Thursday, February 4, 2010

Field Guide to Twitter

I was one of many who didn't "get" Twitter. I signed up for an account ages ago, and I think I Tweeted (posted messages) all of three times before I let the account atrophy. Then, thanks to my friend JA Souders, I had my come-to-Jesus moment with all this social networking stuff and started on the road to having a web-presence of my very own. It started with a website and a Facebook fanpage, but I knew I was going to have to come to terms with Twitter.

My instinct was to say "I don't wanna!" and stamp my feet like a child. And as Nathan Bransford so effectively said, you should only do what works for you as a writer when it comes to using social networking. On the other hand, it's rare for me to think that I might not be able to figure something out (Unless there's a ball involved. I don't do sports involving balls.) (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

I started with the lazy girl method (remember my Excessive Grooviness Disorder?) by linking my Facebook fanpage to my Twitter account so anything I posted on FB would automatically post to Twitter. But, I wasn't getting any followers and I still didn't feel like I "got it." So, what does any geeky writer do in her time of need? Google, my friend, we google. And I read every article, wiki and blog about Twitter I could stand. (Okay, maybe, like five.)

In the end, there’s not teacher like experience, and after some time in the Tweeting trenches, I’ve learned a lot.

I now present to you my…


Tweet - a message posted to Twitter, also the act of posting a message to Twitter (i.e. "I'm tweeting this!") Limited to 140 characters. You can include links to websites, pictures, youtube...whatever strikes your fancy.

Retweet - when someone else has something funny or interesting to say, you can Retweet their message to all of your followers.

@messages - are messages directed to, or mentioning another Twitter user. The reason for doing it is so the other person gets the message directly on their feed (highlighted in one of a million ways depending on the platform you're using). You can send an @message to anyone, even someone who you're not following, or who doesn't follow you.

direct messages - on the other hand, can only be sent between people who follow each other. They don't appear on the main feed of Twitter, and no one else can see them.

Following – a form of socially acceptable stalking. You can follow anyone you like and they can’t really stop you. This doesn’t mean you should be obnoxious and send direct messages all the time and think it means you’re now “friends,” but it’s a great way to stand on the fringes of an interest group and gain information by osmosis. - is a site that allows you to enter a #hashtag of your choice and follow a constantly updating scroll of everyone who is using that #hashtag. So, if you're looking for people who share your interest in something, this might be a good place to troll (like fishing, not like the creatures that live under bridges). It's also used to conduct scheduled chatroom-like discussions among groups with shared interests. Like, every Wednesday at 9pm EST, entering #YAlitchat will bring you a tidal wave of writers all tweeting about the same pre-decided topic related to Young Adult literature, writing and publication.

Tweetdeck - a little program that can sit on your desktop. It's very customizable, so you can view your account in columns. You can set up different groups for each column, or designate one for direct messages and @messages to you. You can also send Tweets from here. It's got built into it, so any website you want to share will automatically get clipped into a short URL that eats up less of your 140 characters.

Twitteriffic - is just one of the many iPod or iPhone apps that acts as a Twitter client. The major downfall of this one is the inability to retweet from the app.

#hashtags - are small phrases placed in your message to help identify your topic. Examples would be during the Oscars, you will find lots of people putting #oscars in their messages which means other people can search the hashtag and find out who's saying what.

I don't know who started the trend, although it certainly could be Maureen Johnson, but hashtags are also used as funny asides in your own messages. You just never know when one of the #hashtags you create will be picked up by others. For example, if I wanted to tweet about this blog post, I could say:

“I just wrote a FIELD GUIDE TO TWITTER on my blog #thisneedsthememusic”

Some #hashtags I find useful - #amwriting, #pubtip, #YAlitchat, #askagent

In my next blog, I'm going to talk about what makes someone a good Twitter user. In other words, what the heck do I tweet about?

Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave suggestions or questions in the comments section. I can always put out a second edition. You know how I love to “listen” to myself “talk.”

- Liz


jasouders said...

Really great post, Liz. I never even thought about doing something like this, but this would have been very helpful in the beginning. You forgot to mention uptweeting, though, and I only remembered it because that's exactly what I"m going to do next with yours.

Kelly said...

I've been avoiding twitter like crazy but I really want to get on there. This is a great start, thanks!