This series will analyze each of the major social media networks. Some statements will be general, but most of them are going to be geared toward writers and suggestions on how to use them.
Last week I promised to talk about Facebook Pages, a natural transition after talking about Facebook. As I thought about it, Pages seems like it was Zuckerberg’s answer to the Twitter threat. If this is true, maybe I should talk about Twitter instead. So, here goes!
What is Twitter?
It seems like everybody—including myself—says the same thing: Twitter is something they don’t get until they use it for a while. I’ll be honest, I only opened my Twitter account to reserve my name. I followed a few accounts, but I didn’t actually “get it” until I used it for half a year.
Twitter is either the second or the third largest social media network, depending on who you ask. It is fairly unique in that they were the first to popularize the one-way following concept. They only allow a maximum of 140 characters in each message (known as a tweet), so most posts are links to other websites, photos, or videos. It’s like they are saying, “I wrote a lot of words somewhere, but I only have room here for a handful of them, so I’ll just tell you where you can find my content.”
It’s like browsing the morning newspaper for topics that interest you. I have the same internal dialog, “Politics, nah, not in the mood. Sports, well my team didn’t play last night. Oh, here we go, a human interest story. I like these, I think I’ll read the article.”
On an unrelated note, I was on Twitter for years before I caught on to the entire bird theme. Yes, the logo is a bird, I got that, but the button to go to the home page is a birdhouse and when you are new, your profile picture is an egg. A tweet is the sound a bird makes. I know, I’m slow, but it blew my mind when I finally realized it.
While some people tweet random thoughts, the bulk of what I see is advertising. Businesses—and writers are small businesses—can utilize Twitter to promote their products. At least you can choose who you want to hear from, unlike television, Facebook, and the Internet as a whole.
Twitter has a large user base. When you couple this fact with not needing to manage friendships because of the one-direction following, celebrities and businesses find it a great tool to communicate with their fans and customers.
The more innovative companies also use Twitter as a means of customer service. A few years ago I was having issues with my XBox, so I hit Twitter and asked if anybody had the same problem. I expected to hear from other gamers (I’m friends with several), but instead I heard from Microsoft directly, and we troubleshot the problem over Twitter… 140 characters at a time. I wouldn’t mind if more companies did this, it was faster than a phone call.
Twitter is easy to use. If you have a smartphone, it is going to have a Twitter app on it so you can use it on the go. Also, and I’m going to get techie here, they have open API’s so you can automate tweets. In other words, I can tweet new blog posts automatically without me needing to do anything. It can’t get easier than that, can it?
Twitter makes it easy to read your feed. Messages are very succinct and to the point, which is how I often like my content. Personally, I think it makes for better writing, too. When it comes to writing, less is more. In other words, writing usually becomes clearer and more interesting when you do an edit to cut what is not needed, clear, or interesting. Cutting something I wrote by 20% is usually the ticket. Twitter forces you to focus on less is more. If you can’t tell, I tend to ramble on, and when I clean up my posts, I usually think, “Wow, this sounds better.” Either that, or I have to choose which grammar atrocities I am willing to commit.
Twitter is one of the few social networks where it is NOT frowned upon if you update your status constantly. In fact, it is practically encouraged. With Facebook, people tend to get upset if you update constantly because it clutters their feed, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem at 140 characters. I tested this a couple of years ago when I did a Star Wars marathon and tweeted favorite lines and other comments. I put out hundreds of tweets over two days, and I didn’t lose a single follower. Actually, I gained a few. So, Twitter is heavily populated with people who like to communicate everything witty—and often non-witty—that comes to mind.
Twitter is very real-time. I find news will often hit Twitter before it hits the news sites. One time in New York people were reading about an Earthquake, and THEN felt it. You can’t get any more real-time than that! Twitter has something called trending topics, which are the topics people are talking about most. It is a good way to follow current events. When the news sites do get around to reporting it, Twitter considers it old news.
A caveat: don’t believe everything you read. Several people have “died” and Twitter explodes with
a reaction, when it turns out that they only sneezed real loud in public or something.
I’ve noticed that when I post something on Twitter, I get responses within the first few minutes. After about 15 minutes, I rarely get more interaction.
Because of how real-time it is, I’ll often use it as a real-time search engine. If I want information on something happening right then, I’ll use Twitter, because Google and Bing aren’t going to have it in their search results yet. This comes in real handy when attending conferences.
As with every social network, the best way to use it is to socialize and interact. Twitter is filled with people who talk AT people, not WITH people. While this is the norm on Twitter (all the cool kids are doing it), the best way to utilize Twitter is to encourage interaction. Ask questions for feedback. Like I said earlier, I asked for help on my Xbox, and the reason I hit Twitter first was because I’ve asked questions on there and had instant responses. Even more instant than Facebook, probably because I have ten times more followers on Twitter than I have friends on Facebook.
Twitter is filled with narcissistic people; all they do is talk about themselves. This isn’t too frowned upon on Twitter, but to get more out of Twitter, consider talking ABOUT other people, too. Retweets and mentions are a great way to help spread the word for your friends. As a reader, I’m usually more interested in what people say about others than what they say about themselves. Plus, it makes for good Karma.
Just remember your branding, or the way you wish to convey your image upon the world. Be consistent in your posts, not just in their regularity, but also in their theme. It’s easy to send mixed messages over social media, and Twitter is no exception. Determine your message and then stay true to it.
Pros – And How to Grow Them
No Need to Manage Friendships. You listen to who you want to listen to, and you don’t have to approve who chooses to listen to you. This is good when you have millions of adoring fans. Which celebrity has time to sit on their phone all day hitting the “accept” button? So, getting in there and using it does not take very long. Facebook can be the opposite. When you first start it up, you pretty much see nothing. You’ll send out some friend requests, but it takes a little while for most people to respond to them. THAT SAID: I’ve become lazy on Twitter with following people back. I just don’t have time to evaluate each one any more. My sincere apologies. If you follow me and want a follow-back, hit me up!
Fast and very real-time. Covered above.
Easy. Covered above.
Unlimited connections. Facebook friendships are limited to 5,000. With Twitter, you can follow or be followed by as many people as you wish. Well, I think there is a limit on how quickly you can follow people, but I haven’t hit it yet.
Multiple accounts. Writers will often have their author account, maybe a personal account, and an account for each book or series they have in release. I’ve even seen some open accounts for their characters. Personally, this sounds like too much to manage and I can’t comment on their effectiveness.
Tweet a lot. Got a lot to say, tweet it. So what if you just tweeted something five minutes ago, go ahead and post an update or an entirely new subject. Nobody is there to judge… well, I am, but I keep it to myself. 🙂
Large user base. It is nice to be in an environment where so many people use it.
Cons – And How to Avoid Them
140 Characters. If you are long winded (like, ummm… me), staying under 140 characters can be difficult. However, this can also be a good thing too. Yes, I’ll say it, Twitter has made me a better writer.
Privacy—it’s all or nothing. Are you posting private stuff or pictures of your kids? Well, you probably don’t want random strangers listening in on that. Twitter does give you the option of having a private account, so only approved people can read your tweets. Honestly, I think this defeats the entire purpose of Twitter. When I see people with these accounts I think, “Seriously? What are you tweeting, Coke’s recipe?” If you’re going to tweet, tweet right. When in Rome, you know? If you want to keep it within your circle of friends, Facebook or Google+ is a better place for that. Otherwise, whatever you tweet is open to the world to read. You do have the option to block certain accounts from following or seeing your posts. This is good for exes or somebody who took up the hobby of cyber-stalking you, but nothing prevents that person from opening a new account.
One friend commented that he doesn’t like that tweets are open to everybody. This is true, I once made a political comment and it was picked up by MSNBC. Politics on the Internet? Oh, there is no winning on that. I had a few people say, “I agree,” but I got bombarded with hate-tweets. I laughed at the situation, since they were all strangers and nobody I know watched it (I mean, seriously, who watches MSNBC?), but if I were actually a celebrity I’d probably still have to be defending my comment.
The timeline is pretty much all or nothing. By default, you see everything posted by the people you follow, with a couple of exceptions. Once you start following a lot of people, this becomes almost unmanageable. Thank goodness, Twitter has lists. You can add accounts to a list and filter the tweets from these people. This way you can group people together such as “writers” or “family” or “neighbors”. You can’t tweet just to the group, but you can read from that group. I follow three thousand people, which is impossible to keep up with, so I have a private list of 60 people that I use to keep close tabs on them. This makes the Twitter experience more enjoyable to me.
Hard to interact. If you do reply to somebody, the beginning of your tweet is used by their username. If you get talking to a lot of people, all of them are at the beginning of the tweet. This leaves less room for what you wish to say because it uses some of your 140 characters. Sometimes the conversation will fork, i.e., go in different directions, and become difficult to follow. witter also has a direct message (DM) ability so you can send a message to somebody you follow as long as they follow you back, but no option to do this as a group discussion (points: Facebook and Google+).
It’s a time-suck! Like any social network, it can be time consuming if you let it. Don’t let it, it’s a fun communication tool, but don’t let it control your life.
Fail Whale. When Twitter gets hit too hard, the entire site crashes. To mitigate the traffic, they kill the site and all you get is a message saying that Twitter is over capacity with the picture of several birds trying to lift a whale out of the water. That is the Fail Whale. They’re doing A LOT better, but Twitter will still sometimes shut down. I used to see it daily, but now I see it just a few times a year.
A vehicle for bad press. Several celebrities have posted something on Twitter, only to regret it later. Ashton Kutcher was an avid Tweeter until he commented on a situation he knew little about. He was instantly bombarded by the Internet and he not only reversed his position on the situation, but said he was done tweeting. Some people (like Charlie Sheen and Miley Cyrus) have turned their Twitter feeds into train-wrecks. People will follow just to watch the mayhem. Several celebrities have posted something only to have it splattered on the evening news and the Jay Leno Show. Like all social networks, watch what you say. Once it is out there, it is very hard to take back. But cyber-stalking celebrities is easiest on Twitter.
It’s not for everybody. If you’ve read this and you aren’t convinced you’ll get anything out of Twitter, it’s cool. Twitter isn’t for everybody. Twitter fulfilled a need that Facebook didn’t provide, once upon a time. Now Facebook has Pages, which gives several of the benefits that Twitter once owned exclusively.
On that note, next week I’ll cover Facebook Pages.