How is Being New to Twitter Different in 2010?

by Shannon Paul on May 16, 2010

Rows of cupcakes with the Twitter bird logo on top

I decided to write this simply because SO much has changed since I started using Twitter more than two years ago, and I can’t help thinking getting started must be different now than it was back then.

It may be hard to believe, but back in 2008, the biggest celebrities using Twitter were Guy Kawasaki and Leo Laporte. Since then, I’ve taught several others how to use the service, but I can’t help but wonder how different it is for those just getting started today.

I realize many people who read this blog are active Twitter users, but I thought some of you might have insight I don’t. If you are new to Twitter, I am especially interested to hear your questions and frustrations. It’s a much noisier place than it was back when I was introduced to the site.

In many ways, Twitter is a lot like other social places online — I tend to think if you’ve been a blog contributor, member on an active message board, forum or gaming community, you’re likely to get the hang of Twitter pretty quickly. However, learning to navigate the social web is still new and intimidating for most people — especially now that Twitter updates are aggregated all kinds of places online, including the Library of Congress. Today, Twitter feels more like a stage in many ways, than a simple place to talk and share online.

How brands use Twitter is a different discussion altogether, although some of my Twitter updates on my personal Twitter account may fall under the category of “brand management” or “company promotion,” this is only because it’s nearly impossible to separate personal from professional personas on the web. What I would like to discuss here is how to get started today with a personal Twitter account.

Since I’m asking you to share, I thought it might be helpful if I shared how I use Twitter at the moment for personal and professional purposes.

How I Started Using Twitter in 2008: Discovery and Participation

  • Followed online publications and breaking news accounts
  • Searched for people in my local area to follow
  • Followed people who had a lot of followers
  • Followed people who were involved in the tech community – bloggers, developers, etc.
  • Followed other PR pros and the people they were interacting with
  • Followed people who would post something interesting on the public timeline
  • Posted links to articles and other items of interest
  • Asked questions about things others would post
  • Asked for advice from others who seemed to be getting a lot out of Twitter
  • Commented on blog posts others were linking to from Twitter
  • I didn’t worry about whether people followed me back or not, although when I first started getting followers, I did feel pretty excited about that and would do my best to check out their blogs/websites to learn more about them
  • I didn’t follow people en masse. I did so over time — maybe 20 or so on a given day, when I felt inclined to do some poking around

How I Use Twitter in 2010: What’s in it for THEM?

For better or worse, my use of Twitter is much less about discovering new people than it is about keeping up with established contacts and the flow of information. I’m lucky that more people tend to follow me, and I can discover new people by reciprocating. I also tend to follow more people I meet in real life since more of them are also on Twitter.

  • Keep up with personal and professional contacts – @replies, retweets and some general chatter*
  • Share links I find useful, interesting or funny – Or, links I think others following me might find useful, interesting or funny
  • Share links to things I’ve written, or articles written about me (but make sure I share LOTS of other things, too)
  • Share links and information about events I may be attending, interested in, or giving a presentation
  • Share links to resources and tools that make the work of social media easier. Since I work in social media, this is my sweet spot, you might do well to share links to resources and tools used in your line of work. For example, I regularly share links for FeedMyInbox with other social media professionals working with companies in regulated industries that need to archive information on branded social profiles. Since most social networks have RSS feeds for profile information, FeedMyInbox turns any new update posted to a social profile into an individual email message. Long story short, this easily integrates social media archiving into an existing email archive, rather than creating a need for an entirely new archiving solution.
  • Share links to job opportunities I think others might find interesting
  • Answer questions about the company I’m working for*
  • Share links about, or created by the company I work for*
  • Search for relevant keywords related to my interests –  I search for industry and topical references regularly. Google’s aggregation of Twitter updates into real-time search often saves me an extra step these days, but I often search for terms when I’m on Twitter as a quick pulse check.
  • Retweet links others post on Twitter that I find interesting, or think others will find interesting. I often comment on articles posted to Twitter before retweeting when I have time and interest.
  • Answer questions others post on Twitter — informal polls, requests for help, etc.
  • Chat it up – Twitter is full of many organized chats that take place at regular times related to specific topics. Chats are tracked using hashtags i.e. #journchat, #IMCchat (integrated marketing chat), #blogchat. etc. #Journchat was started by Sarah Evans (@PRSarahEvans) as a means of bringing PR professionals and journalists together on Twitter to discuss matters related to their industries, and how they might work together better. Here is an open list of current Twitter chats on Google Docs (If yours isn’t there, feel free to add it to the list).
  • Make friends and get smart — when someone posts something funny or something that resonates with me, I might choose to chime in or ask them about their point of view. I even get into some pretty heated, yet respectful, debates this way. I don’t think networking always needs to be insipid cheerleading, but can involve spirited discussions full of disagreements. This may or may not be your style — I just enjoy a challenging discussion even if it means I might eat crow from time to time.

*Any time I post information about an employer or any type of sponsored information, I disclose my relationship to the company. This has always been a tenet of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association ethics, but the FTC decided to make it the law as of of December 1, 2009.

Your Turn

If you’re just getting started today, how do you do things differently? In 2008, there wasn’t the amount of spam, or aggressive follower accounts, or even big name celebrities on Twitter. The only journalist I knew of on Twitter at that time was Jim Long. While I think others use Twitter differently than I do, I do think some ways are more effective than others to build your online presence — especially when you don’t have the built-in brand equity or social capital of a global consumer brand or international celebrity.

I realize I didn’t even touch on the applications and tools like URL shorteners. Is anyone still confounded by the actual mechanics of posting, or are people more hung up on the performance aspect associated with online interaction?

Do the tactics I listed above still hold true, or are things a little different for those just getting started today? What do you tell someone who is just starting out today?

Photo by Clevercupcakes

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 25 comments }

May 17, 2010 Emmy

I totally agree! I first signed up to Twitter with my original account around 2 years ago. At that point I followed all of about 5 people and only joined because my favourite band had a Twitter account.

When I started tweeting myself it was all observations from everyday life or what I was doing at any given point in time. Now, however, most of my tweets are @replies to other people, and those tweets about what I’m doing are the tweets I find most annoying from other people.

I no longer care about being popular on Twitter the way I used to, that’s something that new tweeters don’t realise, I don’t think. Being popular on Twitter won’t make your life any better…I learnt this from first hand experience.

Great blog!

May 17, 2010 Patty Swisher

Great post. I’m not new or old to twitter, somewhere in between. So, I think I do a little bit of both you’re 2008 list and 2010 list.

What I think your post conveys is that no matter where you are on the “Twitter spectrum” it is somewhat of a learning/maturing process with the tool. Good luck in your new position!

May 18, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Patty! I think you’re right about the learning/maturing process — I just hope we can remember this point so we’re empathetic with those who are just starting out.

May 17, 2010 Tania Ramonde

Great post! I found it really interesting! :D

May 17, 2010 Samantha Ogborn

Hey Shannon,

I love this post. Particularly drew my eye because I joined Twitter in 2008 for completely different reasons as well. All I can remember when I first joined was that it was similar to a Facebook status update – you let your friends and family know what you’re doing and where you are. I started my account but didn’t revisit until a full year later. Now I’m intrigued by the content that gets passed around (or RT’ed, you could say) and the connections that are made.

I also now tend to follow people I know in real life, moreso almost than people I “meet” through Twitter. I enjoy your last point about making friends and getting smart. What I’ve learned through Twitter is the power of a small conversation to spark a friendship that may lead to an offline friendship. Scary to think how fast it can happen with Twitter, but I love being able to harness these relationships. I’ve learned from many just by watching what they have to say.

My biggest qualm is that (and all of your tactics hold true, in my opinion) people think this can happen overnight. If your main goal (as a person, not a company) is to ONLY have internet presence, then I think you should re-evaluate why you are using Twitter. My friends who are just starting today ask me what to do and I tell them, “unless you’re tweeting for a company or brand, tweet what you think is interesting or relevant to you.” It shouldn’t be about the followers, Twitter should be a tool that is uniquely customized to what you’re looking for (and that’s why you follow who you follow. RT what you do, etc.)

Sorry for the super long comment. Great post!

May 18, 2010 Shannon Paul

Samantha – good point about having something happen overnight. I think the irony is that it really doesn’t have to take long at all! Two years isn’t a very long time in the grand scheme of things. Plus, I felt very much a *part* of the network at just a few months into the activity. For most people, it can’t happen in a weekend, but it can happen pretty quickly if you realize you’re there to talk *with* people, not put out a public broadcast.

Thanks for stopping by!

May 17, 2010 Ike Pigott

Shannon, this ought to be a regular feature.

I am one of the holdouts — I intentionally use Twitter on the web (through the browser) because I don’t want to lose touch with the experience the majority of casual users enjoy.

You’re absolutely right — Twitter itself has evolved, as each scale introduces a new critical mass, different network effects, and calls for an altered “game plan” for those who want to learn and use it as a tool.

Since joining at the beginning of 2007, my personal use, workflow and strategy for Twitter has evolved more than a dozen times. What worked last month doesn’t anymore, because there are more people, more avenues for noise, changes in the architecture, you name it…

It’s only natural that the “blank white sheet” of opportunity that once greeted new Twitter users has morphed as well.

May 18, 2010 Shannon Paul

the “blank white sheet” of opportunity

I love the realization that what we all approach as a proverbial blank white sheet has changed. Not only have the parameters have changed, they are constantly changing!

I still think the way I approached Twitter from the outset is a good rule of thumb. However, the pressure to perform is pretty great for a lot of people. How can we get them to relax and “be themselves.” That’s always tough advice — I *still* have a hard time believing my mom when she tells me to do just that :)

May 17, 2010 Meredith

I didn’t know it but I’ve been waiting for someone to write this post. Great insight, Shannon, thanks! I’ve recently been helping a few friends and coworkers join and navigate Twitter and it is difficult to put myself in their shoes. I found myself saying stuff like “well, when I joined twitter, I had the *luxury* of just hanging out and poking around.” Since many new users are hung up on “doing it right” and gaining lots of followers, I felt the need to excuse my own “old” way of doing things. But who is to say newer users can’t “hang out” for a little while and approach twitter exactly how we did a few years ago? Follow people, news outlets and brands little by little and get to know the medium and the community on your own time.

May 18, 2010 Shannon Paul

Meredith -

I think the approach you used is absolutely dead on (please stop apologizing). :-)

People need to forget about follower counts. If that following doesn’t take time to grow – it’s likely to be meaningless. I think those new to Twitter need to understand how ridiculously easy to ignore people you’re following once the number gets beyond a few hundred. Having 10,000 strangers that have no context for who you are/what’s of interest to you is just about useless.

My friend Jeremy Tanner says if you want access to thousands of people, pick up the Yellow Pages — if you want to build a network, you need to get to know people. I think the phone book is a perfect analogy to how so many people approach Twitter.

May 18, 2010 Allen - Social Marketer

I found many people who have been using twitter found it to be too noisy, as they say more competition = more noise!

May 18, 2010 matthieubarthe

A great read but I’m afraid I have to admit that, although my twitter has been created more than a year ago, I haven’t started using twitter heavily until recently.

As noisy as the place may have become, I’m pretty sure I’m still using twitter the way you used back in 2008. I must say I now regret not starting to use it before but it took me quite some time to fully grasp the potential it has (which makes it all the more exciting to use and discover now)…

Great post anyway and thanks for the insight.

May 21, 2010 Wendy Naarup

thanks for the list of current twitter chats…interesting. I’m 8 months in but only getting it since adding tweetdeck…then learned more going to #xbm in Orlando. So here’s a question for you…what’s better, hootsuite or tweetdeck?

May 22, 2010 Shannon Paul

Wendy – I really don’t have a preference for hootsuite or tweetdeck. I think each has its benefits, but now that lists are available on the web, I find myself using Twitter clients less frequently than I used to (except on my iPhone – I use Tweetie when I’m mobile).

If you’re using Twitter for business purposes, I think HootSuite, or CoTweet would be preferable. For personal use, Tweetdeck or Seesmic would have what you need. I like following lists on the web since I can access them on any computer, in any browser, but it’s really about personal preference.

May 22, 2010 vince considine

Great Blog Shannon… I just started Blogging. Twitter was intimidating in the beginning. ..The 2010 is list was brilliant…

May 24, 2010 wkboyce

I love this post – so interesting the contrast. One thing I’m starting to do is un-follow some of the folks who get retweeted ALL the time to clean up my stream a bit.

I’ve really cleaned up the quality of the relationships (and those I follow) on Twitter to try to listen to more useful streams of thought, and provide value where I can. Whereas before I just listened to as many as I could.

May 24, 2010 Sarah Evans

Hi Shannon. Great thoughts. I haven’t taken a step back to examine how my use of Twitter has changed. And, much like your experience, it has changed. I need to remember that others who are just starting their Twitter adventure will most likely go through the growth we’ve experienced; from finding people to staying connected with an existing community. Thank you for sharing (and for mentioning #journchat). Best, Sarah

June 1, 2010 Alexandra

Really good insight! When I joined Twitter, in 2007, I thought you were supposed to let people now what you’re up to. Then, when I came back 2 years later, I discovered it could be a great place for sharing intersting links and taking the pulse of what’s happening in the world. And I liked it, I think even if you tap into Twitter in 2010 you will get to love it for the helpful information it highlights.
For me, it wasn’t following people who had many followers, I just skimmed through one of my friend’s following list and chose people who I thought were interesting. I didn’t get involved in conversations, but merely followed people who talked to people I knew.
Guess I was trying to get the hang of it. In a way, you could say I’m still a newbie, that’s way I’m thankful for the list of things you do on Twitter now. I think I can really improve my Twitter experience by using it. :)

June 17, 2010 Sanna Lee

I am “new” to Twitter – been around for a mere few months. I find it difficult to develop contacts/relationships. It seems many seasoned Twitter users view us newbies as irrelevant. .. and to be honest, I think many are. Those that are especially irrelevant (i.e. spammers) make it harder for people just trying to make a go of it.

Having said that – I have been most successful in connecting with people when engaging with them. I marvel at profiles who have a very low number of tweets, never seem to respond to people, and yet have high # of followers.

Anyway. Great post. :)

July 11, 2010 Ari Herzog

Have you unfollowed Twitter users over the past two years? Or, do you continue to follow people and organizations that you once thought attractive and who you now gloss over?

July 17, 2010 Shannon Paul

Ari,

I haven’t really unfollowed people as a rule or practice… I also don’t think of my own action as “glossing over” anyone else. I do my best to participate — it’s not always easy because I am extremely busy with my job and work in the offline community — but I do feel that participating on Twitter is also a good use of my time so I dive in, look around, participate and share when I can.

August 23, 2010 Sarah

Despite being a PR professional, I’ve only just started using Twitter in the past couple of months. I considered it high maintenance and superficial.

Then I did my research!!

I think for me it was just getting my head around it that took the most time in the beginning. But the other point to make is that I’ve spent the last two years being a government media advisor, so my brain was in a very risk averse place. That lead me to being very careful about everything I tweeted (not that you shouldn’t be careful anyway, but I was obsessive about it).

Now that I’m starting to feel more confident, I’ve jumped in a bit more. I also live in a smallish city so the local people I follow try hard to create a “community feel”, which is nice.

I think the thing that frustrates me the most (apart from the spammers) is the feeling that I’m missing things by not being online all the time!

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