Monday, December 29, 2008

What I Have Learned About Twitter (So Far)

Dr. J's Social Media Experiment Part 2: Twitter
(Obscure Music Joke Subtitle: Rockin' Robin on the Interwebs)

Happy New Year! Most of my readers are already using Twitter, but if you have lived in a cave for the last year and don't know what it is, look up Twitter or Micro-blogging on Wikipedia. Too lazy? OK, here goes: A social media/blogging network in which users post "tweets" of 140 characters or less. These tweets provide followers/friends with status info (similar to your Facebook status,) links, jokes, conversations (consisting of @replies,) etc. When referring to a twitter user, you use the "@" symbol; For instance, my Twitter handle is @docj1664. However, if you were to search for me on Twitter, the URL would be http://twitter.com/docj1664. For several weeks last month, I collected my daily Twitter feeds on the blog, so that should give you an idea of how it works!

I signed up for Twitter in early March of 2008. I was taking my high school vocal jazz group to France and Switzerland, and I thought it would be a good way to stay in touch with people while I was gone. I convinced my wife to sign up, and I already had a few friends who were using it. I used the service infrequently for the next two months, mostly because I didn't really understand it very well. Of course, I've found out recently that many Twitter users felt that way, and in some ways the "proper" use of Twitter is still evolving.

I really had trouble figuring out what possible use this could be to musicians. I think this area is still evolving, but people such as @carlalynnhall and @sivers (Derek Sivers of CDBaby) are beginning to figure this out. I think the best way to understand Twitter is to realize that it requires an entirely new approach. 

When you sign up, the question is "What are you doing?" However, the type of self-promotion that is so prominent on MySpace and Facebook is anathema to most Twitter users. As cheesy as this may sound, Twitter is about community, and you often find users more concerned about helping each other than promoting themselves. I think this spirit of helpfulness really started this last summer during the hurricanes that hit the Gulf coast, and it has persisted. 

Here are a few other things I've learned:
  • Link Spam - When a user sees someone whose every post consists of a link to their myspace or website, they will probably not follow you. Most users will post helpful links for their followers, as well as occasional blog post announcements.
  • Troll Behavior - This is absolutely not tolerated on Twitter. Most users even tend to stay away from asserting strong political opinions, and generally don't tolerate online flame wars.
  • Profile Names - Most users use their full real name, with no numbers. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until I had a few hundred friends, but I'm banking on Twitter getting more popular, and people will begin having to use nicknames and numbers.
  • Conversations - Conversations between users are generally looked on favorably, as long as they are not too personal (you can DM or Direct Message another user when appropriate, as long as they are following you.) Many power users spend the entire day conversing with others on Twitter, almost like a public chat room. The idea is that this is usually information that will benefit other users as well.
  • Retweeting - When a user sees something interesting posted by someone he/she is following, they will often "retweet" it so their followers will see it as well. This is one of the most fascinating and useful aspects of Twitter, and perhaps why it was so useful during the hurricanes last summer. Information can spread very quickly this way.
  • Robots - Recently some accounts have started using 'bots which DM new followers. The community at large, however, seems to find this distasteful, so I would shy away from it.
  • Followers - When you follow someone on Twitter, they are not automatically your "friend." They must choose to follow you as well. It is generally considered a courtesy to follow those who follow you, unless you are a celebrity with tens of thousands of followers. It is a good idea to keep your "following" and "followers" numbers as close to each other as possible. 
Twitter definitely requires some "outside of the box" thinking, especially if you are using it as a marketing tool. Many of the old social network rules do not apply, and new rules are being written as the service evolves.

I've barely skimmed the surface, so here are a few additional resources:
For more advice on how to use Twitter for marketing: pistachioconsulting.com/ and www.hubspot.com
For advice on how to use Twitter and other tools in support of your music career: rockstarlifelessons.com/

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