A question I’ve been getting a lot lately is, “What is twitter?” Invariably this is followed up with, “Why would people want to know what I’m doing all day?” New and prospective twitter users are often somewhat baffled by the service and aren’t quite sure what to make of it or how to put it to good use. I’m going to try and jog through the main reasons I like twitter and back them up with examples, helpful tools, and some personal anecdotes.
First, I’m going to briefly (very briefly) touch on the basic machinations behind twitter. The upshot is that you get 140 characters to type something. Anything. Usually a “tweet” describes what your doing but can be anything from a random thought to a question for your followers.
Who are followers? The other major mechanic to understand about twitter is that in order for people to see what you’re writing, they have to subscribe to your feed or “follow” you. There are several ways to do this but the most basic is simply to open a browser to your profile at http://twitter.com/profile_name and click the “follow” button under your avatar. Presto. now anything you type will show in your subscribers’ feeds. Likewise, when you click another user’s follow button, anything they tweet will show in your feed. This interaction is the fulcrum upon which twitter’s power really lies.
So? Now what?
From this point there are many directions you can take. You may choose to follow only your friends and have them follow you. You may choose to follow celebrities, news anchors, or organizations. You may even only follow companies, if they’re on twitter, that have a product your are interested it knowing about.
The direction I took was a little bit different than any of those but I do use twitter for each of the previously mentioned purposes. The main reason I like twitter so much is community. Community is the key idea I want to try and get across. To me twitter isn’t very useful for following people I’ve never met, will never meet, and who are half a world away. I am interested in following local people who are involved with or are interested in the same things I am. For me, that’s local technology and culture. For you it could be real estate. Or marketing. Or public relations. Or art.
I signed up for twitter in April 2008. I didn’t really “get it” but I knew I wanted to get better plugged into the Philadelphia technology and culture scene. I wanted to meet the people involved and get involved myself. One of the BEST tools I used to get started was Twitter Local. Twitter profiles allow you to set your location. Mine says “Philadelphia, PA” for example. Twitter Local allows you to search for tweets by location as they happen. From there it’s just footwork… so to speak. I spent a long time sifting through local tweets to begin to stitch together the community I was looking for. From there I started following people and paying attention to what they had to say. Then I followed people they were following and paid attention to what THEY had to say. Along the way I replied to some tweets and got into plenty of interactive conversations but my main goal was to FIND people. If you are trying to find people by topic, regardless of location, there is http://search.twitter.com This is the reverse process of the one I just described but it’s certainly worth mentioning. You’ll know when you have found the people you’re looking for. They will start tweeting about local community events or pointing out people who are contributing to projects. My first Philadelphia technology community event was Ignite Philly where I met Roz Duffy who I would later team up with to put on our own event! But that story is for another post.
It’s the Community, Stupid.
Today I’d say about 85% of the people I follow on twitter are local community leaders, planners, contributors, and Philadelphia enthusiasts. I sprinkle in a few Internet celebrities, too, so I can keep an eye on things but like I’ve been saying, the power of twitter is local community!
What’s your next step? If you’re a Realtor, search for other Realtors on twitter! If you’re in marketing, search for other marketers! When you find the rest of your local community, whatever it is, things will start to happen. Conversations will unfold. And you will be part of them.