Welcome to the Twitter verse!
Its official! According to the Global Language Monitor, ‘Twitter’ was the most used word in print and social media in 2009 which is an astonishing achievement given that the site was only launched in 2006. At the time of writing Twitter has over 18 million users and this is predicted to grow to 26 million users in 2010. Whether you ‘get’ Twitter or think it’s a waste of time it’s here to stay – at least until the next big social media thing.
Beginnings of Twitter
Twitter started life as a way for friends and family to keep each other updated on their activities. The service asked its users the simple question: ‘what are you doing?’ allowing 140 characters for each update. This TED video talk by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, provides fascinating insight into the evolution of one of the greatest successes of the Read/Write Web. Twitter today is sometimes referred to as a microblogging platform. While still seen by some non-users as a place to tell the world what you are having for breakfast, the ‘Twitterati’ recognise that Twitter can be a powerful way of making connections and doing business.
How does it work?
Tweets are short messages of up to 140 characters in length that you send and receive. Once you have set up a free Twitter account by registering a Twitter name and posting some information about yourself, you can start ‘tweeting’. Other users can choose to ‘follow’ your tweets and thus become your ‘followers’, and you can search for and follow others using the ‘Find People‘ tab. The best way to learn how to use Twitter is to use it: get an account, search for people or topics you find interesting and watch and learn how people interact. The Arts Council England’s digital strategy programme AmbITion has a free Twitter for Beginners ebook on their website which is a great guide to getting started.
Once up and tweeting, there are some Twitter ‘terms’ that you should be aware of to make the most of the application:
DM: (eg: DM sineadmacmanus) Direct messages will only be seen by the person you are sending them to (like Instant Messaging). Use this for tweets that you don’t want everyone to see or to build a personal relationship with a follower. You can use up to 255 characters on a DM.
ReTweet: (eg: RT @sineadmacmanus) is when you repost someone else’s Tweet. Precede the username of the person you are retweeting by RT and the @ symbol. Tools such as Tweetdeck make re-tweeting easy and Twitter has just added an RT button to their application.
@replies: (eg: @sineadmacmanus:). To reply to someone and have all your followers see the reply, type an @ symbol before the person’s name.
Hashtags #: (eg: #theatre) Hashtags assist with searching for subjects currently in conversation on Twitter. Use the hash symbol # followed by the search term to make your tweets more searchable and to follow the Twitter talk about a certain topic.
Twitter works seamlessly with many other Read/Write web applications: plugins such as Twitter Tools will allow you to insert your Twitter Feed into your WordPress website, while the Tweet This plugin automatically adds a ‘Tweet this Post’ button to every blog post allowing readers to easily share your content; applications such as Twitterfeed can be used to automatically send a tweet to your Twitter page every time you update your blog; use Twitter Mobile to view and update tweets; post from your iPhone or iTouch with applications such as Twitterific. URL shortener sites including TinyURL and Bit.ly makes shortening long weblinks easy. YouTube and Flickr allow you to tweet videos and images directly from their sites. Last but not least, Twitter power users may consider downloading free desktop applications such as TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop to do most of the above from a separate environment on their computers.
Making the most of Twitter
So what are the practical uses of a microblogging service?
For me, one of the most powerful applications of this tool is in sourcing and sharing valuable information in a short amount of time. Following people relevant to your industry or area of interest allows you to tap into a network of up-to-the-minute ideas and conversations, to find answers to common queries or to keep abreast of great blog posts, news and resources. The beauty of Twitter is the brevity of the medium – no essay-style blog posts here, just relevant interesting conversation that can be skimmed through at a glance. If theatre is your main interest then a good starting point is to read Andrew Girvan’s blog post that lists a 129 people to follow in theatre covering venues, companies, news feeds and commentators.
Twitter can be a powerful way of connecting with potential audience members and clients and can also be used to drive traffic to your blog or website. Like other social media applications, you build a following by having something to bring to the conversation. If you choose to tweet solely about your life/work, without sharing information and engaging in conversation, people are less likely to follow your Twitter stream. Similarly, Twitter is not the place for corporate-style behaviour, so even if you are tweeting on behalf of your company, make sure there is a personality and unique voice behind the tweets.
Hoi Polloi are probably one of the most well known theatre companies in the UK that are using Twitter extensively and have nearly 1000 followers. Both Marketing and Touring Manager Simon Bedford and artistic collaborator Hugh Hughes use the hellohoipolloi Twitter account to Tweet about the company’s work. Their Twitter feed is featured on the homepage of the website under the heading – what are we doing?
Innovative West Midlands based company Pilot Theatre have been at the forefront of developments in digital technologies for years. They use their Twitter account to update their 1200 followers with news and podcasts using AudioBoo the iPhone audio blogging app. Illustrating a more commercial side, the National Theatre use their account to inform their 5,000 followers of special offers, show reviews and news.
The recent Arts Marketing Association Digital Marketing conference at Sadler’s Wells, illustrated a new trend in the potential of Twitter for live events. Twitter users following the @AMAdigitalday Twitter Feed, were kept up to date with presentations as they happened. Conference attendees posted podcasts and videos of the proceedings and online users were able to submit questions and comments for the presenters. In total over 70 people took part in the conference in this way. It might be worth thinking about how you could use Twitter to engage with people that cannot attend your live events or workshops.
Twitter, like any social media application, can drain hours of time in your day. As recommended in my Introduction to Social Media article, a plan or strategy for using Twitter is useful. Like email, I would recommend spending no more than 30 minutes each morning and afternoon browsing your lists, retweeting any items of interest to your followers, and writing your own Tweets. Tweetdeck allows users to group their followers into lists e.g. personal, theatre, social media, for organisational ease and it can also handle multiple Twitter accounts.
Do remember to make is easy for people to follow you – put your Twitter name in the signature of your email. Add a Follow Me on Twitter button to your website and on Facebook. And if you have some great production images, do personalise your Twitter profile page with a custom background.
In the next article, I will look at Facebook – the fourth largest website in the world to examine its potential for creative businesses.