At the New Communications Forum conference I attended last week, Twitter was the topic of a great deal of discussion.  During panels and hallway chats, three things became really clear to me:

(1) There are a lot of smart people who have no idea what Twitter is, or who only know about it in the vaguest sense.

(2) Hard core Twitter users assume that everyone knows about it in the same way that everyone knows about YouTube or Facebook.  They don’t.   Twitter hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, although it is knocking on the door.   Check out this Compete graph:

(3) Twitter is really hard to explain to people.  You pretty much have to just break out the laptop and show the thing. 

We’ve been writing a great deal about Twitter here on our blog, and I fear that we have done so in a way that is inaccessible to folks that haven’t checked out the tool yet.  So below is some background info that hopefully helps out newbies and also Twitter vets trying to explain it to folks.

What is Twitter?

Here is a one sentence explanation from Wikipedia:  “Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send ‘updates’ (or ‘tweets’; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service (e.g. on a cell phone), instant messaging, or a third-party application such as Twitterrific or Facebook.”

But that is a little vague for me.  This video does the best job of explaining it that I have seen:

If you are more text oriented check out these great resources:

How do I find people to follow?

A few people at the conference asked how to find people to follow on Twitter.  This is a question I found almost impossible to answer quickly, as my own list of people I follow came about organically over time.  But following are a few tips I’d suggest for those starting out:

  1. Identify a few people you know in real life and follow them by searching for their name on Twitter.  Here is my account as a sample.   Then go through the list of the people those folks are following and add some of the people you know and/or that look interesting. 
  2. Check out a list of the most popular users on Twitter and follow the ones you find interesting or have heard of. 
  3. Once you are following around 30-40 people, just sit back and listen.  You’ll see lots of little conversations break out through the use of the @ sign.  Check out the accounts of the people your friends are talking to and add them if they make a good impression. 
  4. At this point new users will start following you.  Follow the ones that you find that seem cool.
  5. Don’t be afraid to dump folks that you find uninteresting.  You won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings.

I think if you follow these steps you’ll find interesting folks to follow organically?

What are these Twitter tools I keep hearing about?

One of the cool things about Twitter is that it has an open Application Development Interface (API), which means that third-party folks can build cool applications that integrate with Twitter.  Following is a list of some of the cool ones to check out:

  • Twemes and Hashtags are cool aggregator sites that pull together all Twitter posts on various subjects.
  • Twitt(url)y is a new service that shows which links Twitter users are sharing the most on a given day.  Twitterbuzz and Intwition work in a similar manner.
  • Twhirl and Twitterific are desktop applications aimed at power users.
  • Twitterfeed is a tool that allows you to automatically import info from RSS feeds as Twitter posts.
  • Twittervision is a cool tool that displays Twitter post on a map interface as they come in from all over the world.
  • Twitpic allows users to quickly post pictures to their accounts.
  • Twist is a neat tool that allows you to compare have often keywords appear on Twitter (like Google Trends).
  • Tweetburner allows you to track how many people click on the links you share.
  • Twitterholic is a leaderboard displaying top Twitter users.
  • Tweetscan is a simple tool that allows you to search Twitter.

If you know of any other cools tools, drop a comment and I’ll add it to my list.



About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.