Twitter — Worth a Second and a Third Look

In one month, I gone from thinking of Twitter as a curiosity that didn’t fit in my toolset to the point where I am totally addicted to Twitter as a source of information and as a means of expression.

Today I believe the uses of Twitter are so diverse, profound, and revolutionary that it will be banned by many governments (already happening). Societies that maintain access to this kind of tool will flourish by comparison.

I’ve also come to believe that tweeting is a legitimate art form, and we have already developed some masters. Most people are still pretty bad with this tool, but expertise seems to come quickly to those who pay attention.

If you can dismiss Twitter without trying to find out why a government would ban it, then I am wasting my time here. If not, read on.

Giving Twitter a Real Try

FYI: A Twitter message is called a ‘tweet’, and a collection of such messages is called a ‘stream’.

Here’s what I recommend if you want to efficiently see what Twitter is about.:

  1. Join Twitter: Http://www.twitter.com
  2. Use the Discover function in Twitter to explore streams created by people and organizations.
  3. Decide on an intent for your output stream (self-expression, marketing, professional improvement, etc.)
  4. Create your Twitter Bio keeping your intent in mind.
  5. 5. Follow streams that provide source information or provide examples to emulate.
  6. Look at your input stream at least once every day.
  7. Try to craft at least one tweet in keeping with your purpose every day.

I guarantee that after two weeks that you will know enough about Twitter to know how you can use it. You might still decide it’s not for you, but I think you’ll surprise yourself. I certainly surprised myself.

General Rules

The only rule about consuming Twitter is don’t be a glutton. It’s really easy to get far too much information about exactly what you are interested in. You soon won’t be able to read it all, let alone get anything done. You might be able to read a couple of thousand tweets a day, but most of them point to far more significant articles. It’s nothing to be made aware of 500 articles a day that you really do want to read.

Writing is another story. Twitter is a place where you can say what you think within reason. You do want to keep future employment possibilities and business relationships in mind. Certainly don’t say anything that will land you in court if you can avoid it,

There are a lot of rules about writing tweets, but none of them are mandatory and you can make up your own. Here are mine:

  1. Intentional – just because a tweet is only 140 characters doesn’t mean that you should throw them out casually without a master plan. That plan can be to show people how demented you are, but you don’t want to do something like that by accident.
  2. Remember what public means. Remember that Private probably also means public when push comes to shove.
  3. Politics — Think carefully over whether or not you want to primarily do politics. If not, don’t do politics at all. Politics is the worst thing to do if the primary purpose of your stream is to foster business relationships. Keep in mind that taking any political position is going to alienate about a third of the population.
  4. Manners – Be nice unless the whole point of your stream is to generate a series of rude comments. People want to count on a predictable level of civility.
  5. Religion & Sex – avoid unless your stream is about religion or sex.
  6. Business streams must provide useful information along with their ads. No politics or religion. Make people glad to get your stream.
  7. Self-promotion – think about what each tweet does to advance your image.
  8. Avoid cat fights. It’s really easy to ignore criticism, and even easier to not respond to it. That may be my favorite aspect of Twitter.
  9. Ideas that you can’t fit into one tweet require more thought.
  10. Don’t post more than a couple of links a day to one of your own products. Don’t become clutter in your followers’ streams.

Possible Uses of Twitter

I use Twitter to note ideas, to register outrage, to convey humor, to ask questions, to indicate solidarity, to point to my work, to play at word smith, and probably most importantly for therapy. That’s covers most of my output stream, and I am not using Twitter to sell anything. I suspect that I am still scratching the surface.

One of the approaches that currently intrigues me is simultaneously tweeting and writing articles. I have watched the very funny Andy Borowitz do this several times now, and it’s quite efficient and impressive.

My input stream is mostly comedians and political observers. I also have subscribe to several special news sources, and several general news sources. I could easily add sports or business inputs. Input is news.

One of the pleasures of Twitter is that I can watch something on TV with other people watching the same event so I get to experience the event and commentators’ perspectives on the event at the same time. I watched the last Republican debate with my input stream in view, and the Twitter commentary was far more interesting than the mindless banter coming from the candidates.

Twitter is a tool like the printing press. When Gutenberg wanted a few copies of the Bible, he had no idea what he was setting Martin Luther loose. That was just the beginning. This is the beginning of Twitter.

My Personal Adoption Story

I’m not religious about New Year’s resolutions, but I do think the New Year is a great reminder that we need to occasionally take a look at our lives and make sure we are doing what we want to do. As we all know, it’s all too easy to fall off the path and do what’s convenient. We all have friends and relatives that still don’t even use email, and I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I was at least going to learn to use a few social media tools well enough so that I could articulate why they sucked.

I’d had a Twitter account for a while but I never used it. Conciseness is not one of my virtues as a writer, and 140 characters is what it usually takes me to say hello. I thought of Twitter entirely as a tool to express myself, and not at all as an information source. I still wasn’t thinking of it as an information source when I started to follow a few people. I didn’t follow them to get information; I followed them to see how they used the tool.

Unfortunately, I started with some really bad examples. I’m a political junkie and the Republican primary seemed to offer a perfect focus. Whatever your politics, any honest assessment says that these guys do not understand the media. They don’t even understand it enough to find someone competent to tweet for them.

The good result of following them was that it immediately made me feel smarter because I knew I could write better tweets than that. I also thought that it couldn’t do my writing any harm if I focused on conciseness for a while. I had to write a few tweets of my own, but first I needed a plan.

I decided I wanted to do a stream where I covered ideas and events. As much as possible, I would strive to be funny and profound. I wouldn’t talk about work or personal stuff at all. I’d badger a few friends into following me so I could get feedback. Generally speaking, the narrower your focus, the easier it is to build a following, but I have kind of an eclectic mind so I went for the eclectic stream.

It might be hubris on my part to cover any of the topics I cover, and it is certainly hubris to cover them all. I decided I am not going to let that bother me. If I’ve thought about something long enough to have a theory, I’ll lay it out there and let people tell me when I am wrong.

Although I would recommend that most people avoid political streams because they alienate so many people, I decided to make politics the main focus of my stream. I would usually have a hard time resisting this, and a presidential election just makes it harder. Besides, I’ve already left a broad trail of my beliefs.

I think my first tweets were just about a month ago. Some days I tweet a lot and other days not so much. I’ve already cranked out an amazing 1500 tweets, and I don’t think I have repeated myself yet.

I probably average 50 a day which is a lot, but I could crank out ten times that many if I got paid by the tweet. If you are doing over 50 a day, you probably need to do it through multiple accounts so you don’t drive all of your followers away.

I never get writer’s block with Twitter. I can always afford one more 140 character investment. Each thought has to fit into 140 characters, but it doesn’t have to fit with any other thought. That’s very emancipating.

I’m just starting to gather random thoughts into related piles to make articles and to start projects, and I find I have a gold mine of my own ideas. (Looks like gold to me right now any way.) I am going to have to invest in apps that allow you to store and organize your tweets. They are cheap but figuring out which one you want is a learning process.

If you want to see exactly how bad I am at practicing what I preach, check me out @alanbcorwin on Twitter.  http:\\www.twitter.com\alanbcorwin

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