This is a guest post by Deanna de Bara from Sugarrae.com.
As a relative “newbie” to the social networking scene (I sporadically use facebook and myspace, but thats about it), I was interested to try Twitter, a social networking and micro blogging site that has recently become popular with internet enthusiasts.
The program began as a research and development project inside a small San Fransisco start up, and was initially used as an inter-office communication tool (think instant messenger). It was officially launched online as Twitter in July of 2006.
The best way I can think to describe Twitter is that it is basically a public chat room, only instead of reading what everyone has to say, you can pick and choose who you listen to as well as who listens to you.
Creating and Customizing your Twitter Profile
So, when you sign up for Twitter, you are given the choice of a username, and your URL becomes www.twitter.com/yourusername. Pretty self explanatory. You can customize your site by either uploading your own background image (like BBGeeks did), or by choosing from a selection of preset templates.
You can also change the color of your text, background, links, sidebar, and sidebar border to coincide with your Twitter page’s overall theme. I chose the pre set aqua-and-red flower template – i felt that it most closely matched my personality.
Once you’ve customized your Twitter page design, you can set up your profile. The information required is pretty basic – it asks for your name, location, email, (one line) biography, and your home page. It also gives you an option to receive your messages (known on Twitter as “tweets” – cute right? I liked it.) on your cell phone, which I opted not to do, considering I already go over on my text message limit every month (I also have a blackberry, so I can get Twitter on my blackberry with Twitterberry). I suggest getting familiar with the Twitter website before you opt to go mobile.
The Ins and Outs of “Following”
Now that you’ve customized your Twitter profile page, you need to find people to “follow”. To “follow” someone means that anything that they write into Twitter appears on your homepage for you to read. Then, other Twitter users have the option to “follow” you, so that everything YOU type appears on their page. Just because you follow someone does not mean that they are required to follow you, and vice versa. For example, I have seen people that have 300 followers who only choose to follow 50 people. I’ve also seen people who follow 3000 people and only have 50 followers.
Finding People to Follow
I pretty quickly found some big-name Twitter users to follow, and I really enjoyed reading the comments that people made. Twitter does have a “find people” tool to find people to follow, but it’s pretty basic – you can either enter someone’s name or their location in order to find them.
One problem that I had with the program is that if you don’t already know people who use Twitter, you can’t filter your search to find people with similar interests to follow, so you pretty much have to start following random people, right? Wrong. Hidden at the very bottom of your Twitter home page, you’ll see a link labeled “search“. Not only can you search any generic search phrase, but you can also use special search operators and even do advanced searches.
For instance, if I wanted to find people interested in SEO within 15 miles of Manhattan, I can use the advanced search to do so.
How to Twitter
You have 3 options when leaving messages on twitter. Everything that you type into the “what are you doing?” box can be seen by anyone who can see your profile page.
You can talk to any specific user whether or not they are following you by typing @username followed by your message.
There are also direct messages, which are private messages to another user that no one else can see.
Twitter Privacy Options
Not everyone wants everyone to be able to read what they say, whether it be their boss, parents, or pain in the rear younger brother. Twitter gives you the option to lock your profile, keeping your updates visible only to the people you approve. This is supposed to keep your tweets out of the public view and search results, but sometimes leaks happen, so if you really don’t want any risk that what you Twitter will be seen, don’t Twitter it. Sometimes abstinence is the only way.
Twitter is a relatively new networking device and it has huge potential (as of October 2008 it had approximately 3,200,000 users) as a social and marketing tool, but it needs to tweak some things to be a little bit more friendly to the first time user.
If you’re using Twitter purely for social networking purposes, just like anything else, all you need is a little practice. The more you tweet, the more tweeting will make sense to you.
If you’re using Twitter for professional marketing or branding purposes, you might find reading a few of the following posts could help keep you from making any major mistakes.
- Using Twitter for “Small Brand” Branding
- Zappos and Twitter; a Case Study
- Using Twitter for Marketing and PR
- The Ultimate List of Twitter Tools
If you found this beginner’s crash course to Twitter helpful, feel free to follow me. Considering that I’m still getting the hang of this myself, we can screw things up together on our way to becoming Twitter elite.
Deanna de Bara is an Account Manager at Sugarrae and contributing writer to their often controversial Internet Marketing Blog. When not poring over SEO related posts and patents, Deanna can be found snowboarding in Colorado or loudly cheering on the Jets in her native New York.