How to explain Twitter and use it correctly, before it’s too late

by Shawn Smith on March 7, 2008

Twitter etiquette should be learned by all

As Twitter gains in popularity (expected to have reached more than 1M users already!), more news orgs are catching on to Twitter and using the microblogging for posting breaking news, re-syndicating feeds and liveblogging.

This is great news! I’ve found more and more news people showing up on the network and have connected with many. I really reading about new projects of my colleagues and have gotten great feedback on my projects when I ask for it.

Twitter can help people connect with top minds in their respective industry in ways emails and phone calls never could. The days of awkward communication and profile stalking have ended. Twitter opens the communication lines to put nearly everyone on a level playing field.

Learn about Twitter

Are you new to Twitter or having a difficult time explaining it? Check out this Common Craft video that simplifies the service (Thanks Adam Tinworth for the find!)

Interaction is Key to building a viable Twitter network

What I have found out about many Twitter accounts, especially news orgs that are new to Tweeting, is that many of them simply re-syndicate their feeds to their Twitter accounts using Twitterfeed. This is a great use of Twitter, but a technique that doesn’t fully tap the power of the network.

Part of the Twixperiment we ran at my office uses Twitterfeed to syndicate feeds from our niche sections, and some of them have grown a decent following all on their own (@greenmichiganenvironment page tweets with 20 followers!). But like I said, the accounts of these networks won’t grow much. It takes interaction, which is what we try to accomplish with @MLive – an account with about 200 followers in fewer than a couple months and which is promoted on the Michigan Twitter Network.

As you can see, the account with more interaction has more followers.

If you’re going to Twitter, Tweet right!

Who says we need interaction when @CNN and @NYTimes and others have a couple thousand Twitter followers and they only re-syndicate their top stories feeds? Well, I’m guessing you or your news org isn’t quite as big and recognizable as either of those two outlets. That means your Twitter accounts aren’t likely to generate as much of a following without doing some work.

Here’s a couple tips for good tweeting and building a following:

  1. Write interesting Tweets. Whether you’re an individual or a news org, interesting tweets is what is going to generate follows.
  2. Be genuine. Give people reasons to trust you. Don’t promise amazing things in your links and send your followers to garbage content.
  3. Follow others! One thing that really caught my eye was checking out the Twitter accounts of @barackobama and @hillaryclinton. Obama has more than 14K followers and he follows back 13.5K. Clinton has about 1.7K followers and follows back nobody. Who do you think connects better with Twitter users (no preference on my part implied :) )?
  4. Share information about others too. Sure people want to know what’s up with you, but Twitterers also follow people who can be a resource to them. Likely, you’re not the only one creating great content on the web. When you find something interesting from another outlet or person, share it with your followers.

Get some Twittiquette

SEM (search engine marketing) consultant Jennifer Slegg drew up some thoughts for Twittiquette (Twitter etiquette) for marketing your blog without spamming. This can be easily applied to news orgs that are using Twitter to get their content out to a new audience.

Here’s a few of her tips (but you should read her entire post):

  • If you are going to send out a link to your blog entry on Twitter, at least make the effort to give it a killer headline that still works in the 140 character count once you have the URL in there too.
  • if you find something especially interesting, write a short but enticingly sweet headline, pop up a link and a @whoever shoutout.
  • don’t make the fatal faux pas of asking more than once for a Digg or Sphinn on the same post.

Slegg mentions that people who use Twitter to spam their stories have turned her off to the point that she has unfollowed some Tweeters. I can second that action and response.

A couple final tweets about Twittering

If you haven’t caught the Twitter bug yet, give a try to Twhirl. This is a desktop client that makes Tweeting a joyous endeavor. Other resources are listed on my ultimate guide to Twitter for journalists :).

I love meeting new people and following their tweets. Find me @shawnsmith and let’s connect!

Do you have any more thoughts about Twitter? Have you or your news org used it in an exciting way? Let me know – you can even send me a direct message!

{ 7 trackbacks }

Your Search Advisor
March 13, 2008 at 4:21 am
Your page is now on StumbleUpon!
March 7, 2008 at 9:43 am
Joi Podgorny's Bookmarks
March 7, 2008 at 10:04 am
Ultimate guide to Twitter tools and resources for journalists | New Media Bytes | Online journalism, web production and promotion
March 20, 2008 at 10:45 pm
Crimson Calf - Tweeting About Twitter
May 12, 2008 at 12:26 pm
Twitter for Beginners | Blogging Sueblimely
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May 3, 2009 at 11:30 am


Connie Reece March 7, 2008 at 9:47 am

Shawn, this is excellent advice. I’m closing in on tweet (update) #10,000, so you can tell I’m not a Twitter novice. I’ve been having some interesting discussions about how businesses can use Twitter, and interaction is key.

Your strategy of having one account for conversation and a separate one for news feed or business use seems to be working for others as well. More people will subscribe to the “marketing channel” Twitter account if they know it is partnered w/ a Twitter account where real people are interacting with the Twitterverse.

A good example is a small nonprofit called eMail Our Military. The president of the organization tweets personally as @Dayngr. She later started @MailOurMilitary specifially to communicate with Twitter users interested in the cause. The business account now has over 300 followers, most of whom probably got to know @Dayngr first.

[For Twitter newbies, the @ symbol is a way of designating a Twitter username, used to direct a comment to a particular person.]

Shawn Smith March 7, 2008 at 9:53 am

Thanks Connie. I appreciate the comments. I have to give credit to Jennifer Slegg for helping me sort out the personalities vs. business twitter accounts. I’ve been doing it, but I hadn’t really thought about how it worked until she put it into words!

I will def. check out those accounts you mentioned. I think businesses can capitalize with Twitter, but just like blogging, it takes work and consistency. That’s really great news about the 300 followers for @mailourmilitary.

Thanks for the “@” explainer too! I’ll be checking out those links!

Andrew Miller March 13, 2008 at 12:09 am

Hey Shawn – Nice post. I threw you a trackback in my most recent post about Twitter: . I would appreciate your feedback.

Jeff Kart March 21, 2008 at 10:40 pm

ok. i’m twittering. i’m following green michigan. seems appropriate. and michigan echo. i’ll have to watch the vid and get my mind wrapped around this.

Dorai Thodla May 12, 2008 at 1:23 am

Thanks for sharing. I was wondering whether there is place where we can collect various ways people use Twitter. I blogged about a few ways I do, but there may be lots of others. How about a hashtag #uses?


Deb Frawley August 4, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Good information Shawn…thanks I’m a Twitter newbie still trying to decide how to use it and if its for me.

Andy Finkle August 28, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Will the real Twitter please stand up?

OK, I know already – Twitter is a “micro-blogging” tool that allows you to post short 140 characters (or less) of text. There lies the problem. Twitter needs to do a better job of explaining that Twitter is a different experience for every user (both personal & business).

What Twitter is to me – I call Twitter an Operating System (OS), or if you do not want to be that generous, at least call it a platform. This is because Twitter is a child of the Open Source movement. OK, so it’s not truly open source, but they generously offer their API, which allows anyone to write applications that run on top of (or with) Twitter.

I also like to think of Twitter as allowing me to build my own social network on the fly. I use LinkedIn as my “business social network”. I use Facebook as my “family & friends” social network. There are hundreds of thousands of social networks. Their commonality is that they all revolve around a common interest. So for me, wanting a social network around my interest (Social Media), I used Summize (now owned by Twitter) , Twitterpack Wiki, and Twellow to search for terms related to my field i.e. – “social media,Web 2.0, Software, Marketing,etc”. I then reached out and followed all who showed up in that search. Bingo, I just built my own social network.

My Twitter social network does not necessarily have to be around a subject either. Perhaps I want to just see who is Tweeting in my vicinity, well now I can Twinkle and my social network consists of everyone within my geographical location.

I use third party tools such as Twitterfeed, so that anytime I post on my blog, my Twitter followers can be automatically notified (Here I think of Twitter as a much better form of RSS).

Sometimes I just use Twitter as my virtual water cooler. I listen to what other’s are Tweeting, and if something peeks my interest, I join in the Tweetersation.

When I am home, my family becomes my social network. I can simply send one Tweet, and both of my kids, and my wife no that “Dinners ready, come and eat”. When I coach basketball or little league, and want a quick, easy and painless method to communicate with the players and their parents I just Tweet them. The reason that this works better then any other platform (Instant Messaging, Email,Phone,SMS) is the ubiquity of Twitter. Think about that for a moment…With Twitter, my Twicipients can listen using THEIR choice PC or Mobile. With past platforms it was usually one or the other. Using “next generation” tools like Phweet, I can even hold a VOIP conference call on top of the Twitter platform. So in this aforementioned example, I am using Twitter as an Event notification system.

When I am a salesman, Twitter allows me to datamine the Twittersphere and listen for opportunities. I can do a search using terms such as “cable sucks”. If I were selling FIOS service, this would offer me a great opportunity to be using Twitter as a lead generator.

I want to know who is the founder of Twitter…I use @cbbot and ask “who is the founder of Twitter”, and the Twitterbot replies “Biz Stone. So Twitter is a research tool.

I am a business…What better way to both put a human factor to my business then to communicate with my clients (and NEW clients) using a medium where they are? Zappos has over 400 employees using Twitter to communicate with their customers. How do you think interacting with these 400 people make you feel about their brand?

Why not let your customers interact with customer service via Tweets? Because Twitter is a distributed medium, your entire call center could be monitoring this for the quickest response times yet.

I have excess inventory, why not let users learn of special offers in real time – Tweet it to em!

I have a large knowledge base, using SPARQRL & the Twitter API anyone can now access that knowledge via Twitter. So for example, I might be shopping for a Nipon camera. I simply would send a Tweet to Shopzilla (or any shopping comparison service), and Shopzilla could reply with their list of prices and availability (keeping the retailer honest ☺ ). How about other knowledge bases (they ALL could benefit)…Flighttracker, could let me get updates about a flight via Tweets “American #4364” would return “American Flight #4364 landing LQA 4:30pm (on time).

Location Based Services (LBS) will make it even MORE interesting as more and more people enjoy GPS enabled phones. Ya, I know there’s already Twinkle, but LBS is around version .5 right now, not even 1.0. We will see realllly fun ways of interacting with the platform then. For personal use, I will be able to know who (from any of the many social networks I belong to in and out of the Twitterverse) is nearby me. I will be able to filter all of this; “Show me just my LinkedIn contacts, only those who are marketing executives, and only within 2 miles. How cool is that?

Businesses will benefit even more from LBS running on Twitter. Want to show me a coupon for a pizza as I walk by pizza hut? Go for it, I would welcome that (just make certain I can opt-in & out)!

julie king July 29, 2011 at 8:26 am

Help!!! I am a twitter Virgin, I am beyond absolute Frustration! I have just made the life-altering decision to loose my Twirginity… It’s now 5:51a.m. in L.A. and I can’t even get a tease-tweet, a ” glass-shattering” scream is caught in my throat, b-cuz I don’t want to wake the “hood”. I don’t live in the safest of areas Long Beach, ca. has to offer…I typed a 500 character message when and where i was instructed to write only 140 chareacters, pushed submit …and it vanished !!!(tear stain here) I am so Twexually frustrated, i can’t get an answer of any type at all of what to do, where i can find all those clever and painstakingly written prose i spent the last 6 exhausting hours perfecting.
PLEASE come to my rescue, i know I am so worth the “TweePR”!!!

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