"I don't twit." That's what my friend proudly stated the other day. I didn't say that she doesn't "tweet," not "twit." A more popular comment is, "I don't care what people had for lunch today." I hear these kinds of things from people all the time when I mention Twitter. People are entitled to their own opinions, but it would be much more interesting if they had fully investigated it on their own. Who can blame them when, in theory, it does seem pretty trivial? So I'm writing this for those of you who might want to try it, but have no idea why you should bother or how to go about it. You might find it fun, like I do, or at least gain a more original reason for disliking it.
First, to give you a sense of my background and my point of view, I'm in my 40s. That means that I typed my papers in school, learned to use a computer in my first job, remember where I was when I first downloaded a picture on the Internet. I felt really exposed when I first joined LinkedIn. When my 20-something workmates were checking out guys on Facebook several years ago, I thought it was bizarre. "You mean you can look anyone up on there?" So when Twitter came along, I thought it was yet another crazy thing that seemed way too high maintenance for a child of the 70s like me.
But when I started to work for myself three years ago and I got a new client who heard about me from her friend's Twitter feed, I thought maybe it was time to really check it out. Although I had an account set up pretty early on, it had been inactive, as I hoped that the whole thing would go the way of MySpace or Friendster. But it didn't, and lucky for me, since I did get that client.
So I started poking around and here are some things that I learned:
1. It's best to ease in to Twitter. Don't expect to sit down and understand all that's going on in a couple of sessions. Set up an account, use a real photo, and don't "protect" your tweets because it kind of defeats the whole purpose. Look for people you know to follow.
Once you find a few people, you can see who they're following. That's a great way to discover a multitude of interesting people, organizations, causes, journalists, events, people you admire, etc.
2. Do a Google search on Twitter Etiquette so that you have an understanding of basic rules. One example is not retweeting someone's tweet without attributing it to the person who sent it out first.
3. Don't worry too much about whether your first tweets are that meaningful. For one thing, if you tweet something dumb, most people won't even notice because it scrolls down so quickly. Unless you're prone to outrageously self-destructive outbursts, by "dumb" I'm referring mostly to boring. Nobody ever got kicked off Twitter or lost out on a job because of a boring tweet.
One suggestion for Twitter is to share a little bit about yourself, along with other topics, so that people know there's a human being behind the avatar. But it's not as easy as you might think. Usually the tweets I regret are the ones where I'm attempting to share a slice of my life and it just comes out as dull. Something like, "I got lost in Home Depot today and had to rest on the lawn furniture." I never tweeted this, but I could have. It's the kind of thing I would think was funny at the time, but then after I tweet it and see it in black and white, I realize it's not funny at all. But it's not a big deal. You can just move on with your day. Of course, I'm a little compulsive, so before I move on, I find something better to tweet so that dull one is not at the top of my timeline.
4. Before you start tweeting everything that interests you, figure out what your objective is. I'm a career and life coach for creatives, so I tend to tweet things related to careers, creative things that I think are cool, advertising industry tidbits, and self-development type articles or revelations. I have a personal interest in yoga, which I see as related to self-development so I often tweet about that. But where I've veered off course in the past is around social causes. I went to a conference once in Washington DC and tweeted about it, but realized afterwards that it was way off my usual topic. I decided if I wanted to continue to tweet about activism, I should set up a separate account or save it for my personal Facebook wall.
5. Use a third-party dashboard application to organize the people you follow or you'll never find anything you want to read. You can start by creating your Lists on Twitter. Then you could get Tweetdeck or HootSuite or any other application and see what works best for you. I like HootSuite because I found having it on my desktop was too distracting. Also, I like having it on my phone because if I'm waiting somewhere, I can start looking at random tweets and FAVORITE the ones I want to come back to.
6. Use your "favorite" button. This is a great way to not get sucked in to three hours of Twitter. If you see something that looks interesting, Favorite it and check it out later when you have more time. I never Retweet something that I haven't read first, so I use this button a lot.
7. Don't succumb to the initial overwhelm. When I was first diving in to Twitter I got so excited about all the information that I was glued to my computer. When I wasn't glued, I was feeling this urge to get back to see what I missed. This went on for two days and then, thankfully, it stopped. I was able to detach and that was a relief because I was a little scared for myself.
8. Don't think that because you didn't grow up texting or with social media that you're just not going to "get" it. It feels awkward at first, but you get used to it. It's also a work in progress. You might find that one person's tweets are not interesting to you or they tweet too often; you can simply unfollow them. Twitter doesn't tell you who unfollows you. There are third-party applications that will, but hopefully by the time you decide you want one of these, you're using it to improve your online presence and not getting riled up about the Mommy Blogger who unfollowed you after you tweeted all night about your exciting escapades in the city. But, most of the time, it's not someone you know anyway, but someone who isn't finding your tweets relevant for them, or they followed you so that you would follow them back (an unfortunate strategy that some tweeters use, or more commonly bots).
9. Block out the noise of Twitter. When I see an article on how to get more Twitter followers, or why my brand must have Twitter, I keep on scrolling. I don't really care. I use Twitter because it's fun. I use it because it helps me stay connected to technology and what's going on in advertising, creative and other things that interest me, even though I'm living far away from the pulse of any of these things. I'm not saying it's not good for building a brand or marketing yourself. In fact, I do it for those reasons too. But it's not the only reason or I would probably hire someone else to do it for me.
10. Take breaks and schedule your time on Twitter. I've learned to only get on Twitter in the morning, maybe at lunch and in the evening. I never touch it over the weekend. When I go on, I tell myself how long I have. Sometimes I set a timer.
Finally, the way that I explained Twitter to my 73-year old mother is this: I compared it to how, when she goes on vacation, she gathers up all the pamphlets in the lobby of the hotel and spreads them out all over the bed to absorb all there is to know about that place. It's like that. It's great for information junkies who just like to learn and be in the know. If you're one of those people or even if you're not, just give it a try, but like anything new, you have to give it some time before you make a decision about it. Then you can decide for yourself.
Anne Hubben believes the only thing worse than looking for a job you want is looking for a job you don't want. Anne is a career coach and recruiter for creative talent. She has been recruiting creatives in the design and advertising industry for 15 years and coaching them internationally for 4 years. She can be found at AnneHubben.com where she offers free resources and creative career tips. Say hello on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+