people will follow them. But once you start following other people and commenting on their tweets, your list of followers will naturally increase. Anyone following that person can read your comments, click on your name, and head straight to your page.
The interactive nature of Twitter is one reason that it has become so popular. It's easy to forget, however, that your comments can be read by anyone, not just the person you're replying to. Many people are surprised how quickly their list of followers grows, without their making any effort to attract followers. If this makes you uncomfortable, change your profile settings before you make your first tweet.
Understand how Twitter works...
To use Twitter effectively, it's important to understand how it works. Anyone with a Twitter account can leave a direct message that others can view. If that was where Twitter stopped, it wouldn't be so popular. Twitter users can also reply to other people's tweets. This interaction is what makes Twitter so popular.
If you respond to someone who's following you on Twitter, the message will be preceded by the @ sign, followed by the person's username. Even though that person is responding to someone directly, anyone can read the message. Want to keep it private? You can respond by sending a private 'direct message'. (But, unless you're following the person, he or she can't respond back.)
Read something interesting from someone you're following? It's perfectly acceptable to pass it along, just give credit where credit is due, and acknowledge that it is a "re-tweet." (Some people like to forward the message with a 'RT' at the beginning, but, personally, I've never really understood that one...)
Oh, and though it's only 140 characters, do try and keep your spelling and grammar decent. If you want to successfully communicate with people – and build relationships – you probably want them to know what you're on about..