“Another Drew Jacob shortcut,” I breathed.
We were covered in mud, bites, sweat, bruises and just about everything except the tangy salt of a day in the ocean. It was a 6 mile bike ride to the hidden beach but I found a shortcut on a map. (I love shortcuts.) We never got there.
I didn’t write the story of that exhausting day, but I did drop a hint:
Earning Its Keep
Many people are surprised that Twitter is my favorite (now only) social network. I never run out of friends who say, “I don’t need to hear what someone had for breakfast today,” or “I don’t get Twitter.”
I can’t help you fix what other people tweet about—though if they tweet about their breakfast, you’re following the wrong people—but I can help explain Twitter: how it works, why I like it more than Facebook, and how to get the most out of it.
Unlike Google+, Twitter is not a Facebook clone. It’s a profoundly different tool that does different things. It’s less about stalking friends/family and more about knowing what’s going on in the world—or making connections with new people.
In many ways, Twitter is for “advanced” internet users. Every tweet is limited to 140 characters—nothing more. That forces you to think about what you’re saying, and how to say it succinctly and well.
Here are the advantages Twitter has, that make it my favorite social media site:
- Simpler. Twitter is the simplest and most streamlined social site. Everything happens in one column, and everything works the same way: no “pages,” “groups,” “causes,” “games” or anything else. You can share websites or pictures, but only as links in your tweet. It’s simple.
- Not as addictive. Interacting on any social site gives you a hit of dopamine, just like chatting with a friend does. But some sites are designed to try to hold your eyes on the screen as long as possible. Twitter doesn’t do that. Brands can’t build their own on-Twitter presence, so any link you share is an external link. Unlike G+, Pinterest or Facebook, Twitter doesn’t try to keep you there.
- Less clingy. On Facebook, if a real-life friend tries to friend you and you don’t accept, you’re rude; if you un-friend someone it’s a statement. On Twitter, “following” is not a personal judgment. I don’t follow all my friends and I unfollow people freely. It’s more like a news source or a chat room, and less like a yearbook.
- Higher quality content. Twitter forces you to curate your content. All the factors above—the short, to-the point format; the easy-to-leave website; the social acceptability of unfollowing—combine to incentivize smart, funny or interesting tweets. On Facebook if you write boring/annoying posts, I stay your friend because we went to 4th grade summer school together. On Twitter, if you write boring posts you lose followers.
- Ads aren’t intrusive. Twitter sometimes places a single “sponsored” tweet at the top of your stream. It always identifies itself as sponsored and they are never aggressive or deceptive. Thank you, Twitter!
- Builds new relationships. Because Twitter is not a friends-only platform, it’s easy to meet new and interesting people. On Facebook, if I send a friend request to someone I don’t know, it’s weird—and J.K. Rowling will never friend me back. On Twitter, instead of waving at existing friends, it’s normal to make fascinating new ones or have conversations with people you admire.
Basically, Twitter gives you much more power over what comes your way. Twitter can be used to keep up with friends, but it’s a more fluid platform that lets you focus on meeting who you want to meet, or reading what you want to read.
Nuts and Bolts
There are many Twitter how-to’s out there, but the basic concepts to understand are:
- When you “follow” someone, you can see all their tweets. They might not follow you back.
- You can tweet at anyone, by putting @theirusername (for example) in your tweet, even if you don’t follow each other. They will see this.
- Hashtags are helpful. Instead of tweeting, “I blog about adventure,” I could tweet, “I blog about #adventure” and other people looking for that hashtag (#adventure) would easily find me. (Punctuation breaks hashtags: if you try #isn’tlifecrazy you actually create the hashtag #isn, which makes no sense.)
- Follow people you find interesting and don’t pressure them to follow you.
- Not sure who to follow? Search by interesting hashtags, or follow the Twitter accounts of your favorite writers. Mine is @Rogue_Priest (surprise).
How I Use It
I’ve been using Twitter since I still had a job. I’ve always found it to be a more valuable tool than any other social network. That’s partly because of the reasons above, but it’s also how I use it.
I’ve developed practices to maximize what I get from Twitter. Because of this, I enjoy reading it as much as you might enjoy the Sunday paper. I often start a morning with my coffee and my stream, catching up on killer articles Twitter has brought my way—it’s a relaxing experience, with reading material tailored just to me.
Here are my best practices. These are just my own preferences—you might use your account differently than I do.
- Privacy settings. I once heard author Tessa Zeng tell someone, “If you set your Twitter account to private, you’re not actually using Twitter,” and she’s not wrong. By default, anyone can see your tweets (whether they follow you or not) and anyone can follow you (you don’t get to accept or deny it like a FB friend request). Keep these settings—you’ll build more followers, meet more people, and have a reason not to say nasty things in your tweets.
- I don’t follow everyone I know. Like any social media tool, Twitter can search your email contacts and suggest people for you to follow. Take a pass on that. Think about specific people you find interesting and follow them. You’ll have less noise and get a lot more value out of your stream.
- When someone follows me, I don’t follow back. When I started on Twitter I thought it was good etiquette to follow back everyone who followed me. Anything else would be rude, right? Wrong. It’s not an insult to not follow someone back. Only follow them if you think they’re interesting, or if their profile and tweets are tantalizing.
- Never follow companies. Why would you?
- Follow less than 100 people. This is a longstanding rule for many Twitter users, and it pays off. Checking Twitter should be a relaxing experience where you see things that make you grin—not a stressful experience with more noise than signal. If you find yourself approaching 100, take a few minutes to trim off the ones you don’t really pay attention to.
- I don’t use lists. Optionally, Twitter allows you to create “lists” to sort and organize the people you follow. I never use them—they just take more time and effort, and they’re never needed if I follow less than 100 people. (I do look at other people’s lists to find the folks they think are interesting.)
- Retweet often. Anytime you find yourself enjoying a link that someone tweeted, RT it (giving them credit) so your own followers can enjoy it.
- I make a point of tweeting things I like. I read online a lot, and anytime I like an article or site, I make a point to shorten its URL and tweet it with a snappy headline and a little comment.
Clearly, these are my own habits that support how I prefer to use Twitter—as a place to find and share high quality articles, and have meaningful conversations with the people I respect.
You might use Twitter differently, or not like using it at all. There won’t be any pressure for Rogue Priest readers to use Twitter—even as I leave Facebook you can subscribe to the site via email or RSS (check the right-hand sidebar of this very page).
But if you want to have more contact with me, or if you want to put my claim to the test and see if Twitter can be as useful for you as it is for me, then these are the habits I suggest. I believe they’ll help make your experience with Twitter far more meaningful. They’ll definitely help you beat the learning curve and avoid the frustration of many beginning users.
Are you on Twitter? Leave a comment with a link to your account. I’ll follow you for a week to see if I dig what you share.