Monday, 4 May 2009

This Twitter Thing

I signed up to this Twitter thing a few months ago with an ‘oh all right then’ attitude, expecting to come away with a ‘who cares?’ conclusion. A few months later I’m dipping in the Twitter stream daily.

So here it is, my love letter to Twitter. The things I wish I’d know when I started and my take on what it’s all about.

With its 140 character limit, Twitter’s a hostile environment to the boring, dominating or waffling. As it’s on the internet, it attracts the tech savvy. As a public space (anyone can read your updates) it also asks you to be a bit brave. So to be on Twitter you’re already my kind of person. But what do people on Twitter do?

Talk. Imagine a dinner party where a few mouse clicks changes the seating plan to put you in the middle of things; your definition of ‘things’. Antarctic researcher, fashion designer, photographer (currently in Afghanistan) and ordinary soul who shares your humour, there’s your table for tonight. And you can change it at any time, click, click. Eavesdropping, chatting across continents, making an exit to *put the spuds on*, and absolutely no need to brush your hair.

And yes, with Twitter’s list of trending topics, you actually do know there’s an earthquake, plane crash or a new baby for Jamie Oliver, long before it’s reported on the networks. What’s more, you can locate and read the tweets coming from the centre of breaking stories. It’s supreme rubber-necking.

So are you interested? Then go sign up.

This blog is not about the mechanics, though. If you want to know them, put some pertinent phrases into Google. I’m cutting to Twitter’s oohs and ahhs.

But one quick tip. Move away from the Twitter website to applications like Tweetdeck or Tweetie as early as you can. Why struggle with a Walkman when someone’s invented the iPod?

Following some Twitterati

I’ll tell you what I did. We all start with the celebs, so go ahead. A good place to make sure you’re following the real ones and not the fakes is But celebs can be dull and not interested in you at all. Shocking, I know. 

We also start with people we know in real life. Like any party, it’s nice to turn-up with your gang. For many,Twitter replaces  text messaging and adds a new fission to office banter, with a whole new way to delegate. I frequently send a tweet to @ashog (who works five foot away from me) to put on the kettle on.

Once you’re following around 50 Twitterers, you’ll understand why I find Facebook a ghost town.

But how do you find and follow normal yet wonderful people you’ve never met? A quick search will show you who’s tweeting right now on your current obsessions. Coco Chanel, Arthur Rackham, Mad Men. It’s like shaking a snow globe and up they float. Pick a few (not just the pretties), look at their Twitter pages and read a few tweets they’ve done. If they tickle your fancy, click follow.

But don’t just stick with your kind of nerd. Cast the net wide. Take a gamble. And look at Trending Topics too to see who’s talking about the latest thing. Within a few days of following someone, you’ll know if they’re for keeps. If they are, plunder their list of people they follow for more goodies. If they’re not for you, un-follow and shake the snow globe again.

And don’t forget to throw in some quality news feeds too, with my pick being @bbcnews.

You’ll also want to follow The Names. Brands, governments, charities, football clubs, festivals, museums… Twitter’s full of organisations attempting to hang with the cool kids. As a copywriter it’s fascinating to watch them sign-up and set out their stalls, with sites like letting you snoop on anyone’s fledgling tweets.

And they can really get it wrong.

Have you ever been in a day of meetings and broken for lunch to find someone still doing meeting talk? Corporate language, only one topic (them), only one opinion (theirs). That’s corporate Twitter at its worst.

People follow Names to hear their latest, of course, but they also want to see personality and charm. They want to venture off topic because that’s fun. They want to see a Name ask questions and listen to answers. To loosen the tie. No on wants a 140 character brochure.

Movers and Shakers

The next Twitter challenge is finding the movers and shakers (not slebs) who link to the best of the web as it breaks, and are often at the heart of fascinating, fearless debates that then make the headlines. How? Explore a trending topic that excites you, and you find a lot of tweets coming from one source. Hmm.

Your Followers

To plump-up your follower list, you have to follow and tweet yourself. Shake your Twitter booty. Follow back with a generous spirit, block the spam and anyone you find offensive.

 And if someone does not follow you back right away, relax. They may need you to strike up a few conversations (do an @ reply to their tweet) before they notice your wonderfulness. They may simply not want to follow you: that is allowed.

Once you’ve got around 100 good followers, you’ve got a ‘hive mind’ to ask stuff. Any kind of stuff, and you’ll be amazed at what comes back.

Twitter for the Copywriter

But for the copywriter Twitter has extra appeal. Making your point within seconds is what copywriting has always been about, so for me Twitter’s a trip to the writing gym.

I follow a lot of professional writers, and people who simply write well, and love to see what they do with so little space. And I love the instant feedback. When you watch a tweet skim (being re-tweeted over and over) it sharpens your instincts for what excites. And when a tweet sinks without a trace, you also take note of what bores.

The fly in the ointment?

Not everyone’s a darling, or course. There are people you won’t find exciting on Twitter, oh yes, but you know what, you just don’t follow them. And rude people? Try blocking.
And like anywhere else, there is spam. People trying to gate crash the party wearing a sandwich board. Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

But avoiding them is so much easier than in real life.

Once you’ve been baptised in the Twitter stream, you feel a need to write a blog on how great Twitter is. I must get round to doing that.

And after that? Well I’m now hunting down Twitter’s cabinet of curiosities; pages and applications that are blowing me away with their creativitiy. But that’s a whole other blog. I’ll let you know.

You can find me on Twitter @Angpang

Angela Montague is  freelance copywriter. Of all our writers she has embraced Twitter most fully so we  commissioned her to write this piece on the pleasures and pitfalls of tweeting.


Cat Feathers said...

This is, without doubt, the best explanation I've seen for what Twitter is all about! Not what it *is* (social meejar platform yadda yadda yawn), but what the point of it is. Wonderful work.

Clare said...

Well done and so well put! As you were officially my first nonsleb follower/followee (remember we bonded over Luca Turin, then India Knight followed us - the rest as they say is history, such a romantic tale..)I am pleased to leave your first comment.
Twitter is a bit like a really good party. Walk in, grab a drink, look around, assess the 'talent'.. end up cackling in the kitchen over a bottle of wine with some likeminded cronies...

firkhamhall said...

Good job there! Sums it all up nicely. It's a shame I am already on Twitter otherwise, I would probably have a nosey after reading that. :)

Unknown said...

Hi, that has to be one of the best introductions to Twitter I've read. I'll have to retweet!!:)

Unknown said...

Love the idea of being in a snowglobe, and glad I am not the only one to plunder other peoples lists for good people to follow. Love, love, love this blog.

Clare said...

Well done and well said! As you were my first nonsleb follow/follower I can leave first comment.... ah remember how we bonded over Luca Turin... then India Knight followed us, much excitement. What a touching tale. The hours of smut-cluttered conversation we have enjoyed. Twitter is like a really good party. Make entrance, grab drink, eye talent.. end up in kitchen cackling over last bottle of wine with like minded cronies X

Sarah Lamballe said...

Really glad you like it Clare. @Angpang has done a wonderful job on this commission. Of all our writers she has really embraced Twitter so I thought it best to get her to sum up her experience. It appears to be one shared by so many us on Twitter.

~V said...

Comprehensive and thoughtful review of Twitter technology and networking. Well done!

In the spirit of the post, I've retweeted this blog @conclavejournal

Valya Dudycz Lupescu, editor
Conclave: A Journal of Character

Eilidh Ellery said...

That's a fabulous explaination of what Twitter really is, clever and quirky; it gave me a wee smile. If I'd been able to read it when I first heard about Twitter I would've jumped straight in there instead of dismissing it as "somewhere my friends are just going to say 'so's your face, lololol' at me and eachother" (I was right in some cases) and missing out on a whole 6 months of Twitter fun before I finally caved in and got an account. I never thought that people other than my mates (and spambots) would follow me, so it was pleasantly surprising when I discovered @Angpang on my list and had a wee poke at the link to see what it was all about. I'm glad I did. I've also gotten a lot of great tweeters to follow from your flist. Great job. :D

Stevyn Colgan said...

Very well written m'dear. I will be pushing people in teh direction of this blogpost whenever I am asked about the T word. And I always enjoy your tweets!

(aka @stevyncolgan)

Debra Snider said...

Your points about following & return following are right on target. People who obsess about follower numbers or who get crazy when anyone doesn't follow back or unfollows are, I think, missing Twitter's point. It's about tailoring one's own experience and building a personally satisfying Twitterverse. Approached that way - and with the understanding that different people have different goals - it's a pleasure to stop by, converse, meet new people, learn new things, and gain windows into unfamiliar worlds.

Sarah Lamballe said...

Thanks Debra and everyone for input. From a commercial point of view it's going to be fascinating to see how Twitter develops for business and brands.

It's clearly the Social Media of choice for the individual. Right now, as all of you testify, it's about meeting new people, chatting, sharing knowledge, experience and exchanging quips.

I've also watched with awe as the well-followed use Twitter to command their Google slaves by asking a question then sitting back with feet up while all their followers dash off to do the (unpaid) research and return a pertinent link or tweet. Nice work if you can get it!

I think Twitter is superb for small brands with big personalities but definitely more of a challenge for big corporates. Let's watch this ever shifting space.

Unknown said...

So beautifully summarised! Who wouldn't want to dip their toe in the Twitter water after reading that?

I have found Twitter, entertaining, humorous, encouraging, though-provoking....all good things.

Brilliant! :0)

Tania Kindersley said...

Love this. I like very much that you express the complexities of the medium. Get so cross about the people who bash Twitter in the most reductive terms. (Although I must admit that until I got it, I was one of them; I hang my head in shame.) But you are quite right, it is a cabinet of curiosities. The more I use it, the more it fascinates.

Sarah Lamballe said...

Thanks Tania, I know Angela will really value your feedback. We're both great admirers. And apologies for late publishing - just got back from visiting clients. I once has someone posting links to Viagra sales so have set the blog comments so IO have to check everything first as would hate to direct readers to spam!

Claire said...

Love this post! So well explained love the dinner party and snow globe analogies. Love twitter too!

Istvanski said...

Hmmm, nice bit of marketing for Twitter. Surely it's just another avenue of communication and perhaps the "meeja" should get over the hype?


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