Q: Why Twitter?
A: Because it’s awesome.
If Twitter were a guest at the Thanksgiving Dinner of Social Media platforms, it would be your 20-something-year-old cousin, vegan, just back from studying abroad in Romania: fascinating, puzzling, and a bit high-maintenance. The language and etiquette of Twitter can intimidate newcomers. Many set up their accounts, type in “I’m not sure what I’m doing here yet,” and never return. What are they missing out on? Once, I was sitting in Blackbird Café when police cars sped past, lights on, no sirens. We all stared at one another, puzzled. So I hopped on Twitter and typed in “#Valparaiso.” Already, people in the know had tweeted about the situation. I learned where the police were headed before they’d even arrived on the scene. Twitter is instant knowledge.
Let’s say you’re a White Sox fan. Open up Twitter when a game is on and enter “#SoxPride.” When the results appear, click “All.” Welcome! You’ve just joined a worldwide White Sox party, with fans and officials watching the game together and chatting. Mind you, it’s going to be noisy. Some will be cracking rude jokes, others criticizing the plays, but you’ll also find real conversation about the team, the game, the season, baseball itself. Jump in and add your own. Use the hashtag. Reply to strangers. That’s totally fine on Twitter, as long as you’re nice. Twitter is fun.
You can also customize Twitter to follow your favorite interests: make a new list, title it (say, “Social Media”), then follow the people you like. (Start with @dcohncomm and @ValpoLife!) Want to find more people? Use your search box or look at others’ profiles. Followers and Lists are usually public. Follow who I’m following: that’s all legit.
Following on Twitter is not the same as Friending on Facebook. There is no assumption that you know and are intimate friends with people you talk to on Twitter. You don’t have to follow people who follow you. Go ahead: ask your favorite celebrity a question. He or she (or their lackey) might reply, if you’re nice. Staying private is possible but less fun. Most leave their accounts public. If you don’t like someone’s Tweets, just unfollow them. No harm done. If you do like someone’s Tweet, click “Favorite” to save it for later or “Retweet” to share your joy with the world.
If you’re new to Twitter, it can feel a bit like watching a newsreel spinning a thousand topics at once. It’s hard to know what to pay attention to, and hard to know what to say – because who’s listening anyway? It’s tricky to express yourself in 140 characters. And then there are the hashtags. Ready to give it another chance? Let’s hit the Twitter basics.
1. Forget 140, 120 is plenty. That leaves room for other people’s Twitter handles to be added to the front of your post when they Retweet you. Save space by abbreviating everything you can, relaxing your grammar, and using an URL shortener like bit.ly.
2. Hashtag it. Hashtags identify a topic. Organizations often create specific hashtags so everyone who wants to follow a topic can easily find the tweets. If you’re going to create a hashtag, though, research it first. (Who knows who else might be using it?) Sometimes people add mock hashtags for verbal effect. #OftenThisIsCleverButSometimesItsJustAnnoying. Use sparingly.
3. Start by following the most vocal people in your interests, but expand from there. Go beyond Jimmy Fallon and Lady Gaga. Twitter is all about discovery.
4. Be nice. Seriously. Conversation on Twitter moves fast. That’s great, but if you say something horrible, a LOT of people could know very quickly. Jobs have been lost for Twitter rudeness. Assume that any future employers and romantic prospects will read your Twitter feed. That’ll keep you honest.
5. Relax. It’s supposed to be fun.