Twitter is a free social networking service that lets its users read short updates from other people and send their own. It is also an increasing ubiquitous way to communicate.
If you don’t use Twitter, but might want to try it, keep reading. If you think Twitter is a passing fad or a maddeningly shallow way to communicate, skip this blog item and read a different one.
I have had a Twitter account for a while, but have only recently begun to make much use of it. I wondered initially how much appetite there was for an answer to the question “what [is Francis Slay] doing?” in 140 characters, including spaces. But, I have come to enjoy the chance to read what other people and organizations (especially local ones) are doing. And I like the chance to spark conversations. I Twitter in character: I read far more tweets than I send. (Mine are the @mayorslay tweets marked #fgs.)
Nielsen says that most Twitterers (Tweeters?) are in the 35-49 age range, with almost as many people who are 55+ using the service as people 25-34. The majority of its users are at work — and that makes it useful (for me, at least) to see what/where/when/why people are thinking and doing things. According to Time Magazine, Twittters range from celebrities to grandparents.
How do you get started?
If you can send an email, you can twitter (which is called “tweeting”).
Log on to twitter.com and choose a username (e.g., mine is MayorSlay, a name I share with this website and an account I share with its staff).
The next step is to build your network. You want people (“followers”) to read what you wrote, and you want to read what other people, news sources, businesses, or organizations (“following”) are tweeting. When you first sign on, Twitter will offer to do things like import your email contacts so that you can see who you know who is already tweeting. (I did not do that.) You can also search (sort of) for people by clicking on “Find People” by typing in their real name or username, or you could search for tweets containing specific information (“St. Louis” or “Kiel Opera House”) by using the “Search” box on the right hand column. Remember that you can always “unfollow” people if they trick you into following Rush Limbaugh (@limbaugh).
Now, you’re set to tweet. See that box up there? It holds 140 characters—including spaces. It encourages you to develop short, concise thoughts as the counter works its way down to zero. Abbreviations are key: 2=to, two, too; STL=St. Louis; you get the drift. And, if the counter is in negative numbers, be warned that any excess characters will be cut from what people can see of your tweet. If you want to join a conversation, simply put the @ sign before someone’s username. If you wanted to tell me something, you would say @MayorSlay. Then, my Twitter page will prompt me that someone is messaging me. If you want to re-tweet something somebody else said, add "RT @MayorSlay" before pasting the copied tweet.
You’ll pick up the rest by doing it. Want to watch a pro tweet? Sen. Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) sets the gold standard for tweeting. Some of my office staff and all of my political staff twitter. So does the Saint Louis Symphony (@slso), the St. Louis Science Center (@slsc), and several members of the Board of Aldermen, including President Lewis Reed. (Will @PresReed tweet me during this morning’s E&A meeting? We’ll see.)
Ready to try this?
[This item was edited to reflect a change in my user name: MayorSlay, instead of MayorSlaydotcom]