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February 22, 2009 / davebirss

Twitter is not the same as a Facebook status update, OK?


The other day I was unfortunate enough to hear someone explaining what Twitter is. I wasn’t too surprised when they used the simplified (and rather dismissive) explanation that it was just like a Facebook status update. Yes, some people use it that way – but most tweeters are a bit more interesting than that. So because of the widespread misunderstanding and misinformation about Twitter, I decided to write a quick guide for the uninitiated. Or at least write something for people to argue about.

Here are my suggestions of a few different ways of using Twitter.

Be in the know

A lot of industry experts live on Twitter. And most of them will share great stuff as they find out about it. They’ll share useful links and tell you about news as it happens. If you’re career minded, you can follow their updates and be more in-the-know that any of your colleagues. I follow a load of tech and marketing folk (or ‘tweeple’, if you want to use Twitter-speak) and I could spend entire days clicking links and reading interesting stuff. A quick way to do this is to find someone you want to follow, then see who they follow. Once you’re following a decent number of folk you can use Mr Tweet to get more suggestions.

Share stuff

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who find lots of interesting stuff, it’s good to tweet about it. For example, the close up shot of the airplane in the Hudson River first appeared as a Twitpic. Thousands of us saw it a few minutes after it happened. This photo then became the enduring image of that story across the world’s media. However, on a more daily basis, it’s good to share stuff that’s entertaining, newsworthy or just plain interesting. And if people like what you share, you’ll attract followers.

Have conversations

You get a lot of chatter and banter on Twitter. That’s what a lot of that @username stuff is about. If you’re a sociable sort, dive on in and join the babble.

Promote yourself

A lot of people use Twitter as their own broadcast channel. You’ll very often see people linking to their own blog posts or stories about them in the press. But don’t share something about yourself unless it’s worth sharing. If you’re dull people will start to unfollow you or at least stop clicking on your links.

Make contact

If there’s someone on Twitter that you want to get access to, you can follow them and send them messages. But social etiquette is important. Unwelcome, psychotic levels of contact probably won’t get you the kind of attention you’re looking for. And often an email will serve you better.

Get help

If you have a decent following, you can do shout-outs for assistance. People will very often point you in the right direction or share information with you. This has helped me out a few times. Some people are saying that this ‘live searching’ may be one of the big futures for Twitter. It will be interesting to see how long it is before big companies get on board the Twitter train to offer people stuff they’re looking for.

Keep your ear to the ground

If you want to hear what people are saying about you, your company or your products, you can listen in to the Twitter chatter. And you can join in the conversation if you want. I made a comment about the latest 118118 advert recently and someone called @118118 responded to me within half an hour. That’s a good brand experience.

Stalk famous people

If you like your celeb-fix, you can find a lot of them on Twitter. And they want you to follow them. Here are a few pretty active celebs if you want a bit of Hello Magazine action:

Stephen Fry
Jonathan Ross
Greg Grunberg (Parkman from Heroes)
Robert Llewelyn (from Red Dwarf)
Ashton Kutcher & Demi Moore

These are the main uses for Twitter as far as I can see – but I’m sure people will continue to develop more ways of taking advantage of it. The thing to remember is that it’s just a tool, it’s up to you how you use it.

But in the meantime, I’d like to invite you to follow me. You can tune into my drivel and berate me with insults right here: @davebirss


Leave a Comment
  1. nathan / Feb 23 2009 12:01 am

    yes all off those….. and like a facebook status update

  2. Zana / Feb 23 2009 3:12 am

    I made a mistake of synchronizing my Twitter updates to Facebook updates, and being a constant babbler on Twitter the twits appeared along on Facebook at average amount of 10 per day. It was embarassing. People thought I was on Facebook all the time.

  3. leasimpson / Feb 25 2009 10:19 am

    Ahem. Hate to rip your knitting Dave but your Twitter updates actually *do* update your Facebook status. Discuss.

  4. davebirss / Feb 25 2009 5:38 pm

    Well, I said that Twitter isn’t the same as Facebook updates – I never said that Facebook updates couldn’t be the same as Twitter.

    But you’re right. I should probably stop using Twitter to update my Facebook status. If I can be arsed.

  5. Damien Parsonage / Feb 28 2009 8:02 am

    I read about a quite interesting use for Twitter in an interview with Clay Shirky in The Observer last weekend.

    Apparently in Egypt, when people stop Twittering, it’s a way of letting their friends know they have been taken into police custody.

    So presumably their friends can start hatching an A-Team style plan to spring them from jail.

    Unless there’s a more innocent explanation for thier silence. Like they’ve lost their iPhone. Or just gone to sleep or something.

  6. Kelsey / Mar 2 2009 1:20 am

    I allllways get the facebook comparison when I ask – it’s good to hear something different

  7. Tim J / Apr 6 2009 12:52 pm

    I saw a lifesaving use of Twitter during the LA fires: suddenly the tweets from one of the people I follow stopped being about her saxophone playing and so on, and became a commentary on which roads were safe, locations of people needing transport and so on, with an appropriate hashtag. When I clicked the tag it became apparent that may people were using it to co-ordinate the evacuation. I’m sure Twitter helped to save lives.

    My first use of Twitter was to keep in touch with my brother abroad, while we were planning my father’s funeral. I think really, Twitter has as many uses as talking on the telephone does, so regarding it as “just a Facebook status” or “just a microblog” is quite misleading. And encouraged, unfortunately, by Twitter’s own terminology.

    On a more self-promoting note, yhou might be interested in my post Why is Twitter so confusing? whicih considers the possible reasons why there’s so much confusion and misinformation around.

    And I don’t make the Facebook comparison, as I’ve never been a Facebook member 🙂

  8. Barry / Jul 24 2009 11:24 am

    As if it isn’t! it’s a rip off of the facebook status in all but name!

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