Twitter: How to Get Started Guide for Business People

Don't understand what all the Twitter fuss is about or why you might want to use this social networking tool? You're not alone, but you may be missing out on useful information and professional connections. Check out our quick and easy guide on how and why to get started with Twitter.

By C.G. Lynch
Tue, February 03, 2009

CIOTwitter remains a very nascent social network, so if you don't know how it works or what it does (or you haven't even heard of it), don't feel bad. In fact, you're still in the majority. But we're here to help you reap the benefits of Twitter with this quick get-started guide.

Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang), a senior Forrester analyst who researches social media and who pens a blog on Web Strategy, says that while Twitter doesn't release exact numbers, he estimates that three to six million people use Twitter, compared to 150 million for Facebook.

Here is an (appropriately) short explanation of Twitter: Twitter is a free service that allows users to publish short messages of 140 characters or less. These messages are read by "followers" — people who make a conscious decision to subscribe to your messages and have them delivered to their own Twitter home pages.

Each message you post is known as a "Tweet." In the social media and social networking industry, Twitter facilitates a process known as microblogging or microsharing. Every user is identified by putting an "@" sign in front of their name (for instance: @cglynch).

Joining Twitter has value for many people, but it can also be a waste of time if you don't understand how the medium works and how best to utilize it. We take a look at suggestions from social networking gurus to help you determine if adding Twitter to your daily tech diet is in your best interest.

Do You Belong on Twitter?

The Wild West view of social networks proposes that you should just try them out and see whether or not you like them. But in a world where most people already belong to existing social networks (such as Facebook or LinkedIn), on top of using long-established technology like e-mail and text messaging, allocating time for another outlet should be considered carefully.

"Think about why do you want to do it," Owyang says. "Do you want to join because there's buzz about it [in the media] or because President Obama is on it? Especially now, you need to spend your resources and your time well."

Twitter should be place where you want to share common interests and ask insightful questions, and, ideally, read the interesting answers you get back, says Laura Fitton (@pistachio), who runs Pistachio Consulting, which advices people and companies on how best to utilize Twitter.

Though some people use Twitter to keep people in their personal life updated, Twitter has developed a business following. People in a particular industry (say engineering, software development, or public relations) often use Twitter to keep up with news, opinion and happenings in their field, for example. Once you get going with Twitter, this information will come to you. More on that in a minute.

What You Can Gain and Share With Twitter

If many Twitter evangelists looking to broaden the service's demographic had it their way, they might want to change the site's official branding a bit. When you go to Twitter to sign up, it says, "Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"

"The best way to make the most use of it is not just answer what are you doing now," says Owyang. "Instead, answer: 'What's important to me?' That changes the conversation and makes value. It takes away some of the minutia and shows you want to talk about something that's more useful and interesting."

In other words, the "I'm running to the store" messages might not be as compelling amidst the noise of Twitter messages as "I just read a book on [insert some topic that's interest to you]." If you have room in the 140 characters, state an opinion or analysis of it.

It's about "what has my attention right now?" Fitton says. "The point of Twitter is what do we have in common or having some kind of shared experience."

Who to Follow on Twitter?

The early users of Twitter have turned the issue of followers into a bit of popularity contest, and the PR and marketing professionals follow thousands of people in some cases to help tout their brands over the service.

But following a lot of people can create unnecessary noise that will render the service useless to you.

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