No doubt, I will mention Twitter a lot on this blog. Get used to it. Facebook are the top dogs in the social networking game, and that’s where the people are, digitally speaking. So if we want to be in the social media game, we need to have a presence on those two sites.
Do we want to be in the social media game? Absolutely. If you’ve been reading my weekly Web stats reports, you already know that Facebook sends about 4,000 to 6,000 visitors a week to our website. It is second only to Google as a source of readers for us. Twitter, for its part, is usually in the top 10 sources of traffic to our site.
Beyond that, though, Bozeman is a tech-friendly town. The city has an active Twitter community, full of people carrying on conversations and sharing information with each other. Twitter in Bozeman is also full of businesses who are doing their best to bring in customers by tweeting specials, coupons, deals and other information — basically just being there.
Those businesses know that there is money to be made on Twitter in exchange for relatively little effort. We should be taking advantage of that arrangement too.
What is Twitter?
Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past five years, Twitter is a website that allows you to post short messages that are immediately visible to the people who subscribe to you. The messages are limited to 140 characters in length, meaning they need to be on point.
Millions upon millions of people around the world use Twitter, from movie stars to politicians to rebels fighting the Egyptian government. It has gained such ubiquity because Twitter works so well with mobile phones — specially with text messaging. This is what has allowed protesters in the Middle East to use Twitter to organize themselves; while they may not have Internet-enabled smartphones, they do have text messaging plans which make connecting to Twitter easy.
Now the next thing I’m going to say is important, so I’m only going to say it once. If your major argument against using Twitter is that you ‘don’t need to know what people had for breakfast,’ then you are using Twitter wrongly. Period.
Twitter is a tool. You will get out of Twitter what you want to get out of it, and what you get out of it will be limited only by your willingness to learn how to use this tool.
What can you use it for?
For me, Twitter is a news feed. If I were to pay attention to it all day, I would find no shortage of interesting and important things to read, posted to Twitter by some of the top minds in journalism today, such as Jeff Jarvis, Mathew Ingrahm and Jay Rosen.
Twitter is also a way to broadcast links to your stories and to let people know what you are working on. In that way, you develop an audience for what you have to say and will be more likely to read your stuff. The social networking gurus call this building your personal “brand.” That way, should you ever leave the Chronicle for greener pastures at another news organization, you’ll take some fans with you who will read you regardless of who you’re writing for.
Twitter is also a means for having conversations with people. What do you talk about? Pick something interesting, do a Twitter search and start responding to people. You’ll find yourself in whatever kind of conversation you want. More importantly, though, Twitter is a way to converse with the people who read your stories, to answer their questions about your writing and to solicit story ideas from them. (When used well, Twitter can also be a nifty place to connect with sources for stories too.)
Learning to use Twitter takes time. It is full of jargon and little technical details that may not be apparent right off the bat. That’s why this is only the first in what I intend to be a series of Twitter-related posts. The next post I have planned will cover the basics of how to use Twitter, from retweets to hashtags.
However, just because I have covered those basics yet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out. Here’s some homework for you: Start a Twitter account today. Get signed in and send out a few tweets. Don’t worry about them being worthy of a Pulitzer. Just get used to doing it. Find a few good people to follow and see what they have to say.