Tech Talk: WTF is Twitter?!

“I’ve tried to use Twitter but it just doesn’t seem to work in my life.” “It seems so complicated- I can’t figure out the format” “I tweeted and no one responded!”

Sound familiar? It should! A Pew Survey just came out saying that while 67% of the internet using population use Facebook only 16% use Twitter. Twitter was originally created by Odeo, a podcast broadcasting company, as a way to communicate internally. It rolled out the application in July 2006 to little fanfare. Tech Crunch described it as, “a sort of ‘group send’ SMS application.” The 2007 South by SouthWest (SXSW) event was when Twitter first made its mark. Twitter made use of two giant plasma screens to broadcast what we now refer to as “live-tweets” from participants at the event. While it was exciting at the time, there was a lot of sentiment that it was a fad that would soon go by the wayside. Yet, Twitter continued to demonstrate its utility- to journalists, politicos, and businesses.

medium_5069092268Much of the growth of the Twitter community revolves around its usefulness. While this picture is rather tounge-in-cheek, it is not far from the reality of the typical ad hoc Twitter introduction-adoption process. Twitter has allowed various fields to show their communities why it is useful for them to use Twitter. A business uses it for a conference. A brand uses it for a campaign. Journalists live-tweet news. But there have been few attempts to explain to the average internet user why they might enjoy Twitter. So… drumroll please… here’s my attempt to take a whack at it!

There are two hurdles to using Twitter. First, figuring out who to follow. Second, figuring out how to interact.

Who should you follow? Following people generates your “feed” on twitter- this is what you will see when you open your account. Whenever you follow someone, everything they tweet and retweet will appear on this feed. This is where the utility of Twitter really comes into play. This is a screenshot from my personal feed:


I like following the Capital Weather Gang because they encourage people to tweet the local weather to them, which they retweet to their followers. This is great when a storm is rolling across the region. I am obsessed with the Washington Nationals. Right now, my feed is alive with game news, photos, and some awesome parody accounts (@JWerth’sBeard).

When putting together your feed, think about what you like to read in general on the internet. Do you tend to read the news? Follow gossip? Get the latest recipes? Or maybe all of the above. As you can see from my feed, I have a motley crew. It takes some tweaking to get your feed just the way you want it. Note: to “unfollow” on Twitter does not mean the same as “de-friending” on Facebook! When you put your feed together, you are basing it off of your interests. You may find that someone you decided to follow stops posting about that topic or maybe posts too much- “spamming” your feed. Go ahead: “unfollow” them. To quote Captain Planet, “The Power is Yours!”

What Should You Tweet? It depends on what you want to get out of Twitter. If you just want to read the news then really there’s no reason for you to tweet anything– seriously! If you are trying to get followers then you should think about focusing your tweets thematically on certain topics. If you follow me, for example, you will get a smattering of politics, social media, Nationals, and UVA news. About 50% of my tweets are simply retweets from my feed. Sometimes I do this simply so that I can go back and look at the article later, but often it is simply something I like or find funny and think that my followers will as well. Retweeting someone can also get them to follow you.

Don’t be hurt if people do not respond to your tweets! Think of how many things you read but don’t retweet or comment on. If this really bothers you, then consider getting into a conversation. To respond to a tweet, simply hit “reply”. I’ve had a few interesting interactions this way.

I hope I have intrigued at least a few of you enough to take another look at the madness/ addition called Twitter. It is a great step forward in news customization and can be great fun. I have actually found it to be a great networking tool (of course it helps that I work in social media!)

So go ahead. Give it a whirl!

photo credits: The Daring Librarian via photopin cc and *midtownsky* via flickr 

A version of this blog originally appeared on Social Media, etc

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Hope Racine

Associate Editor at Literally, Darling
Hope is a freelance writer and editor who makes her living writing things about Jane Austen and editing things about taxes. She has an unhealthy relationship with George Washington. Hope is currently working toward her life goal of being on Jeopardy! and owning all the dogs.
Hope Racine
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