Getting into Twitter: My Take

Have you heard of Twitter? Do you know what it is? Do you use it?

I’m no early adopter (when it comes to Twitter), but I finally gave it a go over the last couple weeks. I had a Twitter account for a number of months, but I hadn’t spent any time with it because I saw it as a source of constant interruptions and thus a productivity killer. Truth is, it can definitely be that. But it doesn’t have to be. And it can be really useful and a lot of fun. I’m really enjoying it. It took me a while but I’m finally a Twitter fan.

If you do any marketing online, you should be up to speed on Twitter (what it is, what it’s useful for). Twitter is so much more than just broadcasting in 140 characters or less what you’re doing right now. And you should be tracking Twitter conversations that mention your brand (hint: use Twitter’s “track” command/feature to do this). And perhaps you should be sending out your own messages (known as “tweets”) too. As an online marketing channel, I think Twitter has potential — though it’s not necessarily appropriate for all businesses.

For Netconcepts’ client and science guy Steve Spangler, for example, I think there’s a good fit. As a toy inventor, TV personality, professional speaker, CEO, and science teacher, Steve leads a very interesting life and Twitter could offer a fun and fascinating window into his world (i.e. what he’s inventing/teaching/thinking/performing). Every week Steve appears live on Denver’s 9News to do a science experiment; that would make for great “Twitter fodder” — as would the more noteworthy events leading up to the appearance (such as “Just bought 100 boxes of baking soda for tomorrow’s science experiment on 9News”)

The part of Twitter that can become a huge distraction / time-sink is where you actively follow the tweets of numerous individuals. So exercise caution when it comes to this next part… The “follow” command/feature lets you subscribe to the ongoing Twitter stream of requested Twitter users. You can even get those incoming tweets pushed at you via instant messenger or via TXT messages on your cell phone (but not both). This is easier than going to in your web browser. You can TXT your Twitter updates, as well as commands like track and follow, to 40404 (an SMS short code). Once you’re following people, it won’t take long to discover who twitters too much; for your own sanity, you should probably drop those prolific twitterers like a hot potato.

You can also follow Twitter users through RSS using your favorite RSS newsreader if that’s your preference. That doesn’t really appeal to me; my newsreader (NetNewsWire for the Mac) overwhelms me enough already with the hundreds of feeds it’s tracking.

My preferred way of interacting with twitter is through IM (instant messaging) rather than web or cell phone. You can set up your Twitter IM through Google Talk, which requires a Google/Gmail account. If you’re on a Mac like I am, it works with both iChat and Adium. If you’re not already using Google Talk, sign up for a Gmail account if you don’t already have one, then set up Google Talk in your favorite IM program. For example, in iChat, go to Preferences, then under the Accounts tab, add a new account, choosing “Google Talk account” as the Account Type; iChat will then add a Jabber window with your GTalk account. Add your IM account and cell phone number to Twitter by going to the Settings link on the top right of the home page (when logged in), then to the “Phone & IM” link. On your cell phone, you’ll need to TXT the validation code you’ve been given to 40404. In your IM client, you’ll need to send your validation code as an IM to the Google Talk account Once that’s done, whatever you type to that IM account (or TXT to 40404) becomes your update — unless you type a command to it like “follow sspencer”. BTW, don’t forget to also upload a picture of yourself so your followers can see your likeness.

Twitter is also great for those who go to conferences. I go to a TON of conferences. I decided to give Twitter a try while at the SMX West conference last month. It was pretty useful. I used it to follow the activities of other conference-goers and learn about parties and various other happenings. (IHOP anyone?!? — that’s an inside joke for those who attended SMX West and heard about the IHOP incident 😉

Now, when I go to a conference, I send the word “on” to 40404 on my mobile phone, then all the tweets from everyone I follow (and from the keywords I track) come through on my cell phone. When I go to bed for the night, I send the word “off” so that the tweets don’t wake me up.

So, all you non-Twitterers, try it out now… go to and register. You can let people know what you’re doing right now. Track keywords you have a keen interest in. Follow folks who interest you. If you’d like to follow me, my Twitter username is sspencer. If you want to follow Steve Spangler (which will also help motivate him to keep going with Twitter), his username is stevespangler. So in IM or via TXT, you’d send the command “follow sspencer” or “follow stevespangler.” If you want to track discussions about a keyword, such as the SMX conference, send the command “track smx.” When you mention someone with a Twitter account, use their username with an @ in front. For example “Checking out Twitter at the suggestion of @sspencer”. Then the person mentioned will see your “tweet.”

If you want to lean more about the benefits of using Twitter, check out this post from Tamar Weinberg. If you want to learn how to market on Twitter without spamming, check out this post from Jennifer Slegg .