Getting Technical – What is Twitter and why should I use it? (Twitter 101 – part 1)

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Let’s face it, suddenly the phenomenon that is Twitter is everywhere. Not only are major corporations starting to ‘tweet’ updates, but I can think of at least a half-dozen times in the last month or two when I’ve heard our local newscasters refer viewers to Twitter for more information on a news story.

twitter_logo So what exactly is Twitter, and why should you join? Isn’t it just one more social networking site to eat up all of your free time? What’s so new and different about this one?

Those are a few of the questions I’m going to attempt to answer here to the best of my ability. I’ll also include links to other references that might be helpful at the bottom of this post as well.  So pull up a comfy chair, sit back and let’s get started.  🙂

What is Twitter?

The ‘official’ definition in Twitter’s own help pages is:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages.  People write short updates, often called "tweets"  of 140 characters or fewer.  These messages are posted to your profile or your blog, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search.

Ok, so to break this down… Twitter is considered a ‘micro-blogging’ platform. Instead of posting updates on your own site that are as long or as short as you wish, you post small messages on Twitter’s site, under your own specific log-in name. The catch is that with Twitter, you are limited to a total of 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) for each individual message.

Note: It’s fairly common therefore to see lots and lots of abbreviations, acronyms, and other types of ‘texting’ speak on Twitter since everything’s all about being as concise as you can be to get your idea or point across.

Twitter1 Similarly to Facebook or Myspace, when you create a Twitter profile, you have your own ‘page’ that you can customize with an avatar (the little photo that shows by your name), different background, font colors, etc. When you register on Twitter you choose your ‘handle’ or username, and that’s how you’re seen and recognized when you update.

The ostensible reason for ‘tweeting’ your updates is to answer the question, “What are you doing?”. But Twitter has grown and evolved to the point where many people are using it for much more than that. It’s become a true social networking site, an instant messaging platform, a marketing and public relations tool, and even an encyclopedia or dictionary of sorts, since it’s possible to get an answer to a question or problem in literally just seconds most of the time.

Why use Twitter?

Social networking sites have certainly flourished and multiplied in the past several years. You can find them now on just about any specific ‘niche’ or topic even. But it’s still the very broad ones – like Twitter – that are the most heavily used, and that’s due to a lot of different factors that would probably bore you to have to read through.

In the end, it comes down to the fact that well, you should use Twitter because ‘everyone else’ is using it. And by that I don’t mean that you should simply follow the herd and join Twitter because of the masses of other people out there who think it’s cool. But rather, that the usefulness of Twitter increases with every new person who joins and begins to add his or her ‘tweets’. It’s like a giant pool of resources for any and every subject you can think of.

Want to find a good seafood restaurant in Boston? Just tweet something like, “Am in Boston, looking for your top picks for great seafood!” and within moments you’re likely to have several to choose from. Or maybe you need to know how to install a new light fixture, or repair a drywall hole… Whatever you need, there’s bound to be someone who’s following you who either knows the answer, or who has someone following them who knows.

Note: We’ll get into the whole ‘following’ thing in the next post – stay tuned!

I’ve seen husbands and wives tweet their daily schedule to each other, friends using Twitter to keep in touch, bloggers looking for technical help or recommendations for someone to design a new site for them – the potential is just about limitless.

I don’t see Twitter as a replacement for Facebook or Myspace – but rather as another tool in your arsenal of social networking opportunities. With the potential to follow and be followed by thousands of people, it doesn’t fill the same need as the other sites to connect people on a more in depth and personal level. But really, like anything else, you get out of Twitter what you put into it. And there’s no rules or requirements that dictate how, why or how often you use it. It’s all up to you.

Next in this series, look for some of the basics about how Twitter works and what it means to ‘follow’ or ‘be followed’.

Here are links to a few posts which may be of help as well:

Twitter SupportFrequently Asked Questions

David Lee KingWhy Use Twitter?

Business WeekHow Companies Use Twitter to Bolster Their Brands

ProBlogger9 Benefits of Twitter for Bloggers

Dosh Dosh17 Ways You Can Use Twitter: A Guide for Beginners, Marketers, and Business Owners

Do you have any blogging or Twitter-related questions that you’d like answered here? Technical ones or just general?  Send me an e-mail at debmomof3(at)comcast(dot)net, and I’ll do my best to try to answer them!  :)