What Everybody Ought to Know About Twitter

by Paul Van Lierop on 24 August 2009 17 comments

In hallway conversations and chatting with friends I frequently hear the phrase "I just don't get Twitter." And frankly I didn't either until I decided to get more involved in the Personal Finance world and start blogging. I'm a techie so I do my best to stay up on all new and emerging technology; but for whatever reason I chose to ignore Twitter. I'll say now that I'm a full on addict and would be so bold as to credit my blogging success to Twitter for a number of reasons. One of the biggest drivers for signing up is connection with groups of like-minded individuals. And when I say like-minded, just pick your topic. Sure personal finance is my niche but I also follow some other specific tech areas and many offshoots of personal finance. Also Twitter is fantastic for timely information. Maybe not the largest selling point but I knew of Michael Jackson's death well before it was reported at a formal news agency. Lastly it's a terrific marketing tool for you or your business as long as you use it in moderation. A sure fire way to lose some followers is to be constantly self promoting without any real substance.

Twitter Basics

Twitter is essentially a constant stream of 140 character messages from people or information sources you choose to Follow. If don't already have an account head to Twitter and go sign up. Take this piece of advice: choose as short a username as possible that's relatively easy to remember. That's how people are going to refer to you. HeWhoShallNotBeNamed989 may sound great to you, but you'll use up a good chunk of anyone's 140 characters if they ever want to Mention you. Be sure to fill out your brief Bio and put up a picture -- anything but the default. Otherwise you can be virtually guaranteed you won't be followed by an actual human. Then be sure to follow @Wisebread (duh) and @FiscalGeek (me) before you do anything else.

Twitter has a great introduction video that covers the basics you might want to watch.

What's all this Mention and Following talk?

Following is the process of finding people whose updates you want to see. If the feeling is mutual then they will choose to follow you back. It's important to note that unless someone else is following you they won't see your updates unless you Mention them.

Mentioning someone means that when you type your tweet you include @username where username is the person you want to direct the message towards. So for instance say I want to send this tweet and direct it towards fiscalgeek: "@fiscalgeek Hot dog Twitter is the bomb hope to talk to you more!" Now when I login to Twitter if I look at my link @fiscalgeek in the menu bar I'll see your tweet and maybe choose to follow you as well. It's important to know that like all your tweets these messages are all public so your followers will see them as will anyone who searches for terms that may be in your tweet.

If you want to send a message to someone privately, you can choose Direct Message from the Web Menu or preface your tweet with d + username + message like: "d fiscalgeek What up dog?"

RT:'s, HashTags and Shortened URL's

RT: is the abbreviation used for Retweets. To Retweet is to cut and paste another's tweet because you think it's interesting, useful or you're helping to share someone's message. Common courtesy is to include the original tweeter's username which would look like: "RT: @fiscalgeek Thanks for Reading!"

A Hashtag refers to putting what's commonly known as a pound sign (#) in front of term. This is often used to denote a trend or categorize your tweets such as #followfriday or #ff. #followfriday or #ff is a Friday tradition of tweeting about those you follow and want to recommend to others. This is a good way to find other people you might be interested in following based on your current twitter friends. A tweet might look like "#followfriday @wisebread No end of PF usefulness."

Shortening a URL is the process of taking what otherwise might be a long URL like: http://www.fiscalgeek.com/2009/07/debt-snowball/ and then changing it into something much shorter to not use up your precious 140 characters. So if I used bit.ly it would change our same long URL to: http://bit.ly/4r2HxM . The nice part about bit.ly is that it will also give you some tracking as to how many people have clicked on your links. There's a plethora of options like is.gd and tinyurl just to name a few.

Twitter Practicalities

Much of the time it will be as if you are tweeting a monologue. Many of your followers will be content to just follow along and read your tweets. Obviously if you have a collection of people you already know it will be different than if you are following complete strangers. Over time you'll get to know your tweeps a little better. It's almost like you are auditioning and you need to take that into account. Just take it all in for a bit to see what's going on and join in the fun.

How can I possibly follow more than 100 people?

You'll hit a point where you've got information overload and can't possibly keep up with the amount of tweets coming through. At that point you'll probably want to employ some tools to help you filter that information. Personally I use Tweetdeck, a free application that works on PC, Mac and Linux as well as an iPhone version. It lets you create groups which is a handy way to classify people you follow or to highlight a group of people you want to follow a little more closely.

What's This Got to Do with Personal Finance?

If you are serious about learning more about personal finance after reading Wise Bread and FiscalGeek you can follow some of the big names in Personal Finance as well as the smaller up and comers. Personally I've learned a terrible amount from my Tweeps. I think you'll also find they are incredibly helpful, whether you are looking for bankruptcy advice, debt reduction strategies, budgeting tips or investing ideas in 140 character snippets. If you'd like to find a comprehensive list to follow you'll want to check out Wise Bread's Top Personal Finance Twitterers That Will Follow You Back . Here's my list of PF homies that I keep in one of my groups in Tweetdeck. Do yourself a favor and start following all of them you won't be sorry.

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Guest's picture
Shari

I am still not quite seeing why Twittering is helpful to the average joe. That is, unless you really care to know hot news about celebrities first.

After reading this, I can see its utility if you are trying to build a business or make money off a blog, but for me, I still don't see a point. The sort of blogs I read are ones written by friends, and the occasional blog of interest (like Wisebread), plus news sites. Twitter just seems like a way to waste more time on the 'net, because it's far too easy to do that already. I even stay clear of Facebook apps because they also seem pointless.

Guest's picture
Kelly

It is a great business tool for anyone who has a business, but it's also a great tool for learning more about ANY topic.

Parenting, cars, people who are into health/fitness, celebrities, have an interest or hobby then there is a tribe of people on twitter sharing useful info about it.

You CAN waste time on twitter or you can use it as a tool. It's a fantastic tool once you learn how to use it.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

My experience is that most twits don't really click on the links tweeted anyway.  I have seen creative uses of twitter such as reporting traffic information or letting people know the location of a street food vendor.  Personally I don't use it just because it seems like a waste of time. 

Paul Van Lierop's picture

Here's my first Twitter experience.  Signed up followed some celebrities and followed a few friends.  They tweet about once a month, and I got tweet overload from the celebrities about things most mundane.  Then I tried again found some people that I liked what they had to say and started getting into it.  No random people following you are just going to click on any link you send.  They want to be comfortable with you, have interacted with you a bit and then lo and behold they're click on you, retweeting your stuff.  It takes some time to build those relationships and to weed out those bad apples.  It took me about a month to build up a decent community and then when twitter was down I felt helpless and unconnected.  Lame, probably, but I'd recommend giving it a go, and if you are interested in Personal Finance the list of people I provided in the article just may prove me right.

Guest's picture

I've found that another useful aspect of Twitter is keeping up with people I meet in person. At a professional networking event or conference, I often meet a number of new people. Twitter is an easy - and low commitment - way to maintain those new connections. I can follow people right after I meet them, get to know them better from their tweets, and next time I see them, we're much better acquainted. I actually have gotten to know a lot of colleagues much better because of our Twitter conversations.

Overall, I think the key to Twitter is to find your community. Once you do, it's an incredibly valuable communication tool.

Guest's picture

I find twitter to be quite interesting. For me, it's a way of communicating with people who share an interest, Finance, and Personal Finance blogging. In my case, that focus means I'm not following some Bruins fans (nothing wrong with hockey, just not of interest to me) or other Tweeps who are focused on other issues. Like a club, but with no dues.
I have to say, I've learned quite a bit from those I follow, and hope others feel the same about me.

Like any social network, you can find focused people or those who just tweet where they are, what they are eating, etc. It's what you make of it.

Joe

Guest's picture

Glad I'm still in your TweetDeck:) - Really, this is an excellent introduction and defense of Twitter, and I'd have to agree with it. I signed up back in June 2008, but it took me almost 8 months before I really started using it. Then I'd say it took a month to finally "get it" - including the basic guidelines of how to use it and benefit from it. I agree, it's been an enormous help with my own blog and for connecting with other bloggers (and readers!) and other amazing, productive people making exciting things happen.

Guest's picture

People don't 'get' Twitter because, in most cases, the only thing you hear about it in the mass media is either about Celebrities or people tweeting random nonsense- like what they're eating. That is true in some cases, but there's a lot more to Twitter than you think.

My main interests are Personal Finance, Sci-Fi & Science. About two-thirds of the people I follow give me Sci-Fi and Science news/updates and the other third are Personal Finance bloggers.

I tweet about all of it. Some days you'll see me tweeting about Sci-Fi TV shows/movies and other geeky interests...other days will be debate or conversations with professional and amateur scientists/astronomers/physicists about a range of topics. And then you'll have days where finances are my main tweet topics.

On several occasions, I've been asked why I tweet so much about Sci-Fi and Science instead of just Personal Finance. Well, although I enjoy tweeting with other Personal Finance experts, ultimately, they aren't the people who I'll ask to download or purchase my book.

I know my other discussions might turn off those who are only interested in Personal Finance information (which may be why I'm not on some Top Personal Finance Lists) but the Sci-Fi and Science lovers are my audience. They have the same interests I do...and some of them also have a desire to improve their financial situation but don't want to be blasted with constant Personal Finance information/links.

I am honored that my Sci-Fi and Science followers allow me to tweet some of the Personal Finance information I have to them. If it can help them in any way- then I've done exactly what I set out to do.

But no matter what your interests you can find groups of people on Twitter who have the same interests as you and I guarantee you will learn a lot more from them than you think...in 140 characters or less at a time!

Guest's picture
Matt B

Until I really realized how much I could use it for, especially finding new information and ideas, I did not like twitter at all. It took about a month or so, but now I do not go a day without it.

Guest's picture
B Simple

I have used Twitter for almost a year now and I find it to be a great source for find news and information and meeting others with similar interest. I was also a little hesitant when I first began to use it but it has become a part of my everyday life.

Guest's picture
Guest

i can never near finish my rss feeds. i deal with people all day asking me stuff in person and by email.

so now i'm supposed to type out more stuff. and read more.

so how to choose what to and what not to read? i guess tweets sound shorter so do i shutdown my feeds and tweet instead?

is social media for anti-social grouchy types who quickly burn out on too much contact and need to retreat to solitude? guess they got a tweet for that, huh...

Guest's picture

I'm not a Facebook/MySpace type at all, but Twitter struck me as less of a time-suck than those. I was right - it's as much or as little as you want it to be.

I started Twittering as a way of connecting a little more with my fellow PF bloggers because I love their writing and personalities in general. I also work from home, alone, and need a little interaction from time to time. I've met a few of my "Tweeple" and been on both the giving and receiving end of really useful help in several areas of my life - all of this totally unexpected.

...and Thanks for explaining Tweetdeck. I've been wondering what its purpose was and it sounds like a great tool!

Guest's picture

I find Twitter distracting. Too much noise.

Guest's picture
Josh H

I think this could be used a small quick twitter guide. Has a lot of good to do's. I find it very hard to follow all 100 people i am following. It can be time consuming if you have other things to do!

Guest's picture
claire7676

You don't have to sign up for a Twitter account to follow someone. If you know their user name on Twitter, do a search for them. When you find them, click "follow in a reader" (should appear on the right side bar) and you can just add their feeds to your RSS reader. I did this with quite a few people, and I don't have a Twitter account. Pretty cool. Of course, this is only useful if you don't want to communicate back.

Guest's picture
Kelly

Thanks for the mention.

I read somewhere that twitter is like a stream, you dip your toes in when you need info, or want to connect.

It can seem like a raging river, so start slow.

I follow over 500 people without Tweetdeck, and I just read really fast. :)

I don't read every tweet, but if I read something interesting, I may go back and look at a user's profile and find more interesting stuff.

It's my favorite way of finding good reading material online.

As for those who don't "get" it, in my experience they usually haven't even tried it.

Guest's picture
Yasthetwit

I'm an Iranian Ex-pat. I had joined Twitter a couple of months prior to this June's Iranian Election, and had not tweeted; just joined. Then a day after the results were known (around mid June), it is in Twitter that I heard the rumours of fraud. A Twit friend told me to follow #iranelection. The amount of information is mind-blowing. The links people post take me places, and show me things I would never have had the time to find on my own. I have an IranElection mailing list of around 40 people. My daily routine is to go through my e-mails, and post the good information on Twitter. Then I go through Twitter, and copy&paste information/sources/URLs into my e-mails to my mailing list. I've started putting Via Twitter in the e-mails to entice more people to join. During people's uprising, it was beyond addictive. Vidclips were being posted as soon as Iranian Twits arrived home. You'd get Tweets from them saying things like "they got one of my friends, have to move to safer place"; or they were coordinating their protest on Twitter. Twitter has turned out to be an amazing tool for a protest and uprising; and I love it. Long Live Twitter.