Michael Samuelson is all a-Twitter. Literally. Samuelson sent a pat on the back about “First the good news…” and an invite to join the fast-growing world of Twitter, a sort of shorthand, Web-based communication system.
Thinking I ought to, gulp, get ready to take the Twitter plunge, I thought I’d better find out more about this Twitter thing — and you might want to, too — so I emailed Samuelson and asked a few questions:
JH: Tell us a little about yourself.
MS: I’m a Web developer working for the Idaho Commission for Libraries. I live in Caldwell, but work in Boise, where I was raised. I have a long bio at http://mlsamuelson.com/content/about-michael-l-samuelson and I sometimes do consulting and Web development on the side, but it’s not my main focus, of course.
JH: How long have you been, um, Twittering or tweeting (not sure of the proper lingo)?
MS: It’s called ‘tweeting’ but I usually can’t bring myself to use that word. Just seems, um, wrong. I usually say ‘twitter post” or “twittering.”
I’ve been Twittering from almost a year now. I work with the an open source (free, community developed) content management system Drupal (http://drupal.org) . Last year at the annual N. American Drupal developers’ conference I joined Twitter so that I could “follow” the Twitter account for the conference, and was pleased to receive updates from that account, pushed to my cell phone as a text message, noting when sessions I’d planned to attend were canceled due to sick presenters, and to get directions to after hours get togethers. I’m not a big “joiner” but I came to realize that Twitter had a real potential for useful communication, and provided me with an opportunity to subscribe to other’s streams of thoughts – sometimes silly, sometimes profound, sometimes helpful (like when I get to find out what one of the leaders in my field is reading…)
JH: In a nutshell, as briefly as you can, describe Twitter. Is it free, what are the benefits?
MS: Twitter is a free micro-blogging service that asks its users to answer the question “What are you doing now?” It’s an amazing opportunity to create connections with people. The two main avenues people seem to connect on are where they live and what they’re interested in. You can follow trend-setters in your field, build your own personal “brand” by sharing your thoughts and observations, and of course you can network. I’ve seen a person be laid off and quickly find another gig via her Twitter network — that’s powerful!
I recently heard talk that Twitter may start charging companies that have accounts, but I haven’t confirmed that. Lots of companies use Twitter. Dell sends out coupons, and is able to identify people with complaints (they monitor http://search.twitter.com/search?q=Dell) and to have a real person engage them and try resolve the issue and repair the company’s relationship with that customer — additionally, Twitter offers free insight into what customers are thinking/wanting.
Congressmen use Twitter to communicate with their constituents (http://twitter.com/johnculberson), and for campaigning (http://twitter.com/BarackObama) . The State of Idaho has a Twitter account — http://twitter.com/idahogov — and I’m impressed with how well they use it. We’re discussing doing a similar Twitter account for a program run by the state agency for which I work. It would be a great opportunity to let Idaho residents know about a fantastic resource they could take advantage of for free, and to provide support to users of that service.
The main thing about Twitter though, is that it’s about creating connections between people. Businesses that don’t get it treat it like a commercial and people stay away because there’s no discernible human voice behind it.
JH: Okay, I’m already spending hours sifting through email and wandering around on Facebook. Isn’t Twitter just one more time suck?
MS: Yes and no. I find I spend a lot less time reading blogs to find the diamonds, and instead have them delivered to me via my friends on
Twitter. But, yes, Twitter can be a time suck, however, it’s also hanging out with friends… It can get a little consuming, though. I like to read http://www.seyboldinc.com/2008/11/avoiding-the-urgency-addiction-of-social-networking/ when that happens.
But Twitter does have a payoff. I’ve gotten numerous offers for work on projects. I have a friend who’s an independent filmmaker in San Jose (http://twitter.com/alejandroadams) whom I introduced to Twitter, and he and his current small film is getting quite a bit of attention via Twitter. That doesn’t happen via email, or even on Facebook, to that degree.
JH: All right, I see that there’s some real value with Twittering, but here’s one aspect of Twitter that kind of bothers — the whole following thing. Isn’t that kind of like um, stalking? Sorry, it just seems sort of creepy, but I know thousands of people “follow” celebs and I read they followed the President when he used Twitter. They even follow MC Hammer — and I really do think that is kind of creepy.
MS: I felt that way in the beginning, too! It really is weird! But what I came to realize is that it’s like a giant conversation where everyone has agreed it’s okay to eavesdrop. A conversation between two people can suddenly become a conversation between 15 people.
If someone is following you and you’re not comfortable with it, you can block them. And of course, you don’t have to follow anyone you don’t want to. Mostly though, it just takes time to get used to it. I’ve written about that: http://mlsamuelson.com/content/twitter-aha-moment-and-beyond .
JH: Hmm. Let’s turn that around and let’s say you WANT folks to follow you. How do you get people to follow you on Twitter?
MS: One: you follow them — lots of times when you follow someone they’ll follow you back, but not always (you can’t take it personally). Two: you post things that are of value to others — it could be links to a great ginger snap recipe you found, a link to a great article you read, an observation, etc. People will also find you by seeing you in someone else’s follower list, or by seeing you in a search and thinking you seem interesting.
One of the best things you can do to get followers is to have a fleshed-out profile on Twitter. Put a link to your blog, and short bio about who you are/what you do. That way people can see if you share interests, etc.
Just be who you are, and share what you’re passionate about.
JH: Do I have to buy a special (read expensive) new Web phone to use Twitter? Don’t most people who tweet have a Blackberry or iPhone?
MS: Some do. I’m at a computer a lot, so I just use the Web interface and check Twitter a couple times a day. You can tweet via text message, though. I do that sometimes, but not that often.
JH: What’s your funniest Twitter experience?
MS: Maybe not funny, but fun was tweeting about one of my wife’s puppet shows (she’s a children’s librarian) and having one of my followers whom I’d not met personally Tweet me saying, “Hey, I thought that was you! I was there too!”
Funniest, though, has been chronicling and sharing all the amusing things my three-year old (who’s a little irascible) says. One of the best Tweets went something like, “I was telling my son to behave and he replied, ‘I AM ‘have, Dad!'”
JH: Most embarrassing?
MS: For my daughter’s 10th birthday, she had a tea party where they made hats out of paper plates, paints, glue and feathers. My wife suckered me into posing in one of those hats for a photo “to show off the hat” and wouldn’t you know that photo ended up being her Twitter user picture. Let’s just say that as along as she had that in place I didn’t converse with her much on Twitter, lest someone make the connection.
JH: Best Twitter moment?
MS: Every time I’ve been invited to coffee with local movers and shakers by connecting with them via Twitter, and realizing they’ve become my friends.
SAMUELSON’S TWITTER TIPS: Here’s some advice on “who” to follow for starters.
Who you’re following can make or break your experience!
http://twitter.com/username that’s how it works. When referring to
Twitter users it’s customary to put an @ in front of the username.
Hence, me, @mlsamuelson can be found at http://twitter.com/mlsamuelson
Some great local people to follow:
@tacanderson (HP social media expert)
@brandmilitia (Co-founder of Tricycle brand marketing)
@m3mo (a librarian at BSU)
@totn (NPR’s Talk of the Nation)
@MrTweet (a tool that analyzes who you follow and suggests others you
may want to follow)
@igniteboise (local social media inspired event coming up)
@idahogov (State of Idaho)
@housefloor (US House of Reps.)
@sentatefloor (US Senate)
@jessflynn (RedSky PR)
@SydneyRS (Gallatin Public Affairs, used to be in newspapers, I think)
@hollihigh (Wind energy consultant, or something like that)
@nipper (local patent attorney, funny as all get out)
@LGM1 (BSU, entrepreneur)
@waded (Project manager for a Microsoft project running in Boise)
@JenHarris09 (the lady who found a job via Twitter – back on the look
though, as she was laid off again after a few mos. 😦 )
@lenalou (Creative Director for Idaho.gov)
@GCPL (Garden City Public Library)
All these folks may or may not be interesting to you, but they’ll give
you someplace to start looking. 🙂
HOW TO FIND FOLKS ON TWITTER: You can find others by seeing who the
people you follow are talking with.