Home > Uncategorized > How to get the best from twitter – my take

How to get the best from twitter – my take

Initially, I didn’t get twitter. Initially, I thought that it was phone-based, and consisted mainly of people posting messages like “I’m at club Wambo.” And I didn’t need to know that. I didn’t want to know it. And I didn’t want text messages being sent at any hour just because some Stephen Fry is on his way to the BAFTAs or something like that.

However, twitter is useful on the PC. But you need strategies to get the most out of it.

First, the basics. With twitter, you send short messages, called tweets. They are public, and get stored, and are searchable. So, every message you send is a public message (there ARE direct messages, which are not publicly viewable, being a bit like an SMS between only two people) You can subsequently delete all tweets from the database, but as they might have been seen before you got around to tweeting them, you should consider them private.

If every tweet went to every user, it would be chaos. So you choose whose messages you see by “following” them. Then, when they tweet, all followers get a copy of a tweet. Simple.

You can “mention” someone by using their twitter username – one of mine is @dumbledood so if you wanted to message me, just include @dumbledood in the message. And as I’m mentioned, twitter sends me a copy, even if you don’t follow me. (And I get an email too, but I think that’s my choice, and can be turned off.)

A hashtag is a word, abbreviation, or acronym preceded by the hash character (#). (Some Americans have been known to call this the pound symbol, and others the square. Fortunately the word hashtag has made it into popular use, so hopefully the symbol will be universally known as ‘hash’ soon. ) When you use a hashtag, you’re marking your tweet as related to that tag, whether it be a #winwinsituation or a #badafternoon. As you will find out later on, these hashtags can be used with searches. And you can make up your own, in the hope that they go into use, or just to sum up a concept in fewer words than it would take in English (or Flemish, or Tagalog). Hashtags can’t contain spaces, so they are helpful in abbreviating messages to the 140 characters that twitter allows.

If you see a particularly excellent tweet, then you can “retweet” it. Then, all your followers (in my case, a mere 44) will get this excellent tweet sent to them.

Prolific tweeters are not always good people to follow. I only want to cope with maybe 50 messages a day, in total – I’ll check with my morning cuppa, again when I get home from work, and maybe during the evening. I don’t want to follow someone who posts his every move – as I’m unlikely to be interested in their moves, I barely care about my own these days. So, before I follow someone, I check out their posting rate – if they’ve posted 40 times in the last hour, I’m not going to follow them. Also, I review my daily tweet-feast, and so sometimes I unfollow people who post too much. That gives us strategy one – limit your input.

But some people post interesting posts, and I still want to get these gems of wisdom, but I don’t want to see their conversations with other people (@otherperson messages). So, I use a program called Tweetdeck which automatically filters mentions to other people out. So, if Stephen Fry is discussing ducks with @dennis, and sexuality with @steve, then I am spared the details, but I get his latest witty post on London Taxis, which mentions no-one. So strategy two – use an app that filters the noise out.

So, I’m fairly happy with my twitter life. I follow friends, and some other people who make good posts, or tweet about things I agree with. Oh, all my followers and who I follow is public knowledge, you can view their profile, those following, and those that they follow via Twitter. This may be a configuration option, but whenever I gain a new follower, I get an email from twitter telling me about them (and how many they follow, how many follow them, and how many tweets they’ve made).

The next step is searches. With Tweetdeck, I can search for things that are posted publicly, not just within my following/followers group. And so, I can search for posts on my favourite football team, posts that mention my village, my favourite food, whatever. I don’t have to follow these people, and they won’t know I’ve seen their message. But I can use them to see what’s going on in my village, and if (for example) if I had a commute along the M4, I might search for “M4” from about four o’clock, to get an idea of how the traffic is.

With Tweetdeck, each search goes in a separate column. You can have a column for posts by your friends, mentions, direct messages, and lots of searches, plus other stuff that I don’t use. So, I have at least 5 columns – my feed from friends; mentions – in case I miss them in my feed, because that would be rude; direct messages – although I think I’ll lose that one; a search for my village, and for the town near it.

This means that I can keep my main feed clean, only the people I’m really interested in, and still be kept up-to-date on what’s happening when people mention my village or town. You can search for any word or words, including hashtags, and, in Tweetdeck, I can filter OUT posts that match my search, so I don’t get news about children with snakes on “Britain’s got talent” when I search for my village name. (And those posts are still going on, even months later!) This gives us strategy three – exploit the power of searches.

Now, how often do I tweet? I probably post my own tweets less than five times a day, on average, unless I am replying to an @mention, but I do retweet anything that I think might interest my followers. This is because I don’t want to be the victim of strategy one, of course!

And the last thing I want to talk about is multiple identities. Here’s how I use it: I *love* Formula One, and there are lots of F1 tweeters – teams, journalists, wry observers, and, of course, just fans like me. And there are a lot of tweets. With strategy one in place (limit your input) I can’t follow them all, but, on the race weekend, if I have the time, I like to absorb these tweets when the races are broadcast. So, I don’t follow them with my main account, I use another one, specifically for following F1. (I have another one for gurning but it’s not as prominent in tweet-land.

Tweetdeck lets me manage multiple accounts really easily, so on race days, I can simply add a column that shows updates from all the F1 people that I follow (and another for mentions, as I’d hate to miss them). Tweetdeck allows me to keep my two feeds – the real me, the gurner, and the F1 nut – entirely seperate, and when I tweet, I can tweet from any of my accounts

I can also open a search for the #F1 and #BBCF1 hashtags, but, to be honest, they move far too quickly to be of any use – I reckon there might be 50 messages a second when Martin Bundle does a grid walk before a race. And, interestingly, I have even used strategy one on this account, as I had followed a lot of F1 team accounts that only posted marketing-speak spamvertisments or boring updates that were obvious from the TV coverage . So, now I’m down to some people who really interest me on that, too.

And, on this account, I post like crazy. I don’t care that people might use strategy 1 on me – I’m like a child using a hose (I literally mean a hose; this is not a strange sexual reference) in his his swimming trunks for the first time. It’s fun, and I don’t care that other people are watching, how could having this much fun be embarrassing? I use the #F1 and #BBCF1 hashtags judiciously, and I have had occasional retweets and replies from strangers, so even if I am just posting rubbish, it’s rubbish that people want, when they see it. And, I’ve come up with some fantastic ideas, all publically available on my feed. If I was into rallying, cycling, whatever, I might create accounts *just* for following a specific group of tweeters at specific times. Which gives us strategy four – exploit multiple accounts.

So, without apps like tweetdeck, the newcomer on the field, Google+ is not going to change the world. I think that their lack of openness and desire to control will be their downfall, Google will stifle apps like this unless they are developed in-house.

I should tell you that I edited that sentence, initially I started “I fear …,” and changed it to a less hackneyed phrase, but as I changed it, I realised that actually I fear that they have no downfall. They are seriously bigger, badder, and know more about you than anyone else. Everyone uses Google, their cookies are everywhere, every time a web site serves up an ad from Google, they know about it (sportswear – remember that!). We must support the underdog, and avoid everyone jumping on the best of breed at the time. Diversification is not just useful, it’s essential, how many years have we taken to throw off the DS-DOS mentality? If you want to do a good deed today, go and look for a small guy and plump him up. Please do not interpret that last sentence literally!

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. 17 October 2011 at 08:22

    Hi Ali, @proofreader here! Paragraph 3 contains no matching close bracket and doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – you might want to revisit it. Paragraph 5 contains the wrong “there” in the first sentence.

  2. 17 October 2011 at 08:28

    Hi Ali again – I never really got twitter either, but maybe that’s just because I’m a Johnny-no-mates! Thanks for the handy overview, though I would like to point out for the record that those Americans who call # the pound sign are wrong to do so. I believe this misconception comes from the good old days of MS-DOS when the ascii code produced by the £ character on a British keyboard was rendered as a # in the US because they use a slightly different code page (character set).

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