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Twitter 101


What is Twitter
So first of all, what exactly is Twitter? I’ll use Wikipedia’s definition rather than spend the time to research and write it myself (I love the Internet): Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read each others’ updates, known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to other users – known as followers – who have subscribed to them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. The service is free over the Internet, but using SMS may incur phone service provider fees.

Since its creation in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gained notability and popularity worldwide. It is sometimes described as the “SMS of the Internet”, as it provides the functionality—via its application programming interface (API)—for other desktop and web-based applications to send and receive short text messages, often obscuring the Twitter service itself.

Through SMS, users can communicate with Twitter through five gateway numbers: short codes for the United States, Canada, India, New Zealand, and an Isle of Man-based number for international use. There is also a short code in the United Kingdom which is only accessible to those in the Vodafone network.

Alexa ranks the site 27th in terms of web traffic.Estimates of the number of daily users vary, because the company does not release the number of active accounts. However, a February 2009 Compete.com blog entry ranked Twitter as the third most used social network, which puts the number of unique monthly visitors at roughly 6 million and the number of monthly visits at 55 million;however, only 40% of users are retained. In March 2009, a Nielsen.com blog ranked Twitter as the fastest-growing site in the Member Communities category for February 2009. Twitter had a monthly growth of 1382%, Zimbio of 240%, followed by Facebook with an increase of 228%.
It’s a constant stream of communication. The good news is you can turn it on or off as often as you like. Twitter also keeps a public record of all updates, which can be mined with Twitter Search.

Getting Started
So how to get started with Twitter? Getting started is rather easy. Just go to Twitter.com and sign up. In most cases you will want to use your own name or company name so people can recognize and find you. Go into settings and enter a short bio with keywords that will help identify your interests. If you are interested in classic cars, other classic car aficionados will find you. If you sell something, include what you sell. Upload a photograph of yourself or include your logo.

Follow Others
The next step is to start “following”. To get started fast, start following a few of the services that “retweet” the most popular tweeted URL’s. A good retweet site is http://www.twitter.com/Retweetist. You might also already know some people you would like to follow. You can use the search feature on your home page to find interesting people, news feeds and famous people who use Twitter to keep fans informed. Just click on the “follow” button and they will be added to your following list. You can also use the “find people” link on your home page and search for people you know who already have a Twitter account.

Start Tweeting
Before actually Tweeting, know that the process can be overwhelming. Don’t let it be. Start by tweeting just one or two messages every other day. The initial tweets should be things about your interests or what makes your business interesting so that potential followers can see if you are interesting to them. Once people start following you, you can start following them back if they interest you. So, what to tweet about on an ongoing basis? I think that a mix is the best approach. I go for about 25% inspirational or insights, 25% retweeting, 25% personal and 25% self promotion and problem solving.

Abandon Twitter.com
Having said all of that, the next most important thing you have to do is ABANDON TWITTER.COM. You think I’m crazy, but it’s true. There are so many wonderful ways to use Twitter and if you just stick with Twitter’s website, you will never maximize its potential. Install a good Twitter app onto your desktop. The very best is Tweetdeck. It runs on Mac or PC and gives you the ability to monitor conversations involving keywords you are interested in, search and organize your Tweets.

Use Support Tools
Twitter has a whole world of available support applications you can employ to gain the most of the service for your business. Here’s a few of my favorites:
TwitterFox: This Firefox web browser plugin allows you to view Tweets within your web browser (in a popup menu). This is very handy and eliminates the need to constantly go to Twitter.com.
Ping.fm: If you have accounts with many services, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, this amazing site allows you to post updates across ALL of your social media sites in one single step.
Twitter for Facebook: If you are on Facebook, this application forwards your Twitter updates directly to Facebook as status updates.

Go Mobile
Twitter provides a short code that allows you to provide Tweets via SMS. Therefore, you do not have to be chained to your computer to Tweet. Just go to your settings and go to “devices”. Enter your mobile number and note that the Twitter short code is 40404. You can then start sending your Twitter updates to this short code and it will automatically post to your page. This is one of the key tools that has made Twitter so successful.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with Twitter. Especially if you start following hundreds of other people and you get busy with work or family. Don’t let it get to you. There are some very handy tools that allow you to pre-post lots of Tweets and then post them later such as TweetLater: This powerful service allows you to schedule tweets (much like you would schedule emails). Another very powerful feature is the ability to receive email digests of keyword activity in the Tweetosphere. This allows you to join a conversation or track topics and trends.

Business Applications
So how do I use Twitter to grow my business? This is the question that many of our clients ask us when we encourage them to jump into Twitter. What we tell our clients is that Twitter is a key component of their overall social media strategy. There are eight key reasons companies should use Twitter:
1. You can gain incredible insight when you ask questions
2. You can generate tons of traffic – it is the newest form of direct marketing
3. Other people spread the word for you
4. You can gain incredible insight into what others are saying about you and your product or services
5. You can connect with industry thought leaders
6. You can connect with customers and employees on a more personal level
7. It can be used as a powerful customer service tool
8. It could become the next great search engine

Each company’s social media goals may be different based on what they are selling and to whom they are selling it to. Some want to use Twitter for brand awareness. Others use it for customer service and online reputation management. Still others use it as a news feed to distribute press releases and news about their company. Whatever the goal, Twitter is proving to be a valuable component in the overall strategy.

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