I’ve been noodling around with Twitter for a few months now. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’ve had an account for months, but for the longest time, I didn’t do anything with it because I didn’t understand it. I kept reading articles and columns about Twitter, but it remained like calculus to me, except with calculus, I never had the breakthrough, while with Twitter, I had a “twepiphany” the other day (Twitter users like to create neologisms that all start with TW).
That’s not to say that I understand it completely. Actually, I think I might have been born 30 years too early to totally grok Twitter, but I am using my account now and I’m thinking about ways that I might be able to use it on behalf of my clients and to market the agency.
David Pogue, personal tech writer for the New York Times, had a very good article on Twitter today that explains what it is and what it does, but best of all, he offers some very good advice that, had I had it three months ago, I could have been tweeting already:
DON’T KNOCK IT TILL YOU’VE TRIED IT Of course, this advice goes for anything in life. But listen: even my own masterful prose can’t capture what you’ll feel when you try Twitter. So try it.
If you don’t get any value from it, close the window and never come back; that’s fine. Despite all the press, Twitter is still largely a geek and early-adopter phenomenon at this point.
DON’T USE THE WEB SITE I couldn’t believe that six million Twitter users lumber off to a Web page every time they want to send or read tweets. Turns out they don’t. About 70 percent use sweet little free programs that sit at the edges of their screens (or run on their cellphones, especially iPhones) all day. They have names like TweetDeck, Twitterfeed, Twhirl and Twitterific.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ ALL THE TWEETS It’s common to check out someone’s Twitter profile and read, “Following: 900 people.” Baloney. Nobody has the time to read all the tweets from more than about 30 people — at least, nobody with a life.
Clearly, these high subscribers just read the most recent ones, or skim for good ones, or use search.twitter.com to find messages on certain subjects.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER ALL THE REPLIES If you have a lot of followers, you get a lot of replies to your tweets. Fortunately, this isn’t e-mail; nobody expects you to answer everything.
IF YOU’RE CONFUSED ABOUT REPLYING, YOU’RE NOT ALONE If you reply to one of my tweets, I can write back in either of two ways. I can reply as another public tweet, but of course nobody but you will have any idea what I’m talking about. (“@puppydog: Maybe in Montana!!! LOL”).
Or I can send you a private Direct Message — but then our dialogue may end. You can’t reply to my Direct Message unless I’m also following you (it’s an antispam measure, according to Twitter). Get it? Me either. Twitter Inc. says it’s working on fixing this and a host of other confusing elements.
USE IT HOWEVER YOU LIKE I’ve finally harnessed Twitter’s power for my own nefarious ends. I pass on jokes. I share little thoughts that don’t merit a full blog or article post. I follow links and track buddies. I un-follow people who are boring or post 50 times a day.
And I query the multitudes. Last week, I was writing a script for a TV segment, and needed a great example of “an arty movie that a teenage baby sitter wouldn’t be caught dead watching.” My followers instantly shot back a huge assortment of hilarious responses. (“Gandhi.” “My Dinner with André.” “The Red Balloon.”)
Other people plug their blogs, or commiserate, or break news; the first report of the plane in the Hudson came from a Twitterer. It’s all good.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE RULES Including mine. Use Twitter the way you want to. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Oh, and one more tip: when you’re trying to get real work done, it’s also O.K. to close Twitter. It may be powerful, useful, addictive and fascinating — but in the end, it’s still an Internet time drain.
And be sure to watch Pogue’s very entertaining video on the page with the article.