Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Tips for the Twitter-curious. 5: Making Twitter pull it's own weight.

Hi, hi, hi.

Thanks once again for your continued support of this class both here and over on Twitter where lots of you have been checking-in with me and where some of you have even been asking for extra credit for completing their homework on weekends! Mentioning no names ... but you know who you are!

Despite this though, I've been wondering if the law of unintended consequences might just be rearing its head ... I'm hoping that, in providing you with 3 weeks worth of content, I haven't given the scary impression that there's soooo very much [too much] to learn about Twitter before you even begin.

Bear in mind that I'm sharing everything I've picked-up over 2 years of regular [who said 'addicted'?] use,
so please don't feel rushed into become a fluent Tweeter overnight!
  • If it's really just the bare, bare basics you want to know - they can all be found in Lesson 2;
  • All of the lessons will be filed under the 'Tips for the Twitter-curious' page tab [up there ^] indefinitely, for you to refer back to at any time;
  • Ultimately the account costs you nothing to set up so, if you try it and hate it, you've not lost a thing.

[However, you should be aware that if you abandon your account a Twitter-angel will lose it's wings ... so just bear that in mind... K?] ;-)

OK ... onwards: Both today and Friday's lesson will draw together a few of the strands which I've threaded through each of the previous 4 by building on your knowledge of:
  • How Twitter brings up-to-date information directly to you;
  • Following effectively and ...
  • Making Lists.

So, let me demonstrate further ways in which Twitter can begin repaying the initial time you've invested in it:

When I covered 'Who to Follow' in Lesson 2 I mentioned the most obvious twitterers:
  • Those friends + family you want to keep in touch with; and
  • The people whose work you admire - artists, writers, actors, bands, general famous folk etc etc;
  • I think I also suggested Following any teams you support or any shops and brands you like [if not ... I've mentioned them now!]

Now let's have a think around the less-obvious.

Try accessing the 'old media' via the new.


In our house we only buy a 'real' newspaper on Saturdays. The rest of the time I read the news online. As I mentioned in Lesson 4, the list of things Trending on Twitter is a super-speedy way to be alerted to breaking news, but sometimes you need more detail. Which Twitter can still help with.

As you've probably gathered about me by now, [my fondness for Twitter might have made this clear] I have attention-span issues and can't often bring myself to spend much time browsing through pages of online articles to find something interesting. So [can you guess what I'm going to say? I've said it a million times during this class already]...

Here's where I let Twitter bring the information to me.

I let the sources do the work for me in highlighting a selection of headlines and bylines for my delectation. And, between following The Guardian newspaper, several of it's sub-sections plus @BBCBreakingNews I'm pretty much covered on the news front:

  • No matter which newspaper you read, it's safe to assume they're on Twitter in some form.
  • This goes for your local paper too, [and I'll be talking 'local' in Lesson 6].
  • Search for the papers you read or the news you watch or listen to on Twitter.
  • Look at their website for links then Follow them.
  • In no time at all, [as my philosophy from Lesson 1 goes] they'll be metaphorically 'ringing you back' with the prime info they think you should be reading today!

Also ...

  • Having somewhere you can easily access to keep-up-to-date with news stories and articles is another one of the uses of Twitter [discussed in Lesson 3] - for those of you who do not ever want to tweet!

T.V guides:

One of the other sections of The Guardian I follow their TV + media guide @GuideGuardian so they can alert me to what's on TV that night or what's coming up:

I don't watch mounds of TV, so often I miss out on all the promos they show for upcoming new stuff. I read the 'real' paper version of The Guide every week too ... but I'm easily distracted and likely to forget so ...

  • Twitter has now become my safety net; my second line of defence; my personal TV/radio scheduling back-up reminder service!

I've even been known to spot the name of a programme in the Trending list, which has made me realise it must be on TV right now if people are talking about it ... then I've made a mad grab for the remote control to check I'm not missing it!

Let's move away now from how Twitter helps 'old' media update itself, to a quick look at how it's spawned brand new applications.

Integrating Twitter into your current habits
In order for me to maintain a presence across all 3 of my main online haunts [my blog, Twitter and Facebook] while still finding time to speak to fleshy-people and sleep ... I exploit the fact that new media outlets allow themselves to be integrated:

  • I use a Twitterfeed to connect my blog account to my Twitter account;
  • Whenever I publish a new blog post a link to it gets sent to my Twitter stream for me.
  • This is useful for scheduled posts which will go live while I'm not near a computer and can't get on Twitter to advertise the fact in person;
  • It's good to know there's already a link to my post being sent to Twitter automatically.

This is going to sound like interconnectedness overload to those of you who don't do Facebook, let alone Twitter. So the following info is restricted to only those of you who, like me, are terminally wired-in to the internet terminal ...

  • You can have your Tweets sent to your Facebook profile;
  • Tweets which begin with an @reply to someone in particular do not get sent - it's only the tweets you've written generally;
  • Read the full details on how to connect your accounts here from the Twitter Help pages.

This means:

  • You don't have to decide between your Twitter and FB allegiances!
  • I know that, if you've been on FB a while, it's probably a concern you've had about taking-on tweeting too.
  • You don't need twice as much free time to tend equally to both sites;
  • Your Twitter account feeds details to my FB page which might otherwise get neglected;
  • People who only contact me via FB still get to keep in touch;
  • People on FB can respond to a Tweeted message in the exact same way as they would beneath any Status Update.
  • You simply hop over to FB to reply to your FB folk!

It's a great way to maintain 'old' online relationships, while developing new ones over on Twitter.

Other applications:

  • There are other applications out there which can [apparently] organise your Twitter account in various ways - eg. Tweetdeck ... but to be honest, I haven't looked into any of that.
  • I know my way around the Twitter interface and I'm just going to stick with it for now!
  • If you want to I'll have to set you out into the wild on your own with that type of thing!
But before I abandon you, I want to leave you today with another highly practical use for Twitter which has evolved despite what people say about the internet's corrosive effect on 'community'.

After all, Twitter may well exist due to technology ... but it's populated by people ...

It's the 'Six Degrees of Separation' phenomena made evident.

I've always loved the 'six-degrees' idea that everyone is connected to everyone else in just six leaps. It makes me feel as if the big wide world out there is not so big that it's impossible to feel kinship.

It's very romantic isn't it? And that's all very well and good, it's just ...

... at the time I first learned about the notion I was just a teenage girl, from the North East of England, whose main social circle was her family, who only really went far as to school and back and who had no internet connection ... because nobody did back then! And who wondered if, for all her life, she'd have to sit-out the whole six-degrees party!

Now time's moved on and while I may still live in the same place, and have not yet become a regular global jet-setter ... the vital thing that has changed is that I HAVE THE INTERNET NOW ... and that means Twitter.

Twitter is practically the functioning embodiment of six-degrees. Therefore it's not surprising that that's how people have begun to use it.

People use it all the time to ask very specific questions which can range from:

  • where to find a nice cardigan [a true question ... which I answered!] to -
  • if there's a vegetarian restaraunt in a particular city;
  • or what they can do in a town they'll be passing through in the next few hours!

Many times these requests are finished off with the phrase 'Please RT' as the person asking wants their question retweeted in order to be seen by the widest possible network and to receive the best responses.

So the message gets retweeted on its merry way around the 'human-web' until it inevitably, somewhere along the line will find its answer. If you're thinking 'So far so cool ... but so ever so slightly trivial' I've seen more serious uses too:

  • I've seen RTs of messages saying things like "If you left a phone / purse on the A train to B this morning - don't worry, I have it".
  • It's not beyond plausibility that, in six-leaps / six-retweets, or more, someone, somewhere will match up that tweet to a person they know who lost their phone or purse that morning!
  • Quite often - a tactic I've seen is for the initial tweet to initially be sent to someone famous who has then agreed to RT it to their huge number of followers.

I saw an extraordinarily poignant example of this just last week.

A Re-tweeted message appeared in my timeline which had originally been written by a father asking for any information anyone might have about his daughter who had recently gone missing in my area.

I followed the link to Facebook to see the girl's photo, to see if I could help. I couldn't, but I hope someone in the network, at however many degrees of separation, could.

It's the most pure harnessing of Twitter's capacities I've seen so far.

That's all for now.

Today was more about an approach than any specific new skills to go away and practice so I'm just going to send you away with some broad prompts:

  1. Have think about what your idea of practical is;
  2. Ask yourself what kind of information - if you could access it via Twitter - would make your life run a little smoohter [think of me and the TV schedule reminders];
  3. Go and search for Twitter accounts in that field and get following!
  • If you're an experienced tweeter it would be great if you could share some of the more practical uses you have for it or even some practical type of accounts to follow.
  • Please leave any useful tips and ideas in a comment on this post.

In the next lesson, [on Friday 4th] I want to apply a similar 'practical' philosophy from today's lesson to something a little nearer to home.

If you drop back here tomorrow I'll have something a little bit frivolous for our break in between 'lessons': scrapbooking your tweets!



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