From Stalking to Talking: A Beginner’s Top Ten Twitter Tips

I’ve been using Twitter for the guts of a hundred days now. In that time, I’ve added about 1 new connection per day and posted about 10 status updates a week. So I’m probably going to have to graduate from beginner to low intermediate status pretty soon, as far as Twitter is concerned. Before I do, though, I’ll write down some thoughts…

Recently, I accidentally convinced some people at work to join Twitter – no, honestly, I wasn’t trying to evangelise, it just came up in conversation and I mentioned that I found it really useful. The problem with that, though, is trying to tell someone all the interesting unexpected benefits you’ve got from it while keeping expectations in check. After all, twitter’s good but it’s not very likely change your life completely from day 1.

So, what can Twitter do? Here are my ten tips for new tweeters/twitterers/whatever you want to call yourself, from my own limited experience so far.

What and how to tweet

1. Do not use Twitter like a regular web page – it’d drive you mad having to keep a separate window open for it and pressing F5 to refresh all the time. Use something like twhirl, tweetdeck or – for Firefox fans such as myself – twitterfox. My anecdotal evidence suggests that a fair chunk of people not familiar with the web outside of Internet Explorer fall down at this hurdle. They set up an account, they follow a few people straight away, a couple of days later they realise they haven’t checked back in and they’re gone.

2. What should you tweet? My policy on tweeting is to mix it up. Sure, tweet your latest blog post if you want, but tweet interesting links you’ve found – on Twitter or more likely during your day-to-day work – or startling stats. Tweet what’s on your mind. For instance, one of my first tweets was “Is a Cadbury’s Twirl just a Flake covered a layer of chocolate? Or is it more?” – I stand by that. Also tweet questions if something’s bugging you or you want to find something out quickly.

3. Some twittiquette – retweet sparingly. Twitter’s form of the dreaded FWD:>>>> is RT (retweet). RT can be as annoying as FWD, so use sparingly. If you particularly like a link or point someone’s tweeted, you more than likely have your own point of view on it, so why not write that?

4. Don’t get into long conversations via Twitter. It’s like shouting to someone the other side of the room. A big warning sign is when 80% of your tweets look something like this – @tom Hilarious, @dick Cool! No way!, @harry really?, and so on. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll be doing that as a beginner – this is the sign of a “power Twitter user”, and unless they look really interesting, you probably won’t have cause to follow them.

To be in position to do most of the above, you’ll need an audience and to build an audience of followers, you’ll need to follow people yourself, which leads me to part deux

Who to follow

5. Find your friends, naturally enough. You’d be surprised at what they actually get to up to, particularly the links they find during their work-day.

6. Get yourself some news. With something like Twitterfox, all the hassle of having to set up Google News alerts, only to delete most, or having to repeatedly visit your favourite news sites is gone. With something like twitterfox, it’ll never be more than 5 mins before the latest headlines (CNN, theeconomist, RTE, The Irish Times, whatever you’re having yourself) pop up in the bottom right of your screen. Major plus for Twitter.

7. Follow the leader. Find someone who’s further out than you on the bleeding edge of IT. Oh sure, you could be conventional and follow Google or IBM – I do. But try and find someone who just looks like they have their finger on the pulse. I follow for example Dexin (“Interested in Entrepreneurship, Crowdsourcing, Cloud Computing and Macro Economics”) because she seems to know what she’s on about. You can also try to find a topical non-person twitterer, like Socialmedianet (“News and views from the world of social media and social software on the Internet”).

8. Stalk a celebrity. When done well, it’s a great way of finding out a little more about the person behind the celebrity. Stephen Fry is a little passe at this point, being the world’s most popular twitterer, as far as I know – he’s also quite talkative, which is a factor to bear in mind if Twitter clutter (twutter?) is an issue. John Cleese is as mad as you might expect, so you won’t always get it. On the other hand, Britney Spears is too quiet and Jamie Oliver is still very much about the cooking.

Jonathan Ross is a happy medium, in my opinion, and comes across as very human. (Not that I thought he was an alien before, but you know what I mean…) MC Hammer is on twitter too and contrary to popular belief, his follow button can be touched. I haven’t gone there yet, though.

9. Inspire yourself – follow someone interesting, just for the sake of it. It could be, for example, @thebuddha, doling out words of wisdom twice daily, or it could be The Earth Institute at Columbia or whatever. But it’s never any harm broadening your mind.

10. Lastly, talk to companies. If you follow companies, whose services you use, and tweet at them (literally @ them), they will definitely hear you – no more interminable phone calls with automatons giving you menu options! For example, I follow MyHeritage and have been able to pass on feedback and suggestions, to which they duly responded. Ditto with Hubdub. Because it’s all done in an open forum, it’s a fantastic way of getting companies to notice a suggestion and even to shame a service provider into action, if you feel so inclined.

So there you have it, some tips from someone who doesn’t know too much, for what that’s worth!

Guess the Index: The Daft Report turns fun!

Following on from my recent post about Web2.0, hubdub and guessing Irish unemployment, I think it’s only right that I turn this future prediction market technology on myself. Well, on the Daft Report at any rate.

At this link, you’ll find a market on how much lower rents in Ireland will be in January 2009, compared to a year earlier. All you have to do is place some of your hubdub dollars (don’t worry, the whole thing is free, it’s just to measure how sure of the outcome you are) on the year-on-year rate of change, as per Daft’s very own National Rent Index.

Those who get it right will get naught but some more Hubdub dollars, but hopefully that will suffice. Well, that and the knowledge of being right, and perhaps some real dollars, in the form of a cheaper rent, if you’re a tenant bargaining with your landlord – assuming of course rents fall. (As I write this, the Hubdub market currently gives a 5% chance to rents falling less than 6% or rising, so some of that 5% includes the theoretical, at this stage, outcome that rents will go up.)

There is of course a serious side to all this (careful, blogosphere, here comes the science bit). If the market matures enough, it will be interesting to see how correct it is, compared to the actual outcome. Consistently accurate markets, across a whole range of these hubdub thingies, would say something to economists and policymakers, for example in Ireland, in light of the social partnership talks about public sector pay cuts (e.g. have public sector workers already cut their expenditure in anticipation of a cut?)

Most importantly, though, have fun! We need all the fun from markets we can get these days.

Wisdom of the crowds? Web2.0, hubdub & guessing Ireland’s unemployment

I had the rather pleasant task today of going through a range of Web 2.0 / social networking tools and establishing the potential in their application to primary research. Some key things that the new generation of web tools can give include:

  • Using something like digg or scribd to find key themes and recent developments in a topic, and – because you know who’s posted and who’s posted most – experts on a particular topic
  • Using something like basecamp or dimdim to project manage flexibly, particularly when teams are non-traditional, i.e. they are globally dispersed, working from home, volunteer-based, etc.
  • Using something like LinkedIn or indeed WordPress to access groups of experts on a particular topic and start a discussion
  • Using something like Manyeyes (which I’ve done in a few posts) or wordle (which I may have done in one too many posts last year!) to come up with new visualizations and ways of thinking about data

Many or most of these I was already somewhat familiar with. Indeed, twitter is increasingly one of my main sources for accessing news, thanks to RTE’s twitter services, and accessing expertise, as a surprising number of economists are on it. (I may also use it to keep tabs on Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, but that’s probably for another post!)

Anyway, what I was not aware of, or rather perhaps only vaguely aware of, was the plethora of wisdom-of-the-crowd prediction markets tools out there. By way of example, I’ve set up one at hubdub, that hopefully proves my point:

When will Ireland’s Live Register top 350,000? I hope the crowds will tell me…