Monday, June 29, 2009

How to Have Fun on Twitter

Some people don't use Twitter because they're not comfortable with computers and have trouble using the service. Others have considered Twitter and decided they don't have time for or interest in doing more social networking. For this post, I'm assuming neither is true. Instead, you simply don't understand why some people think it's so fun. Here's how to have fun on Twitter.

If you haven't already done this, you first need to sign up for Twitter. Once you've created your account and are signed in, click on "Settings" in the top right-hand corner and fill in the information. Use your real name (not your User ID) in the name section so that your friends can easily find you, and make sure to list some of your interests/hobbies in the bio section.

If you need a basic orientation to using Twitter, read The Ultimate Guide for Everything Twitter and/or The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter.

Idea 1: Click on the "Find People" link in the top right-hand corner. Search for "Mr. Tweet" and click on the "follow" button. (@MrTweet is at the top of the search results.) Mr. Tweet will recommend people to you who have similar interests. Follow other people in your industry or with similar hobbies or people who just sound interesting to you.

In "Find People," also try searching for the names of your friends or favorite celebrities. Or search for your favorite non-profit organization and follow their tweets.

Idea 2: Start networking in your industry. Try a web search for Twitter directories. For example, if you're interested in the publishing industry, check out A Directory of Book Trade People on Twitter and A Directory of Authors on Twitter.

Pick a few people that sound interesting and start following them. Feel free to interact with and occasionally ask questions of professionals doing business tweeting but don't bug anyone or they may block you.

In my case, I can rarely travel to writer/publishing conferences. I can usually find out what's going on at those conferences, though, by following an agent, publisher, or writer who's going to the conference. Conference attendees often report on what's going on. Hashtags (see below) also help with this aspect of networking.

Idea 3: Go to WeFollow. If you love to hear news as it happens, type #news in the search box at the top of the page. The search will bring up a list of news stations that are on Twitter. You can click a name to look at their Twitter feed and see if you like it. If so, you can click on the follow button (assuming you're still signed in to Twitter). You can find interesting people on WeFollow by typing in key words of topics that interest you.

Idea 4: Install a Twitter application like TweetDeck or Twirl so that you receive updates as they happen in real time. You don't have to have the application going every moment of every day, but it's so much easier to interact with people and follow events in real time.

Idea 5: Follow hashtags using Twazzup or other Twitter search engines. Hashtags are word(s) or acronyms with # attached to the front. They are a way to talk about certain topics with people who share an interest but who don't follow you.

Hashtags aren't standardized, so you'll find people tweeting using the #book or #books hashtag and #giveaway or #giveaways hashtag, etc. Search for hashtags on topics that interest you, but try several variations when randomly searching. Here are some ideas:

Have trouble coming up with things to say? Then answer other people's questions by attending a chat like #writechat or #followreader or #litchat. (You can find more chats on all subjects at Twitter Chats.

Are you interested in outer space? Search #space or #NASA. Or you can follow an astronaut, @Astro_127, who's getting ready to launch in July and who will Twitter from space.

What to see history being made? Follow #iranelection or someone like @persiankiwi or @LaraABCNews. (Though this topic is getting quiet now.)

Want to talk books? Follow #reading or #books and chime in with what you're reading.

Idea 6: Here are a few social "rules of thumb" that may make Twitter more fun for you.

(1) You don't have to follow a stranger just because they follow you. Look at their Twitter page to see if they're talking about things that interest you and update their Twitter page at a rate that you're comfortable with. If so, follow them. If not, don't follow them. You won't hurt their feelings if you don't follow strangers back. However, family, friends, and people that you've asked to follow you will probably get a bit miffed if you don't follow them back.

(2) Tweet about what interests you, not about what you're doing. (I know what the prompt says, but that's a relic from Twitter's not-so-distant past.) What interests you will probably interest others. On the other hand, people rarely care what you're currently doing unless it's interesting. Twitter isn't about entertaining other people with brilliant tweets (though it's great if you can do that). It's about talking with people who share your interests.

Since you'll probably ask: Yes, you may occasionally talk about the weather, what you ate, and other mundane topics, but try to refrain unless they really matter or are interesting. For example, "I just had the best Italian meal of my life at a local restaurant named ____" or "Wow, I just heard the tornado sirens go off. Gotta go!"

(3) Ask simple questions of your followers to get to know them and make friends. If they take the time to respond, say something back even if it's just "thanks for responding!" I discovered that what tea I'm drinking can start quite a discussion. Experiment, but try to vary things from day to day so you don't get boring.

Now, go out, experiment, and have fun.

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