What’s twitter about?

I was initially attracted to twitter and joined up years ago because I like to write and, as Audrey Lorde says, “poetry is economical”.

But I found that 140 characters is often not enough, so I end up compressing my writing beyond the grace of its natural poetic limits.

And the interface was next to useless.

When I got involved with promoting Underground Restaurant, it was time to learn about online media, tweets, pins, and whatever else. So I researched “twitter clients” and finally found an old version of TweetDeck that would run in OSX 10.5.8. The standard settings for Tweetdeck makes a small sound and pops up a message window whenever a person or topic you’ve expressed interest in sends a post. Over the years I’d found a few people to follow, including my friend David Graeber, so I was receiving posts from about 10 active twitterers.

The first sensation I had was a sudden sense of connection with the Occupy movement. It was like the old IndyMedia newswire had lit up and established a line onto my desktop. Occupiers were having quite a day of it, with arrests and ambushes all over the US. “What day of the week is it in the US?” I hollered into the house, since I can never figure it out on my own.

As the day went on I began to have the sensation of being quite in-the-know about contemporary events, despite my moratorium on reading the news. My smartest friends were sharing only the most interesting news, and I didn’t even have to read it, because I got about 130 characters of pithy interpretation direct from a trusted source.

Twitter is a research platform

Tweetdeck had got my interest. I decided to explore its functions. I could type in a search in a separate column next to my friends’ feed, go back to work, and receive a constant trickle of research on that topic while continuing with other tasks. Without taking time for research I learned that certain keywords (“supper club”) were polluted with many irrelevant posts regarding a concert venue chain of that name. Likewise “underground restaurant” had irrelevant posts (anytime someone mentioned the London subway and a restaurant in the same tweet), but the pollution level wasn’t as high. Both “underground restaurant” and “local food” led me to a number of media sites and organizations that I hadn’t known about before – again without my engaging in research.

Twitter is a way to get a sense of the characters and lingo at play in the landscape relevant to your interests.

There are fairly advanced search possibilities. You can search all content by keywords used by authors (these are called hashtags, and they look like this #localfood), or by authors and organizations (you’ll see who is mentioning them or tweeting to them by searching @slowfoodusa). If you want to just see what the author or organization is sending out, you can look at their stream or follow them.

The annoyance factor is that many posts have no sentence structure and consist only of usernames and topical “hashtags” (ex #localfood). While some of these are of course of interest, many but not all posts provide no guiding information. Fortunately posts full of such jargon can be distinguished at a glance from the others. When I see a post with sentence structure, 140 characters can also be read at a glance, and without even interrupting my train of thought or typing. So I have a new appreciation for twitter’s brevity.

Using Twitter to promote an idea

There are several different ways to use Twitter to promote an idea. They all depend on having a grasp of the twitterscape and establishing relationships (so start now!)
You need to build a reputation before you expect to get a lot of clicks on the important promotional tweet. Be someone who posts and retweets really interesting and useful news. Don’t just tweet your own stuff. And know who you want to tweet @ and what you want to tweet about #, so you can reach people beyond those who’ve chosen to follow you.
  • If you include a #hashtag in your tweet, you’ll be part of the dialogue on that topic, but you need to know which ones contain the kind of conversation you want to be part of.
  • You can tweet your ideas to your own followers, but that means you need to have established a reputation and gathered followers already, so start now. You need to build a reputation on a regular basis, then when you have something to share, you will be in a good position to get attention.
  • If you include another @username in your tweet, it will appear in their feed, which is like posting to their “wall” in facebook, if they are also following you.