For those about to Twitter: I salute you. You're taking a step in the right direction! Twitter will absolutely help you to connect to your audience (assuming your audience is on Twitter, right?), whether that audience is "women over the age of 35 who read AdBusters" or "skateboarders who are obsessed with Dogtown." Good on ya for making the jump from scoffer to believer, or at least to willing-er. (If you're still not convinced, don't tell me about it, unless you want me to make you read Havi's post again. I'll do it! I ain't afraid.)
Anyway, strange perceptions about Twitter abound, and I field so many questions about it that I thought perhaps a basic how-to would be useful. Also, last night I attended an event for women in business (it was good, y'all!), and the Twitter-related questions directed toward Alaia Williams, who spoke about social media, made me see just how widespread the, well, HOW-exactly-does-this-Twitter-thing-go?! conundrum is. Here, then, are the five things I find most important. It's obviously not A Comprehensive Guide to Twittering Success. Also, it is in no way meant to imply that my own Tweets are fascinatingly perfect, or even live anywhere near that neighborhood. Rather, it's a broad-strokes version of what I try to keep in mind as I do this.
1. Be polite (gosh!). You're there to participate in discussions. I know you know this, but sometimes we all have trouble remembering it and start thinking we're there to perform THE MOST AMAZING MONOLOGUE THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN. (I am guilty of this myself. Which is why it's good that I also have a blog.) Discussions involve other people, other points of view, and require your attention. Respond to the people who send you @ messages, particularly if you are big on asking open-ended questions. Even more particularly if you use people's responses as market research. Otherwise, you look like a boor. And I don't know about you, but I do enough boor impersonations in person; the least I can do for my cause is try not to do it in text.
2. Provide useful and/or interesting content. I can't tell you how many otherwise interesting people I've shied away from on Twitter simply because their updates read something like this:
otherwiseawesome Going to bed.
otherwiseawesome Hey guys good morning!
otherwiseawesome Had really great pasta lunch
otherwiseawesome Brushing teeth to go out pesto in teeth! LOL
otherwiseawesome Going to bed.
To quote @maggie: No one cares what you had for lunch. Is there an article you think is really helpful/inspiring/hilarious? An application/band/bakery you've just started using/listening to/frequenting that you can't get enough of? Chances are very good someone else will feel the same way about it! Give people the opportunity to learn about things they may otherwise never hear about. Weigh in on a debate. Suggest a new way of doing things. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering; sincerity really does go a long way here. Did you see something bizarre on your way home from work?
whatpossessedme A blind homeless man serenaded us with a toothless rendition of "DA YA THINK I'M SEXY" on the subway tonight. Someone shouted "NO!"
3. ...But! Be human. No one is a clever-clever machine all the time. The everyday bits (minutia, if you will!) can be just as interesting as the clever-clever bits. Context is everything. For instance, @kellysims is a freelance graphic designer; he often Tweets about on-the-job idiosyncracies, and you don't need to be a designer to be in on the joke:
kellysims I'm working from a photocopied paper that has been marked up with orange marker, red pen and black pen. All by 3 people. Oh, and stickies.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is another of my favorites, @nickcave, whose full name is Fake Nick Cave. The person behind it obviously knows a lot about the real Nick Cave--enough that nearly all of the Tweets are everyday bits, which is what makes them hilarious:
nickcave Grooming my moustache.
Context. Context. Context.
4. Improve your editing skills. This sounds all tedious and scholarly, but all it means is: figure out which parts of your message are the most compelling. You've only got 140 characters, so make each one count. Look around at the people whose Tweets you find most interesting. I bet you'll find their content is short, sweet and to the point. Which is kind of the point, after all; Twitter isn't for rambling. Plus, no one likes to read a message comprised primarily of abbreviated words.
5. Avoid the hard sell. Avoid it like the plague. I mean, look--so many of us are entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, what-have-you. It's almost a given that if you're on Twitter, you've got a blog, at the very least, that you'd like to promote. If you're selling something, the way to do it on Twitter is to be interested, interesting and sincere. There are so many services looking for customers out there that your personality is going to be the number-one thing that sets you apart. If you come across all "What's it going to take to send you home with a car today?" then chances are pretty good you will annoy the very people whose business you want.
In the end, what you need to know on Twitter really isn't all that different from what you already know about life. Be nice. Be interested. Be generous. Be self-aware. Be your best self. The sky may be falling and the web may seem like the Wild West even at this late date, but it's still a very (very, very) small world. Act accordingly, and you'll be pleased with the outcome.
And if you still have questions, feel free to drop me a line.