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"Getting A Handle On" or "How I See" Twitter (part 1 of 3)

I've read that it can take a little time to truly figure out what Twitter is all about and how it can benefit one's business life, social life, or both. I've been using Twitter for just about a month as I'm writing this, give or take a few days, and this is how I see Twitter given my experience so far. Please bear with me because after a whole month on Twitter, I still consider myself to be a complete newbie (nerdy term meaning "beginner"). Hopefully any large errors I make will be pointed out to me and I will correct them as quickly as possible.

I'm going to get metaphorical for this article so that even if you haven't used Twitter, or haven't used it very much, you'll hopefully see what I'm getting at and ultimately have a better understanding of what Twitter is and how it works. With a better understanding of how Twitter works, you will be able to see how it fits, or doesn't fit, into building your online presence.

I look at Twitter as a stream; a data or information stream to be sure, but let's pretend it's an actual physical stream that you can walk down to and take a drink out of, or simply enjoy for a few moments, or many hours if you wish. The amount of water that flows through your stream is related and proportional in size to the number of people you "Follow" on Twitter. In other words, the more people you follow, the wider your stream is and that means that more data is constantly flowing down your stream.

Note: To Follow a Twitter user, click on one of their tweets and click on the "Follow" button. "Tweets" is "Twitterese" for Twitter's short messages: 140 characters or less. By the way, this is a great size for sending SMS text messages from your phone to your Twitter account as SMS messages are restricted to 160 characters.

How does a narrower or wider stream affect you and your experience on Twitter? Well, when you go down to your stream, i.e. sign on to your Twitter account, you'll see leaves, or messages floating along in your stream. These leaves that just continue to float by, are the "tweets" (or messages, or posts, or whatever you'd like to call them) coming down the streams are from the people you follow. Keep this leaves-floating-in-a-stream analogy in mind, and you'll realize that every person on Twitter has their own unique stream, which you may or may not put leaves into. Basically you can only put leaves into the streams of people who follow you, but as you'll see as you read on, you can mark leaves in such a way as to make them appear in other streams, even the streams of Twitter users that don't follow you.

Repetition is not necessarily SPAM

If you spend a substantial amount of time at your stream, you'll find that every so often you'll see a leaf or leaves that you've seen before. You may even see similar leaves float by fairly close together at any given time. The twins, triplet, quadruplet, etc. leaves that you see are leaves that one of your followers drops into the stream. The reason you'll see these repeat leaves is that not everyone is necessarily at their stream when the leaves are initially dropped in, and the people dropping the leaves in want as many people as possible to see the leaves they have just dropped in.

Note: There can be a fine line between what people consider acceptable repetition and what they consider spamming. But true spam is fairly easy to spot, and we`ll mention spam again later with some suggestions on what to do about it.

The similar leaves show up because some of the people you allow to drop leaves into your stream, drop leaves in that are about the same or very similar topics. These leaves, on closer inspection, may be exactly the same because they have come from the very same tree... i.e. they are tweets that point to the same article on the Web, or a quote by a particular celebrity. Seeing multiple similar leaves may simply indicate the importance that people are giving the related content.

Eddies (Twitter @Mentions)

There are different parts of your stream that cause the leaves to behave differently. One of these areas (you'll find this at Twitter under the @Mentions menu from your Homepage) is like an eddy in a stream. Leaves tend to swirl around here so that they are present much longer than the normal leaves (regular tweets from everyone you follow). The leaves in the @Mention eddy are leaves that are important to you because they are a sign that others like a leaf or leaves that you've dropped into their stream and they have dropped copies of your leaf (retweeted your tweet in Twitterese) into the part of their stream that breaks into tributaries as a sign of respect to you and your leaf. These tributaries feed into their followers' streams. If their followers are at their own streams when copies of your leaf or leaves float by, they may see your leaves... all of this has the potential to increase how many streams get copies of your leaves. In other words, tweets that you post that others like will get retweeted by them so others can benefit from your tweet... and so on. For example, I've seen links in a tweet cause a web page hit several hours after the link was tweeted by me. Cool.

Here's a good question, then: how do you get other Twitter users to pick up your leaves and drop them into the streams they feed? Easy! You do your best to drop attractive leaves into your stream. These can be copies of others' leaves, i.e. retweets, or leaves of your own; well written tweets that others will be willing to retweet.

It may seem at first that no one will ever see your leaves but trust me, if you drop attractive leaves into the "stream" you'll eventually have many copies of your leaves circulating through many different streams and tributaries. Kind of like, "If you build it, they will come". But more like, "If you write, and point to good content, they will read it".

What makes any one leaf more attractive than its neighbours? That's another good question, but really one that only you can answer. If you're not sure, start off as I did by selecting leaves you find attractive and sending them downstream to however many followers you have.

Attractive Leaves (good tweets) can be:

  • News-related - In 2010 40% of tweets were sent to Twitter via mobile phones, and many Twitter users have scooped their local news people in some pretty big (think National News level) news stories.
  • Witty - Everyone loves a good laugh, right?
  • Satirical - See Above re: laughter
  • Personable - Be yourself and you'll find that you'll engage with people and build online relationships. These relationships can ultimately help with the promotion of your web-based products and services, and they can help build traffic for your web site

I'm sure you get the idea.

Read part 2 of this article here.

article by: Michael Clark for www.LondonsWebDesign.com
created on: January 26, 2011

About the Author, Michael Clark

After writing, teaching and lecturing about the Internet and the Web for over 15 years, Michael recently decided to get back to his software development roots.

Michael's company, www.LondonsWebDesign.com, designs and develops web sites for small and medium-sized businesses in and around the London, Ontario, area.

When he's not helping his clients 'get the Web,' Michael is hard at work developing a mini-CMS that can be easily customized for each of his client's websites. You can 'follow' Michael on Twitter as @LondonWebDev. Just look for the icon of the guy tugging on his ear :).

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