Like Hootie and the Blowfish once upon a time, Twitter has suddenly become mainstream and inescapable, with the inevitable backlash and scorn following. Since I hear so many questions (and inappropriate adjectives) about Twitter, I wanted to take a step back and present a brief guide. (Some parts based on actual conversations.)
Q. So what is Twitter, exactly?
A. It’s people communicating, and forming connections, via public messages of less than 140 characters.
Q. Well, isn’t that stupid and pointless?
A. I thought that at first. But then friends introduced me to some really knowledgeable and neat people, and now I find it an excellent work resource, news tip service and entertainment.
Q. What are you talking about? I just see people talking about what they had for lunch and watching American Idol?
A. If you follow boring people, you’ll find Twitter boring. If you follow interesting people, you’ll find Twitter interesting.
Q. Where exactly do you find interesting people?
A. If you find a Twitterer (or Tweep, as some say) you like, see who that person follows and/or interacts with. Or ask Tweeps for recommendations of whom to follow (many also post suggested followers on #followfriday). You can also search on any topic and find who’s talking about it … then go that person’s page, read tweets and see if you’d like to follow them.
Q. What was that # thing you just used?
A. That’s a hashtag, used to organize information on a topic. For instance, The Syracuse Post-Standard collects and posts tweets using a #cny (Central New York) or #syracuse hashtag to show what people around the region are saying.
Q. I have no idea who some of these people are who are following me. Should I be concerned?
A. Not necessarily, unless you’re tweeting personal information you don’t want people to see. Many find you via searching on topics and follow those discussing a subject. Some are legitimate people looking to connect, some are salespeople or spam sites. For instance, on Sunday I mentioned Mensa and soon after @AmericanMensa was following me. (The @ is the reply address. In Twitter, my handle is @TimNekritz.)
Q. Do I have to follow back people who follow me?
A. Absolutely not. Only if you find them worth reading. If you follow someone who bores you, exhibits Twitterhea (diarrhea of the Twitter stream) or otherwise doesn’t add anything to your experience, you can just unfollow them. And just because you’re following someone doesn’t mean they’ll follow you back either, but don’t take it personally — especially if it’s someone with a large amount of follows/followers already.
Q. OK, so I found some seemingly worthy people with similar interests. Now what?
A. Start interacting. I know a lot of people in higher ed Web communications, and we frequently send back and forth questions related to our jobs. As well as general questions, pop-culture references and funny links. Like anything else, you get out of Twitter what you put into it.