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July 27, 2009

What is This Twitter Thing? - Part 3

Hopefully the previous two posts on Twitter have given you some idea of what you might want to do with it, at least as far as what you want to read is concerned. But reading is only half the fun. Hell, it's not even half the fun, actually.

How do you become a part of this vast Twitter universe? What will get people following you and reading what you write? How do you get friends, socialize with people, and generally become part of the conversation? Well, you're just going to have to post something, aren't you?

I know what you're thinking. "Why would anybody care what I say?" "I don't do anything interesting." Things like that. Don't worry, I thought the same way too. (Shout from the Peanut Gallery: "And you're still not interesting!") There's nothing wrong with posting some kind of introductory post, just to get things started. My very first post, way back when, was something about trying "understand this Twitter thing." Of course, it got me no followers, but that's because I didn't follow it up with anything else.

There are two things to know about interacting with other people on Twitter.

1) People love to have their posts forwarded to others (called "Re-tweeting" in Twitterspeak). A lot of people actually have searches set up so they can see if somebody re-tweets what they say. They'll occasionally even thank you for it by replying to you. So if you're following somebody and they say something that you think other people who are interested in the same thing might like to know, go ahead and re-tweet it.

You might say "but I don't have any followers yet, so who's going to see it?" While that's true, you're already beginning to build a network because your post will show up on twitter searches and you've already become known to the person you re-tweeted.

Now, I don't suggest you re-tweet with total abandon, but some re-tweeting is a good way to get started.

Of course, the web version of Twitter doesn't support easy re-tweeting, but you can copy-and-paste the post, making sure you give credit to the person (like this, but without the quotation marks: "RT @histerin Trying this Twitter thing out now.") Or you can use a Twitter application, which I'll talk about in another post.

2) Reply to people. Did somebody say something you found valuable or interesting? Reply to it and tell them! If it's a celebrity, there's a good chance you won't get a response, but others will probably respond, depending on what you say. The response will show up on your Twitter profile (everything you post publicly will), so don't think it's only going to them and say something you wouldn't want the whole world to see. The only way to message people directly and privately is when they follow you. Yes, I know that's weird, but that's how it's set up.

The easiest way to get involved, though, is to just start posting things that you find interesting. Are you into politics? Did you see an interesting political news story? Post a link to it with your opinion about it. Into sports? Did you see that Michael Vick got partially re-instated today? If you're reading a news article on it, pass it along! Did you see some good Days of Our Lives gossip that you might want to pass along? Do it!

Yes, you can also post things like "Going down to Outback Steakhouse tonight for dinner with the wife. She's paying!" as long as that's not all you post. In fact, posts like that actually humanize you once you do have followers. It gives them an insight into your life and how you're living it. There's nothing wrong with that. You just won't build too many followers if you start out that way.

One piece of advice, too. Make sure you post information your profile about interests and what you like to talk about. If you look at my profile, you'll see the following:

"Senior Program Assistant at UBC, conservative, love to read history and SF"

It's not much, but people see a little bit about me. Combine that with my posts, and they get an idea if I'm going to be interesting to follow. Some people don't follow anybody who doesn't have at least something on their profile, because it seems to indicate that the person doesn't really care about networking.

And you will get followers, even if you hardly post anything. These will be a combination of people who find you and hope desperately that you'll follow them back, spam accounts who are just trying to get their business/adult pictures/whatever information out there, and the like. People you follow will sometimes have a program set up so that if somebody follows them, they'll automatically follow that person back. Thus, some of the people you're following will follow you. That doesn't mean they'll read you, but it does add to your list.

The best advice I can give is just to keep tweeting. Don't post 100 tweets your first day or anything like that (that's spamming), but just remain active. As you continue to tweet and to read other people's tweets, you'll find it's a fun experience. And the first time somebody responds to one of your tweets, or re-tweets something you sent out, you'll get a thrill up your leg that doesn't have anything to do with Obama.

Keep in mind that these tips have nothing to do with being "successful" on Twitter, as far as becoming a Twitter celebrity or a pundit, or using it successfully to promote your business. There are far better guides out there for that. These posts are just intended for those who want to dip their toes in, see what the phenomenon is, and have some fun.

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