Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2011

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Twitter has been around for a while now, but there are many still out there who haven’t made the leap to tweet. I hope that this article with help those who are ready to start.

So just what is Twitter, anyway? Well, Twitter is the place for people with something to say. It allows you to post short messages about what is happening in your life and lets you to sign up to receive the same kind of updates from your friends, family, co-workers, businesses and other people or groups. You can also reply, privately message or repost messages from other Twitterers. Twitter likes to keep things bite-sized, so messages posted to Twitter (or tweets) are limited to 140 characters or less.

The best way to start using Twitter is to sign up and begin following a couple people. It’s okay if you don’t have anything to say yet, just listen in for a while to get used to some of the new lingo. Twitter is even nice enough to help you find folks to follow. You can start with friends and family, but I started by following a local comedian. The tweets were frequent and always entertaining. It also quickly introduced me to some of the strange new terms associated with Twitter. I would also recommend following the MSBA. You can find links to our Twitter pages on our website, www.msba.org.

Let’s start with something simple. After you login, you will see some statistics:

  • Follow. When you follow someone on Twitter, it means you elect to see their posts on your page. Just click the “Follow” button on their Twitter page.
  • Followers. Followers are the people who have chosen to see your posts.
  • In the center of the page, you will find the timeline of tweets from people you follow. Here is how to decipher some common terms you are likely to see there.
  • @ Replies. One of the few occasions that the @ symbol isn’t part of an e-mail address but rather a reply, as part of a public conversation; it is normally followed by someone’s Twitter account name. For example, to reply to a tweet from the MSBA Law Office Management Assistance Department, you would begin your message with @msbaloma.
  • DM. DM stands for direct message. You can use it to talk privately with a Twitter user, but only if they’re following you. To send a private message to one of your followers, begin your tweet with d [space] username; your post might look like “d auntlinda – Back from our trip. Call you soon.”
  • RT. RT stands for retweet. If you like what someone says on twitter, you can copy it to your followers.
  • Hashtag (#). If you see the pound symbol (#) before a word or phrase, it represents a keyword for a message on Twitter so that others can find it more easily. It is a way to follow a specific subject everyone is talking about.

If you’ve been away from your Twitter page for a while, resist the urge to try to catch up on old tweets. Twitter is very much an in-the-moment medium. It’s as if you’re walking into a party – you don’t need to worry about what people were talking about five minutes ago, just focus on what they’re saying right now.

Sharing More Than Text

You can share more than text with your followers, but with only 140 characters you have to be careful how you do it.

Links can be included in your tweet simply by using the full URL, including http://. Most URLs would probably max out your character limit. Fortunately, there are free online services, like TinyURL (www.tinyurl.com), that create short, permanent “redirect” URLs that can replace long URLs. Just copy and paste the short URL into your tweet.

Twitpic (twitpic.com) is a useful tool for posting photos online and sharing them with your Twitter followers, and it works from a cell phone or computer.

Twitter for Businesses

Twitter is not just a fun way to keep up with friends and family. It is also a powerful business tool.

Twitter’s site mentions, “As a business, you can use Twitter to quickly share information, gather market intelligence and insights, and build relationships with people who care about your company.”

Tools to Make Twitter Easier

The Twitter site itself offers only a limited set of features. There are many different Twitter tools you can use to send and receive tweets from anywhere. TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) is great software for running Twitter on your computer desktop, and you can use services like TweetGrid (www.tweetgrid.com) to keep up with particular topics and post at the same time. My advice: start slow, and add these new tools when you’re ready.

Remember This

Everything you tweet could live forever. Don’t publicly tweet about anything that you might consider very private, embarrassing, risky or compromising.

Try to make yourself worth following. Be interesting, personable and helpful. More people will want to follow you if doing so is rewarding, educational and not boring. This isn’t simply about being likable – it’s a key strategy for cultivating a quality Twitter following. Try to engage other users. I recommend that at least half of your tweets be responses to other users. You really do get what you give in this medium.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August 2011

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