What Is Twitter? A Beginners Guide

Courtesy of aaardvaark via Flickr You may have heard of Twitter and be a little confused. Early adopters have been playing around with it for a couple of years, but Twitter finally seems to be making it into the mainstream.

This is a brief users guide for those curious about how it works, wondering about its value, and wanting to get the most from the experience.

What Is Twitter?

Twitter is commonly referred to as "micro-blogging." While this is an accurate description, I've found that it confuses some people (non-bloggers especially).

Imagine it is a post-it note. You don't have a lot of space (140 characters) so brevity is required. When you jot something down on your post-it note, it gets stuck to your refrigerator door, much like you might do at home. However, in this scenario, anyone can see the notes posted on your frig. And you can see anyone else's.

How Does It Work?

Like most web 2.0 applications, the best advice is to just try it out. (You can't do it wrong and you won't break it - just give it a whirl.)

You sign up with a name of your choice. After that, find people you know or are interested in following. Twitter can pull from your email contacts to see if your friends and family already have Twitter accounts.

Twitter accounts are identified with an "at" symbol in front. So when discussing your Twitter account, you would say @YourName. Events use a hash mark. For instance, you can search for all Olympic tweets using #080808.

You can view anyone's notes (or "tweets") and anyone can sign up to view yours. Don't worry - you will get an email letting you know every time someone follows you.

And of course, all of this is free.

Avoid These Common Pitfalls

  • No blatant marketing!: Some marketers will try to market their product over Twitter. Let me save you some time: It doesn't work. If all of your tweets are about your wonderful, fantabulous product which I can BUY NOW, I will know you're full of it. People aren't stupid.
  • Needy: At the risk of offending folks, avoid looking needy. If you follow 1,000+ people and only 2 follow you, I'm going to wonder why.
  • Friends before tweets: Play around with Twitter before you go introducing yourself. Sure, follow people you know at first, but focus on actually tweeting. Get a couple dozen tweets up before you attempt to make friends you don't actually know in real life. It gives them a sense of who you are and what you're interested in.

What Are The Positives?

  • It's fun - you instantly have access to very interesting people
  • It's a good PR tool (after you build a community)
  • It's an ultra-specific source of news

What Are The Negatives?

  • It's extremely addictive
  • Sometimes it can verge on minutiae
  • Frequent downtime

Separation Of Church And State

If you get really into Twitter, you may want to opt for multiple accounts. There's no restriction on this - you just need separate email addresses to link to them. This is common for small business owners who want a distinct account for their business as well as their personal accounts.

For instance, my personal tweets are at @DJFrancis but all marketing/advertising/communications tweets can be found at my blogs account, @MarketerBlog. Feel free to follow whichever account best applies to you. (If you are reading this blog, I imagine the latter.)

I find this an easy separation to make and better for my readers. I recommend only setting up multiple accounts once you are comfortable with Twitter. Also, you may want to consider Netvibes or a similar solution to managing your discrete accounts.

Was This Helpful?

Please feel free to comment below if I missed anything. I hope you found this helpful.

If you try Twitter and like it, here are some other suggestions for those in the marketing and social media world: @chrisbrogan, @copyblogger, @jowyang, @jaffejuice, @mitchjoel, @shannonpaul, @jasonfalls, @drewmclellan, @MyCreativeTeam, and @armano.

For more basic information, check out these articles from Newsweek, PC World, and Fortune magazine.

Please consider subscribing to this blog if you want to know more about marketing in a web 2.0 world (free, natch). I offer both email and RSS options. Also, if you like learning about social media, tune in tomorrow when I tackle StumbleUpon and a few of the other social voting/news sites with a special emphasis on marketing and business.

And please feel free to make one of your first tweets a link to this article, but only if you found it useful. Thanks!


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