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Five tips to get started with Twitter (and not get burned)

Twitter is a variation on instant messaging where you can communicate with people. Your entries (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters.

A lot has been said in the mainstream media about Twitter – which has also triggered a lot of misconceptions.

Twitter is a valuable tool for the solo-professional. Here are five tips to get started with Twitter:

1. Set up an account using your real name and a real profile.

Complete your Profile settings using your real name, a short description of who you are, your website, and upload a picture. Avoid using underscores (_) or numbers in your name. A natural-looking handle (screen name) will encourage people to “follow” (connect with) you. It is very important that you have a picture of you on your profile, otherwise your account will be regarded as spam by the users.

2. Use the “Find People” function to find and follow people you know that may be on Twitter

The core idea of Twitter is about having near-synchronous (near-real-time) conversations with people you know and trust. Start building your network by seeking out a dozen people you know, and learn how to use the system by interacting with them. ( https://twitter.com/invitations/find_on_twitter )

You may read about the importance of following lots of people in order to have people following you. Over time you will develop a network. Do not blindly click left and right to build up to your 2000 follower limit, in hopes that some people will follow you. Do not use software to automatically “find” followers for you (they tend to be spam, and can get you banned).

Once you start to get the hang of Twitter with your “starter group”, then you can start to branch out to connect with people you have not yet met. You can ask your current network for suggestions. Twitter also has a custom that Friday is #followfriday where people recommend other Twitter users that are worth following.

Give yourself some time, and you will build a natural audience for your tweets.

3. On Twitter, content is king.

The media likes to make fun of Twitter because of the many examples of inane and pointless chatter that goes on about what they had for breakfast.

Ignore them.

The real magic of Twitter is what one Tweeter @jayrosen_nyu calls “mindcasting” – the sharing of ideas.

What I appreciate about Twitter is that I can share ideas, insights, questions I’m asking myself (and others), in order to spark conversations.

Start your Twitter experience by sharing two or three ideas a day: observations, maybe one favorite quote, maybe a question you are pondering. Be concise, don’t use too many abbrev. If you can’t fit want you want to say into 140 characters, reconsider your thought to boil it down to its essence. Twitter is a great exercise in clarity.

Once you start tweeting interesting stuff (see below) you will attract a loyal following. Good content will get you hundreds of followers in a matter of weeks, without spamming.

4. Instead of using Twitter through the web page, use specialized tools.

The Twitter web site is not built for extensive use. The real magic of Twitter comes from the large universe of specialized tools that use the Twitter messaging system but organize the information in ways much easier to understand. Here are two free apps that I recommend (you only need one of them):

TweetDeck (PC, Mac, Linux): Tweetdeck is a social media browser application that allow you to manage the information you get from your Twitter, Facebook and other systems. It works on any computer through Adobe Air (free). Strengths: being able to organize my social messaging in easy-to-understand groups. You can follow, reply, search and manage your Twitter account through TweetDeck. Only downside, it takes up a whole screen. Get it at http://tweetdeck.com

Twhirl (PC, Mac, Linux): Twhirl is another social media browser. I prefer its compact interface especially on my small-screen netbook. I really like the search function – I set a couple of search profiles (on my name, on topics of interest) and it automatically returns the latest tweets from anywhere on the search terms. I find it works better in Mac and Linux than TweetDeck (personal opinion). Get it at http://www.twhirl.org/

As you get more into the social networking way of communicating, you will discover other apps that are more tuned to your way of viewing information. The great thing is that all of these tools are FREE.

5. Budget your Twitter time

Twitter can be a huge timesink, especially when you start out. After many wasted hours, I finally understood that the smart way to use Twitter is to consider it as a “timestream” – it relentlessly moves forward. I dip into the timestream when I have a few minutes here and there, catching up on conversations, contributing some tweets, then move to my next activity.

I suggest you start by setting aside two or three 15-minute periods a day doing the following:

responding to an interesting comment or question, whether I know the person or not (in Twitter, we are all one big family)

Retweeting or RT-ing (forwarding) an interesting tweet to your follower network. Retweeting is a way to signal that you like the tweet, and RTs are a measure the popularity of a tweet

Suggesting a link to an interesting article, blog post, website or video (yours or some else’s. The proper way to pass on a link is to summarize the idea or title, followed by a shortened link. Most Twitter apps like Tweetdeck or Twhirl will automatically shorten the link for you. Or you can use link shortening sites like http://www.tinyurl.com or http://www.is.gd Keep your links short to maximize the use of your 140 characters.

Sharing an idea, thought, or question. This is the fun part of Twitter, where you are contributing to the conversation. Tweet ideas that reinforce your personal positioning or brand (i.e. don’t get too personal, stay clean, remember that you are posting on a very public bulletin board). By tweeting intelligent, provocative, funny or emotive tweets, you will start to attract interest, your tweets will be retweeted, and you will gain a following.

Seeking interesting people to follow, by clicking on handles (@username) in other people’s tweets. I like to look at people’s tweets before I decide to follow (subscribe) to them. You are the ultimate decider of what you want in your twitterstream, so only follow people you find interesting (following is not reciprocal, in that because you follow someone, they don’t follow you until they decide to, and vice-versa)

It may look like some people are spending all of their waking hours (and some sleeping hours) tweeting. Don’t fall into that trap. 30-45 minutes a day is more than enough to derive a good benefit from Twitter.

Be inclusive, conversational and interesting and you will build a following that is interested in your thoughtstream. With your Twitter group, aim for quality people instead of quantity.

As you become more comfortable with Twitter, you can then progress to the intermediate level, where you can start to use Twitter
to build your brand and attract prospects.

Happy Tweeting!

p.s. Please follow me @coachdavender or http://twitter.com/coachdavender , and let me know your Twitter name so I can follow you!

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