Thursday, April 24, 2008

The obligatory "How I use Twitter" post

"Twitter lets me subscribe to the brains of smart people who are kind enough to think in public."

That's the line I use to describe the wildy popular and addictive Web2.0/SMS/SocialNetworking phenomenon that encourages you to "Connect with your colleagues, friends and family by answering one simple question in 140 characters or less: What are you doing?"

But if you're new to Twitter, have few followers and no idea how to find folks to follow, you may not "get" the whole Twitter thing and give up on it.

A number of folks have made excellent blog posts about how to use Twitter. For example, GeekMommy's post on blocking vs. following is a keeper, and Caroline Middlebrook's Big Juicy Twitter Guide is encyclopedic.

But I'm not looking to use Twitter for marketing or as part of an internet business. It's part of my Personal Learning Network, which feeds my efforts at Viral Professional Development. So here's how I use Twitter:

I became aware of Twitter quite some time ago via several blogs I read, notably Alec Couros and Alan Levine. I'm a late adopter - I wait to try out something new until I see that folks are talking about it consistently. (Kind of a "Keep up with the Jones' - eventually" mentality.) Late last summer I finally decided that it was something I needed to get involved with. So, I looked up Alec and Alan on Twitter as soon as I set up my account and followed them.

When you follow someone, you can see all their posts, including the @username posts directed at another user. On twitter @username posts become a conversation. Quite often, the half of the conversation I see is interesting. (I follow smart people, and they follow smart people.) So I'll click on the @username link, which takes me to the tweetstream (list of posts) of that person, which includes their Twitter profile - name, link, and bio.

When someone follows me (that started happening when got to about 25 follows/followers) I get an email with a link to their tweetstream / profile page as well. I just click the link in the email and in a few seconds, I can see whether or not I want to follow that person as well.

Here's what I look for:
  • Posts with @'s - that means they're having a conversation with other people.
  • Posts with links - that means they're sharing resources
  • Posts that are interesting to read. I like witty. I don't like snarky.
  • Posts @ people I already follow
  • A profile that includes a description of what they do - I pretty much automatically follow folks in my profession (educational technology)
  • A profile that links to that person's blog or website
  • Reasonable numbers for "following" and "followers." A few hundred is manageable. More than that, they're not likely to engage in conversation.*
  • A ratio for "following" vs "followers" that's close to 1:1. Someone who's following thousands but has only a handful of followers is a broadcaster or a bot, not a person I want to be feeding data to. That gets blocked tut suite.
If I like what I see, and want to see more, I just click the Follow button. Simple - another brain subscribed to. I don't follow everyone who follows me, or who @s with someone I follow. Some folks only Tweet about their personal lives. Some are way-technical geeks whose tweets are over my head - or al about systems and tools that I don't use. Remember, I use Twitter mostly as a professional-development tool both for myself and the faculty I serve. Yes, it comes with a nice side serving of social chitchat, but I look at that as water-cooler chatter.

So, that's how I use Twitter. I hope to @you there!

*I do make a few exceptions. For example, Howard Rheingold has a gajillion followers, but he actually engages folks and his observations are of course interesting. Besides, it lets me name-drop shamelessly: "I was talking with Howard Rheingold about this last week..." :-)


injenuity said...

Great summary of how you use it! I love that you point out how individual it is. I've found that my use of it changes from time to time as well.

Sue Waters said...

I really love this quote ""Twitter lets me subscribe to the brains of smart people who are kind enough to think in public." It just says it all.

I do think we need to be careful with this though "Reasonable numbers for "following" and "followers." A few hundred is manageable. More than that, they're not likely to engage in conversation.*" It's easy to make judgments that someone with a large network doesn't engage in conversations and don't value conversations. And yet if you know me you also know that I value those conversations. Similar Vicki Davis is incredible with her conversations with the size of her network.

The key for someone who has a large network is to look at how much @replying they do and whether they engage in conversations with others.

My personal rule is I won't follow someone who doesn't follow me; already have to much noise (even if I'm the biggest noise creator). Yes I know this means that I'm missing out by following some of the well known ones but so be it -- I'm trying to have a conversation not listen to a loud speaker.

Sue Waters
Mobile Technology in TAFE

Sue Waters said...

I believe my comment has worked this time :)

SkyDaddy said...

Sue, thanks for persevering despite your technical trouble earlier! You're quite right - some people are able to engage with a very large network.

You, Vicki, Howard, Connie Reese, and Susan Reynolds are shining examples. But from what I've seen so far, you're are exceptions to the rule.

Sue Waters said...

You are correct regarding the large numbers. But you do see that indication by the number and variation of @ replies. The more people you add to twitter the harder and harder it becomes to maintain the conversations -- you do need to be a "power user" for want of a better term to be able to cope.

Trouble is I just can't say no to new followers. And I decided that is not a bad thing as my life has been much more enriched by each and everyone of them.

Alec Couros said...

It's weird, you know, I had no idea that I was one of the influences getting you on Twitter. And it does feel like I've known you forever ... certainly has helped me get to know you a lot better. This is why I like Twitter ... getting to know intelligent people and for the most part, really good people. I love the quote you start off with as well.

As for the piece where you block bots, etc., I have not yet blocked anything, even though I know they are bots. Should I? I just haven't cared.

SkyDaddy said...

Sorry for the delay in posting comments, folks - I was pretty much offline the whole weekend.