Have you signed up for twitter but then weren’t sure what to do? Have you been told to use twitter but aren’t sure why to bother? I hope to explain my approach and some tips and tricks for creating your own online network.
I think of twitter as an incredible online conference. Others describe twitter as a cocktail party (e.g. here and here) where there is a lot of excited talk and we can pick out interesting conversations above the background of chatter. But many people see the chatter at cocktail parties empty and meaningless and then can see twitter as lots of small talk. Plus, I’m an introverted geek and cocktail parties are usually hard work for me. So, I’m going with the conference idea.
Picture a room with lots of simultaneous sessions on a huge number of topics – wouldn’t it be great to just wander in and out of these sessions? Well, that’s how I see twitter. I can learn about the new paper in epigenetics, hear about the impact of Open Access on different people, read the current political scandal, and maybe ask the best place to stay in Whistler. Twitter is a simple service with a lot of different applications. Uses can include Personal Learning Networks, movie clubs, and even writing novels.
So, how do you get involved?
- Register for this amazing conference by signing up for twitter. Go to twitter.com and register. Don’t stress too much about your username because it can easily be changed later.
- Get ready to participate by preparing your profile. They are small things but they can give you a world of credibility – almost like the first time you used business cards at a conference.
- Change your twitter avatar. That egg avatar makes you stand out as a newbie or a spammer. It doesn’t have to be your face – I use a logo – but use something that distinguishes you.
- Add some information about yourself. Again, it can be changed later but it is good for people to know a bit about you.
- Get ready for a lot of information. Conferences can be overwhelming the first few times and the same is true for twitter. Learn to scan for important key words or people that you trust.
- Follow topics and conversations (see end of post for how to follow). When you follow someone, their tweets show up in your timeline. There is a lot of information so where to start?
- Follow your friends. At my first scientific conference, I stuck to my friends because they had done this before. You can do the same on twitter. As you get comfortable, you can look at friends of friends.
- Search for a topic. If you are using twitter.com, there is a search bar at the top of the page. This can give you a real-time view of current tweets and each search will be different. If someone seems interesting, follow them.
- Start tweeting. You can:
- Write something from scratch (e.g. Hi. I’m new here)
- Re-tweet someone. If you hear something great at a conference, you often repeat it to friends. If you see a tweet you like, you can share it with your followers.
- There are two types of re-tweeting. Straight up repeat and quoting. If you quote someone, you add ‘RT’ in front of their username. (e.g. Welcome RT @you Hi. I’m new here)
- Reply to a tweet. You can use the reply option under the interesting tweet or question. This was scary for me. It was almost like asking a question at a conference, especially if you are joining a conversation later.
- Say hi to someone. This is similar to replying except you might not be responding to one particular tweet. If you put @username in a tweet, that person will see it in their mentions. They might say hi back! (I’ll say hi if you mention me @genegeek, I promise.)
But now that you have the basics to set up your account, I’m going to refer you to Jessica Hische’s Mom, this is how you use twitter. She does a great job.
Important: You can follow anyone that you find interesting. It is not necessary for them to find you interesting so you don’t have to both agree to be ‘friends’. I often hear, “I don’t want to hear what people eat for lunch” as a reason for not using twitter. But if you don’t want to hear that, don’t listen to it and remove that person from your stream of information.
In case you need more justification to try out twitter, here are some of the ways that I’ve found useful:
- Quick answer: Wondering about the best way to but pineapples? Or best place to stay in Whistler? Ask your followers.
- Follow sports teams: When I was in NYC, it was hard for me to get information on curling (yes, I follow curling). During the 2010 Olympics, I was getting quick updates from my tweeps when I was out for dinner in NYC.
- Learn new things: I’ve stopped most of my Table of Content email alerts. I either follow the journals or I rely on the people I follow to help me learn about exciting new papers. It helps that I’m in the west coast so people in England and the east coast of North America have a head start on the day’s news.
- Help with breaking news: This can include the top 3 points. When there was a riot in Vancouver after the hockey game, I asked about the smoke in the city and learned about the car on fire before it was on the local news.
- Feedback on your writing, video, etc. There is a collection of people that can be willing to send you honest feedback. In my experience, people are more likely to send you a quick tweet than leave a comment on a blog post or video.
Twitter started as a microblogging network and it constrains you to 140 characters per update (tweet). The short and sweet tweet forces you to be succinct and direct – and I hope these lessons are moving into my other writing. So after that introduction, I’m going to stop – for now.
You can read tips and tricks in this post: Twitter 201.
How do you follow someone?