An introduction to Twitter

Twitter is a very powerful social network that allows to share, exchange and read short snippets of information.

Twitter originally launched in 2006 based on a very simple idea - we were already well accustomed to sending SMS messages to our friends via mobile phone, but what if we could send an SMS-style message to anyone andeveryone?  Surely there are people out there that would want to receive interesting and timely messages about our business or our product in this way?

The answer is of course ‘yes’ - except instead of sending messages via a mobile SMS service, it’s done using the web or a software application on your desktop.  But the principle remains the same - we can sign up to receive short messages from anyone, and if we keep that to a manageable volume, then this could be a very useful service.

Twitter isn’t just viewed via your web browser - there are many software applications that run on the desktop or on mobile phones through which to access Twitter. Importantly, these tools help us to search and filter all of the information on Twitter into something that is of more practical use (either professionally or socially).

Understanding the basics of Twitter

Twitter is all about ‘right now‘, message are often about things that have literally just happened, or just about to happen.  Given the volume of traffic on the site, Twitter has now became a good ‘announcement’ space, directing users to sites, links, content and pages found elsewhere on the web - e.g. “we’ve just launched our web site”, “check out this newly published press article”, “we’ve just put a new product on sale” etc.

However, that’s only part of it - public exchanges and conversations are an important and regular part of the Twitter experience. Asking questions or posting replies to other messages are very common uses - indeed, these are now more common than straightforward announcements.  Twitter has become highly conversational - and they are all public conversations that anyone can contribute to.

Unfortunately Twitter has a reputation as being home to inconsequential or irrelevant messages - and lots of them.  If anyone can post a message to anyone who wants to listen, chances are it wouldn’t be too long before there’s a lot of noise out there, and perhaps too much noise to make it genuinely useful.

That’s why there’s one important trick to learn about Twitter - once you’ve created an account and started subscribing to messages (or “tweets”) from individuals or businesses, you could very quickly be overwhelmed by the number of tweets that come your way.  The first thing to learn is to how to filter those messages into something that’s useful for you - as the saying goes, you need to filter out the signal from the noise.

Four steps to getting started on Twitter

Once you’ve set up your account at twitter.com, you’ll no doubt be keen to get started.  Here are four steps to take you get you on your way.

1. FIND OUT WHAT’S GOING ON

Search for a keyword or phrase or an organisation that might be of interest. This is essentially the same as searching on Google – Ask yourself, what are you interested in right now, then search for it.

Another good way to find interesting content is to find out which profiles other people follow.  For example, the MLA is on Twitter - you can find them at twitter.com/meatlivestock.  Look at who they follow, and look at the people and organisations that are following them.  You’ll quickly see that there are plenty of Australian agricultural groups and individuals already on Twitter.

Twitter makes this search process a little easier with a function known as ‘hashtags’.  These are simply words or phrases (tags) that are included in messages that make them easier to find.  Adding a hash symbol (#) in front of them indicates that they are important, or that they belong to particular topic of interest.  Adding the hashtag to your own message allows you to add your voice to the conversation.

Hashtags often spring up around an important news story of the day, but they can also be used by groups of people who share a common bond. One good example is the hashtag #agchatoz - this is used for discussions about the Australian agricultural industry, and - in addition to having a regular stream of relevant information - they also have weekly scheduled discussions around a chosen topic. Search for ‘agchatoz‘ to see what’s happening today, and to join that conversation.

2. FOLLOW OTHER TWITTER USERS

Once you’ve searched for topics of interested, have you discovered any people or organisations saying interesting things? Would you like to hear more from them? Click on their profile, then click to ‘follow’ - you’ll now be automatically subscribed to their messages.

This means that when you go to the Twitter Home Page, you will start to see all the messages that they post. If, after a while, you decide you don’t want to receive any more messages, you can ‘unfollow’ them.  (We do recommend that you unfollow people whose messages aren’t relevant to you, otherwise you will soon be receiving too many messages whose value is questionable)

3. PARTICIPATE WITH A RETWEET

The easiest way to start participating is to ‘re- tweet’ - that is, repost someone else’s messages, so that it can be seen by everyone that follows you.

Re-tweeting is not only widely acceptable, it is also very common. The principle behind it is that you are essentially ‘passing the message on’ so that more and more people may see it.  This is the same as the viral effect we discussed in our Facebook article.  When you move your mouse over a message, you’ll discover an icon and an option to ‘retweet’.  Simply click on this, and the message will be reposed to your Twitter followers.

4. CREATE YOUR FIRST TWEET

Twitter really comes into its own when you stop just listening, and start taking part.  What have you found that’s interesting and relevant today?  Why not post a link, and add a few words about why it’s interesting?  You only have 140 characters per post, so you need to be concise and get straight to the point!

One way to get started is to post a reply to someone else’s message - if you like what someone has to say, or if you disagree, or generally have something to contribute to the conversation. When you move your mouse over a message, you’ll discover an icon and an option to ‘reply. 

You can also direct a comment to any other Twitter user.  You use the @ symbol followed by the individual’s Twitter name, and they will receive a notification that their name has been featured in your message  (for example, @personsname will send a public message to the user called personsname).

How often should you tweet on Twitter?

Some people can spend all day on Twitter - but that’s not at all practical, nor is it at all advisable!  You might want to jump on when a relevant news story breaks, or when something timely is happening either locally or in the industry.  If it’s worth talking about, someone will be talking about it on Twitter. By all means post often, but only post when you have something interesting to say. Don’t become part of the noise, be part of the signal!

The best way to find out how it works is to dive in, take some of our tips on board, and start tweeting today. And if you thought this article was useful, why not share the link on Twitter?

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