When I first heard about Twitter, I thought it was the dumbest thing in the world, a fad that would quickly disappear. But it didn't, and now that I've learned more about how Twitter can be used, I'm convinced it's an essential tool everyone should have and, ideally, everyone should be following me on.
Twitter is a cross between blog posting and instant messaging. The "tweets" (micro-posts) have to be 140 characters or less, and you can display your latest twit on your site (see the left column for mine). Your friends subscribe to your Twitter feed, and you subscribe to theirs. When you or your friends make a tweet, the others follow it.
Although the question Twitter asks you -- "What are you doing?" -- may prompt a mundane response, this isn't always the most effective use of Twitter, especially if what you are doing right now is boring. In the list below, I offer seven ways to use Twitter more effectively.
1. At the next conference you attend, after the day's sessions are over and everyone quietly disappears, you head back to your hotel room, close the door, and look silently out the window. Where is everyone? Where are the social gatherings you anticipated? It's only 6:00 p.m. What activities are going on? But then your cell phone buzzes, you look on the screen and see a Twitter from me or someone else letting others know of a party, or gathering in a hotel lobby or nearby restaurant. Within minutes, 20 people are there having a good time.
(On the last TWIT (This Week in Tech), Robert Scoble says he gathered a crowd of 60 people in 18 minutes through Twitter.)
2. You're stuck on an idea and need help. It's driving you crazy, the code eludes you, and you simply can't figure the logic out. What can you do? A forum query? There's not a forum for this topic. A blog post? Too long. A call to tech support? They wouldn't know the answer. Wait, a tweet. Yes, a quick tweet to your crowd of followers and .... voila, the answer appears in seconds.
3. You have a flash of an idea, too short for a blog post, but too valuable to be discarded. Do you write it on a scrap of paper? An old notebook that you'll quickly misplace? Do you write it on your hand? No, all that will disappear entropically into the cracks of the earth. Instead, you write it on Twitter and your followers bounce back their ideas, quickly propelling you into a deeper perspective. Your little flash of insight turns into a 1,500 word post.
4. You're trying to find someone interesting to interview at a conference, and you have about 30 minutes to kill. You know there are some interesting people around, people who have presented, but you can't figure out where they are. You want to chat with someone during the spare time you have, but everyone seems to be absent or mixing invisibly with vendor booths. So you send a tweet, and before you know it, two people have approached you for the interview you want to have.
5. In your solitary life, you lack any friends that actually care about what you're doing, so you build a list of virtual friends who console you with the illusion that they're actually your "friends" and that they're "closely following" what you do. Looking at their faces in times of loneliness lifts your spirits. :)
6. You just wrote an awesome post and hit Publish. It zooms off into the Internet RSS vortex, buried by the hundreds of feeds your friends already have, slipping through overstuffed feedreaders into the fourth or fifth "Next" page. But wait, through Twitterfeed, your post is automatically tweeted to all your friends -- the ones you really want to read your post anyway. The more tweets you have, the more hits your posts get. And then people stop following your feed and just pay attention to your latest tweets.
7. You're giving a presentation at a conference and you notice that a few people aren't paying much attention. Actually, they're typing what appear to be little instant messages every once in a while. You don't think much of it until you decide to check the latest tweets on your BlackBerry, and then you realize they're talking about how lame your presentation is and how they wish you would move in another direction. At this moment you remember Sarah Lacy and decide to completely redirect your focus, saving you from a potential heckler mutiny.
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I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area of California. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.