Saturday, May 15, 2010

Twitter is an ever-evolving social media platform

Social Media Matters
By Brian Cormier
Friday, May 14, 2010
Moncton Times & Transcript
Metro section

This week's column deals exclusively with Twitter and getting started on the right foot.

1) First of all, go to and fill out your profile, including a photo. A photo is important. If you're too afraid to show your face online, you really shouldn't be online at all. C'mon now! Be a big boy or girl and post your photo. Besides, it's kind of fun when people recognize you at the mall. (It has happened to me!)

2) Don't protect your tweets. This is a bit of overkill considering the fact that the huge percentage of people share openly on Twitter. While it's kosher -- almost mandatory -- on Facebook to ensure your privacy is protected because of the vast amount of personal information you can post, Twitter is different. The personal information you post in your profile is minimal, at best, and it's actually seen to be a bit odd to protect your tweets.

While it's certainly up to you to do so or not, if you insist on protecting your tweets, you should at least allow everyone you follow to also follow you if they ask. Sharing is a two-way street. It's not nice to read everyone's updates while shielding your own from the world -- especially if the people you follow ask to follow you, too. Again, if you're that paranoid, Twitter is likely not the best place for you.

3) If you've been using the Twitter homepage as your main Twitter experience, you're definitely losing out. You need to use a website such as HootSuite or TweetDeck to manage your Twitter experience. Using those sites, you can see several columns such as tweets sent by you, tweets mentioning you, tweets based on certain search criteria, and private messages sent to you directly. You can even pre-schedule tweets.

While you can also see all these items through the Twitter homepage, you need to click different links and everything is not on the screen all at once. Having several different columns of tweets in front of you definitely gives you a different perspective on the power of Twitter.

4) Use a link-shortening website such as for posting your links. Because you only have 140 characters per tweet sent, you need every trick in the book to save this valuable real estate. Each character is vitally important. The next time you surf the Internet, check the length of the link in your address bar. It may be short if you're on the homepage of a website, but if you're deep in the bowels of the site, the address may be mighty long!

If you're using the Twitter homepage as your entire experience with this particular social media network, you'll need to manually enter the long link at or and get a shorter link to post in order to save characters. If you're using HootSuite or TweetDeck, you have the option to automatically shorten links. This is a tremendous time saver.

5) When writing your tweets, think about the retweeters. Using abbreviated links helps when trying to get people to retweet your posts because it will help to avoid them having to manually shorten your tweet by editing it -- sometimes inadvertently changing the meaning of your tweet and making it look like you said something you really didn't.

But even if you're not posting a link, try to stay below the 140 characters if you think your content will be retweeted by others. The longer your post, the more risk you take that an inexperienced user will edit your tweet into something very bad. Retweeted posts use up extra characters of the 140 available, so if you write to the maximum 140 characters all the time, you're forcing others to edit your tweets if they want to retweet them. This is risky. I've found myself furious more than once at someone changing the meaning of my tweet because they had to edit it to shorten it. I learned my lesson.

6) Don't underestimate the power of Twitter. I've heard people say that they don't "get" Twitter. If you want to know what is the most talked about thing on the planet or in a certain area of the world at this very second, you can do that via Twitter.

The first reports of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile didn't come via CNN, radio or the newspaper. They came via Twitter. When a huge number of people start tweeting about a subject at once, these items become what are called "trending topics" on Twitter. Canadian pop singing sensation Justin Bieber has been a trending topic almost daily for ages. Like him or hate him, he's being talked about a lot... and I do mean a lot!

Even if you don't use Twitter, simply go to and you'll find a list of trending topics right there. See the name of a relatively obscure celebrity? You can bet they likely died that day. With so many people mentioning the name, it becomes a trending topic immediately. One thing is likely for sure, though, you'll probably see Justin Bieber's name among the trending topics for many months to come.

For a very cool word cloud version of trending topics, simply go to and see a comprehensive list of trending topics. The larger the word, the more popular the topic at that given moment. Again, expect to see Justin Bieber quite large, as well as other things happening right now in the news or on television.

Want to see a cool animated Twitter word cloud of your own tweets? Try out Enter your Twitter username (or anyone else's) and in a few seconds you'll see a word cloud based on your recent tweets. Apparently, I use the word "awesome" an awful lot!

For a fascinating real-time animated trending topics word cloud, go to You can literally watch a topic trend right before your eyes. Powerful.


Downes said...

Good advice, overall.

There's no hard and fast rule about what to write (or 'tweet') about, but Twitterers generally follow one or more of the following patterns:

- 'where I am', especially useful when travelling

- links or references found elsewhere worth sharing

- mention when you are starting and finishing a book (that will help you finish your books, Brian)

- retweets of other people's comments worth sharing

- commentary on public events, like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (one of my tweets: "Whatever happened to 'drill baby drill'?")

- sport reporting of fast-paced events, from major (like earthquakes) to minor (like hockey game scores)

- household news (Jason scored 3 goals; Alicia is dancing in the show tonight)

Brian Cormier said...

Good points. :) Everyone has their niche. I actually really appreciated the tweeting of hockey scores in the past week because I was busy with other things and couldn't follow the games on TV.