Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Value of Twitter, Part 4: Join the Conversation

The Value of Twitter Series:
Part 1: The Personal
Part 2: The Professional
Part 3: The Informational
Part 4: Join the Conversation
Part 5: An Annotated Conversation

In the three previous parts of this series, I talked about the ways I find Twitter valuable using the analogy of a cocktail party. Many people hear about Twitter, open an account, look around, and abandon their account fairly quickly. Talking with some folks I know that have done so, there seem to be two reasons:

1) They don't understand how Twitter works
2) They don't know where to start.

Hopefully, the three previous posts help with point 1. As for the other, let's return to our cocktail party analogy. You walk into a very large room (perhaps at a convention) and it's entirely filled with people engaged in conversation with each other. The din is overwhelming, and there's no way you can make out more than a few words of what anyone's saying.

What do you do? Well, you could join the people lining the walls, the wallflowers looking on, but never participating (until they decide this is stupid and leave the room). Or you could plunge in. And most of us would probably do so in one of two ways. If we saw someone we know, we'd probably join their conversation, at least initially. If we happened by a conversation about something we were really interested in, we might introduce ourselves and join in. In either case, you're filtering out the noise, by focussing in on something specific.

Same with Twitter. To get started, you need folks to talk to and things to talk about. Many abandoned Twitter accounts have a single tweet that essentially says: "I'm here, now what?" The response is the same as it would be if you made it at the door of that convention hall -- nothing. Because you're not talking to anyone. So the first thing is to start following people.

Following friends
A good place to start is with other people you know on Twitter. The search function is fairly useful in tracking people down. Once you start following some friends, you've part way there. Each person you follow receives a notification that you've added them, and (if they're really friends), they'll return the favor.

Once you have some followers, that's the time to ask "I'm here, now what?" because then folks will see your question and have an opportunity to answer.

Following friend followings
OK, sounds a little circular, but it's not. If you visit the profile page of someone, you'll see a list of everyone that they follow. It can be a great way to discover other people or organizations of interest to you (depending on how much overlapping interests you have with your friend).

Following strangers
You're not just limited to friends, of course. I find it useful to follow my elected officials, for example. Many other public figures have Twitter accounts, too. As do many news organizations, cultural institutions, etc. One way to find such feeds is to search by the name of the person or group.

Get hip to hashtags
Another good way to expand your follow list and find interesting conversations is to search with hashtags. A hashtag is a word with a pound sign (#) in front of it. It serves the same function as a keyword. Twitter recognizes this symbol and uses it as a link. You can click on it and see everyone else who used that hashtag.

So, for example, if you're interested in knitting, you might search for #knit (with only 140 characters, #knitting is a little too chatty). I've found hashtags handy for communicating during conferences (using the conference initials) as a way to talk to other attendees -- some of whom I met through the process.

RT and FF
There are two other ways to join the conversion -- Retweeting (RT) and Follow Friday (FF). When you see RT in a tweet, it means "retweet," or forward to your followers. It can be an efficient way to spread the word about breaking news, things requiring fast action, etc. Yes, it's similar in concept to the idea of forwarding emails, but there's a difference. With only 140 characters stupid stuff like urban legends, and chain letters tend not to happen. RT or not as you choose.

"Follow Friday" has become something of a tradition on Twitter. Every Friday people send out lists with recommendations of people to follow. Usually, the tweet has the designation FF or #FF (remember hashtags?) and then a few names. Sometimes there will be a word or two about why that particular person is worth following. It can be a great way to find people to follow -- and for you to help others find the folks you enjoy conversing with.

Reciprocity optional
Just because someone follows you, you don't have to follow them (and visa versa). If you're at our hypothetical cocktail party and the person you're talking with is boring (or saying something inappropriate) you move on. Same with Twitter. It's fine to unfollow people (even friends) if you find you're not interested in what they're saying.

And conversely, don't be too upset if the people you follow don't follow you. Let your list of followers and follows reflect your use of Twitter -- the numbers don't have to match.

So there are my suggestions on where to start. Where you go with Twitter from there is entirely up to you.

- Ralph

Day 186 of the WJMA Podwatch


No comments:

Post a Comment