I broke down and dove into Twitter six months ago, on the advice of several strangers. They didn’t have candy, but it turns out they did have good advice about Twitter. Here’s why their advice was good:
First of all, I don’t use Twitter to talk to my friends. Twitter’s a big place where anyone can read whatever they want, and I don’t have anything to say to my friends that I want millions of other people reading. If I just wanted to talk to my friends, I’d never touch Twitter. I’d go to a bar, like we always do.
I use Twitter to connect with people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in. That’s mainly writers, agents, and publishers. I sometimes look for actors and food service workers, which are pretty much the same thing. I find them and follow what they tweet. Sometimes they follow me, and a-hah! We’ve made a connection.
I don’t tweet that I just ate a sandwich or that I’m waiting for Popeye to show up on Once Upon a Time. Some people like to do that, but I don’t. I try to share things I think will be useful or at least interesting to more than three people.
Unlike Facebook, a Twitter profile reveals little about you. You can share a photo if you want, you can write a 160 character bio, and you can list a website, which frankly can belong to an auto body shop and no one would know or care. That’s all. I don’t worry about creepy strangers following me. All they really know about me is what I choose to tweet. If I tweet my address and where I keep my stash, then I deserve a home invasion.
The 140 character limit isn’t a pain in the ass like people think. If I have something cool to share, I tweet a brief explanation plus a link to the full thing. A lot of people do that. For example, right now someone just tweeted “Like Gargoyles?” plus a link. Ooh, and “I wept blood after talking to my agent” plus a link. Next I’m looking at “A sadist uses trained monkeys to torture his victims” plus a link. You think I’m kidding, right?
If I’m following a thousand people, I don’t have to scan the tweets from all of them all the time. I can make a list of just the independent publishers, or only the agents, and I can follow that list when I want. It takes a tad of effort, but it makes the Facebook list creation process seem like rebuilding a Corvette t-boned by a dump truck.
Hashtags make things easy. A hashtag looks like this: #hashtag. If I tweet about humor, I might stick a #humor hashtag in my tweet. That way, anybody searching for that hashtag would find my tweet. I also like to use #mentalillness, #dumbass, and #vampirecows. If I want to see what people are saying about science fiction, I can search #scifi. It’s a good way to find cool links and to find new people you want to follow, or who might be fooled into following you.
I can manage my electronic space pretty easily in Twitter. I drop in when I have a few minutes, and I check out tweets on topics about which I’m interested. I spend far less time on Twitter than on Facebook, but I get a lot out of Twitter. I can just look at the things I’m interested in rather than wading through my friends’ religious manifestos, pictures of lions hugging bunnies, and notifications that this was the worst morning of their lives. I love them all, but it’s a lot to read through when I only have five minutes.
Twitter doesn’t try to sell me shit. Sometimes people send tweets that try to sell me shit, but I can just stop following them.
To sum up, if I just wanted to hang with my friends, I’d never use Twitter. For finding people and information that interest me, it’s been the WD-40 of social media. Well, maybe not that good—let’s say it’s been the crescent wrench of social media.
Oh, and one more thing. It’s a lot harder to flame someone or write an insane rant if you’re limited to 140 characters, because you have to write with discipline. That alone is worth its weight in kittens.
Visit me on Twitter at @BillMcCurry.
Photo by Mo Riza.