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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Practical Twitter Primer

It's time for a practical Twitter primer. You see, four times in the past week, I've been asked "What is Twitter?" and then "How is that relevant to me?"

Twitter is a free, micro-blogging platform. Micro because you have 140 characters to communicate a message of your choice.

The primary audience for your 'tweets' [i.e., your micro-blogposts] consists of your followers; those are other folks with Twitter profiles or accounts who have decided to subscribe to your 'Twitterstream' or series of tweets. The secondary audience is the world, assuming your message appears in a Twitter-based search.

Twitter definitely seems to be reaching mainstream. You'll hear it mentioned during network TV programs, and news programs, even Ellen DeGeneres shared that she had personally started twittering, although she hasn't been too active. My local ice rink has two twitter accounts: one with general rink information ["SkylandsInfo"] and the other ["SkylandsKings"] related to the Kings team.

And, although you'll find plenty of inane tweets about what someone had for breakfast [in response to the Twitter question: What are you doing?], I do suggest that you at least explore the platform so you experience for yourself what all the buzz is about.

Here's your first assignment:
Go to http://Twitter.com and register. Create a profile; upload a photo of yourself [yes, you really need to include a photo] and give it a try. Your twitter handle with be something that starts with @ [mine is @cbwhittemore].

Give yourself time immersed in the medium before making up your mind. I've been on Twitter since early 2007 [I think], but only started 'getting it' last year and then really getting it late last year. That was after realizing that I needed to keep closer track of Tweets that followers replied directly back to me... [Yes, duh!]

Twitter can be a valuable research tool. You need to try it out. Particularly as a business person, and most definitely as a practical marketer.

Your second assignment:
Visit http://search.twitter.com and enter in some terms. Try keywords, brand names; enter your own twitter handle, with and without the @; what are the hot topics being discussed. See what appears.

Interestingly, Twitter is poised to become more significant to search engines according to a recent AdAge article titled "What Social Media Means for Search." The author refers to Search 3.0 where "relevance is determined not just by what's on a page and what surrounds that page but how that data relate to your personal network."

From a very practical perspective, you can subscribe to the Twitterstream of established news sources, like the New York Times, NPR News, even possibly your favorite local paper. [Try the Twitter Yellow Pages, i.e., Twellow. Or, explore WeFollow.]

I discovered that the Smith College alumnae class of 1990 has a Twitter account.

Some people are fantastic about capturing conference highlights via Twitter. Mack Colllier, David Polinchock and Steve Woodruff come to mind. To follow what happens at a conference you can't attend, try finding the 'hashtag' corresponding to the event [e.g., the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing World conference was coded #mpworld. Read Links of Note: Digital Marketing [Profs] Inspiration]. Then, enter the appropriate #code into Twitter Search and absorb the knowledge. At the recent South by Southwest conference #sxsw, Twitter was a critical communication and organizational platform.

As with learning more about additional relevant blogs by exploring the blogrolls [i.e., the blogs listed on a blog's sidebar] of bloggers you respect, so with Twitter you can decide who to 'follow' by checking out the followers of various Twitter accounts, or clicking on the @name in a tweet of interest.

Increasingly on Twitter, you will discover stories and blogposts worth reading based on people's tweets. You see, part of doing Twitter right is sharing with others. Sharing information or links or humor or wisdom. The share economy definitely exists. You'll notice that links are compressed into 'tinyurls' [visit Tiny Url and try it for yourself; then cut/paste into Twitter] to not hog up all 140 characters+.

Many companies have become active on Twitter. Some of the most recognized are Dell, Zappos, Comcast, even MoMA. Twitter has been useful during natural disasters [e.g., the SoCal fires], the recent elections and the Mumbai terror attacks.

As with many of these new marketing tools, it's worth your while to learn more about them, how they work, and how people share value with their followers.

Set up your account, explore and dedicate 15 to 20 minutes per day experimenting. Investigate whether your customers might be participating. If so, can you engage with them and offer value?

Look for thought leaders in your area[s] of interest and follow them. How do they use Twitter? What about your friends? Can you practice with them?

And, then, let me know what you think. What worked. What didn't work.

I've come across many articles and references to Twitter tools that I'll share with you in a separate post. For now, start experimenting!

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