What is Twitter all about and why is everybody in it? They say you can use it for business too?
These are the questions foremost on my mind when I started to notice that Twitter is getting a lot of attention lately. My interest peaked when cable TV network CNN recently went head-to-head against Ashton Kutcher in popularity (they lost), and when Oprah Winfrey said she has joined Twitter (users numbers skyrocketed even more!). Even the porn sites can’t beat Twitter in popularity!
What’s the fuss? What is it good for? Is it just for celebrities? Can I use it too? In this review of The Twitter Book by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein we’ll try to discover what Twitter is all about and why the new book is important to your understanding and use of the messaging/social networking service.
So, what is Twitter? It is a messaging service very much like email, instant messaging, texting, blogging, RSS and other social networks. But Twitter has certain features that make it unique and effective: messages you send and receive on Twitter are no more than 140 characters long, about a sentence or two, and that makes it really easy to write.
“This unusually helpful sentence, including all of the spaces and all of the punctuation, is precisely one hundred and forty characters long.”
You don’t have to give people permission to see your messages. Twitter messages are public, like blogs. This gives you opportunities to meet new people on Twitter.
People can choose to get a stream of your messages. If you’re interesting, you’ll have a “following” of people. (Think about the possibilities!)
You can send and receive messages via cellphones, PCs and websites and they are sent in real time.
Combine all those features and you have a powerful new tool for communicating. You can use it for personal and professional purposes.
So, what’s Twitter good for?
- Ambient intimacy – you get to follow what your friends and relatives are doing by reading their tweets, without having to reply.
- Sharing news and commentary – with only 140 characters to type, this is a breeze!
- Share experiences – something happens in your neighborhood, report it right away!
- Mind reading – say what? It’s more like getting the pulse of an audience. A well-honed search can reveal how other people feel about your company, your latest public talk and your favorite TV show.
- Business conversations – it lets companies engage with customers, partners and other constituents in a direct way that’s both personal and public – something no other medium allows.
And people are thinking up more new ways of using the medium to suit their particular needs.
The Twitter Book explains all of the above in a compelling way you’d want to sign up with Twitter right away. To get you started, the book explains the little details in signing up for the free messaging service (Twitter is free), even throwing in a good screenshot to make everything clear. It’s really not that hard and you don’t really need a guidebook to sign up. But this guide just makes it that much easier to sign up.
What you really need this book for is after you have signed up. The tips in the book are mighty useful if you want to maximize your enjoyment and use of Twitter.
These are some of the tips in the book:
- Quickly create a compelling profile – that means describe yourself interestingly in 160 words or less. And put a photo there. (By the way, when signing up, choose a username that’s easy to type – makes it easy for your readers to reply to your messages.)
- Understand what “following” means – in Twitter, this is asymmetric; two people don’t have to agree to follow each other to see each other’s messages. This makes Twitter good for professional networking.
- Find the folks you know on Twitter – two ways: on the top tab, you either select Find People or Find on Other Networks.
- Get suggestions for cool people to follow – that’s what Twitter is for: you follow interesting people. And if you get to be interesting yourself, you get your own following.
Then the book explains a bit more about some conventions, jargons and specific terms that have evolved in Twitter, such as the concept of #hashtags, tweet, retweet, tweetup and @message.
The authors note that people often don’t understand Twitter after trying it once or twice. Which is understandable since the real value of Twitter becomes evident only after you’ve followed a few accounts for a while and have absorbed their rhythms.
Their suggestion is to follow at least a few promising accounts, and then for three weeks, log into Twitter daily, catch up on messages and click around for five to ten minutes. Every few days, make sure to check the trending topics. Finally, spend 30 minutes one day running a few searches to see what you can learn from the discussions on Twitter.
If it still does not get to you, then perhaps you are not that social or you just want to remain private and you are really not that hot about communicating with other people. Tim O’Reilly says Twitter is the most important new communications tool we’ve seen since email. If you like people and you want to keep in touch, Twitter makes it a lot easier to communicate with a few or a lot of people all at once.
To navigate Twitter successfully, The Twitter Book by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein is your best guide to do it.