I've mentioned before that I tried Twitter awhile back and immediately gave up on it. I'm glad my colleague Steve Weiss talked me back onto it last October, mostly because I'm now finding it to be a more valuable tool and platform than blogging.
With that in mind, I'd like to present the five most important things I've learned about Twitter over the past few months (in no particular order):
It's all about the client -- Twitter's website is as bare-bones as it gets. If you base your impression of Twitter on the site itself you'll walk away disappointed. Once you sign up you really need to get a client app for Twitter. I used Twhirl for awhile but some colleagues talked me into TweetDeck. I love TweetDeck but it tends to crash and make my system flaky; I can go days without rebooting if I don't run TweetDeck but I have to reboot every day if I'm running it. (My Mac friends tell me it's much more stable on that platform, so I'm glad I'll be switching shortly.) The point here is that the various client apps offer a great deal more Twitter functionality than the website itself does. And don't forget about your mobile device. I have a couple of Twitter clients on my iPhone and I use them as much as I use TweetDeck on my laptop. Mobile devices and Twitter were made for each other.
It's more about listening than speaking -- It's true. Nobody cares how good your blueberry muffin was. Please don't Twitter that stuff. I don't tweet that frequently but I get loads of value by following (listening to) other Twitterers. Hashtags are one way to tune into a specific discussion. For example, at last week's TOC conference if you followed the #toc hashtag you could have tuned in to the proceedings (more on that in a moment). Listening is next to impossible without a great client that offers search functionality though.
It enriches the conference experience -- I couldn't believe the Twitter activity throughout the TOC conference. It's one thing to marvel at the volume of tweets, but it's even more important to stop and think about the value that's created by that stream. TOC was a multi-track conference, which means sessions were run in parallel and you obviously couldn't be in multiple rooms at once...unless you followed the Twitter stream. I found myself listening to a speaker in one session while also reading the tweets from the others running simultaneously. Some attendees felt the tweet stream made another session look more interesting so they switched from one to another. It was also interesting to read audience feedback while that particular session was still running. Twitter has the potential to dramatically affect (and improve!) the conference model.
Speaking of conferences, you don't even have to be there to get the benefit -- T&E budgets are tight. You probably won't make it to all the conferences you'd like to attend this year. Why not research the ones you'll miss and see if there will be hashtags to follow along from home/office? Anyone who missed TOC would have benefited significantly from following #toc last week. It doesn't replace the in-person networking and other benefits of being there, but it's better than missing out entirely. And, if you're lucky, you might be able to pass your speaker question(s) along to an attendee via Twitter.
It's 140 characters per tweet, max, sort of... -- The 140-character tweet limit is both the best and worst aspect of Twitter. I love it that nobody can ramble on but it's painful when you've tightened your message as much as possible and you're still looking at 142 characters. That's where links come in. I've sometimes written a lengthier blog post and then linked to it from a tweet (in fact, I'm about to do just that with this one). Some followers won't bother to click through but if you make your link message powerful enough you might coax them. Remember to use numbers (rather than spelling them out) and symbols (such as &, not "and") when you run tight!
So there you have it. My top five points about Twitter. Now for the call to action. If you don't already have a Twitter account you need to sign up right now. Seriously, do it now, don't wait. Next, download a client app and start playing around with it. These two steps combined will take you all of about 3-5 minutes, so it's not a big time investment. Next, if you're looking for publishing/publisher Twitterers, start by looking at the 75 Twitterers I'm currently following. And do me a favor: If you find some other interesting publishing-related Twitterers that I'm not yet following, please let me know (or add them via a comment to this post).
Twitter is for real. So are the benefits of being on Twitter. Jump in today and you'll ask yourself why you waited so long.