Let’s Get Tweeting!

Twitter: it’s the language everyone seems to speak like a rockstar, except us moms and dads! We tweeted our way over to Nina Badzin, a Pushcart Prize nominated short story writer, essayist, and aspiring novelist, to find out how to get started.

She blogs about the writing life, married life, and motherhood at http:/ninabadzin.com. Raised in Chicago, Nina now lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three kids.

Thanks for joining us, Nina!

Let’s Get Tweeting!

Funny you should use language as an analogy; Twitter is indeed a foreign world with a language of its own. At first I was lost in Twitterland, but now that I’ve been speaking the lingo for a little over a year, I’ve become something of Twitter Culture Ambassador. Lucky for you Twitter newbies and readers of Families in the Loop, I’m sharing some of the insider gems it took me months to learn.

1. NICHE: If you don’t have a purpose for using the site, then you’re wasting your time. My goal was and still is to feel a sense of community with other writers. Maybe you’re looking to connect with others in your profession who are also juggling parenthood. If that’s the case, then the majority of the people you follow should be tweeting about your specific interests (career, hobbies, Chicago, etc.) or the topic of parenthood.

Do I follow celebrities? Nope. News organizations? Absolutely not. When I want the headlines, I read the paper or a news site. When I want to know what Charlie Sheen thinks about anything–well, that will never happen. I’m not saying you should only follow people who are exactly like you–of course not–but just like in real life, on Twitter you can’t be a Jack of all trades. Focus makes the whole Twitter “thing” manageable. Pick and niche and put 80% of your focus there.

2. LISTS: Lists are the key to keeping Twitter from overwhelming you. If you’re following more than 50 people, it’s time to get organized. Nobody can possibly read all the tweets in their general stream. That’s where lists come in to save the day. Frankly, if you don’t use lists, you’re missing the Tweets you really want to see. Speaking of lists, if you have 1300 followers but only 20 or so have listed you, then I’m probably not going to follow you back. A ratio like that means few people actually read your tweets.

I’ve read (wish I could remember where) that a 10% ratio is good. (600 followers should mean you’ve been listed about 60 times.)  Start by putting other people on lists. They will probably do the same for you. Keeping the people you follow unlisted is like storing your forks in your sock drawer. It’s too much trouble to find what you’re looking for and wastes a lot of time. Start those lists. And use them! (I have more details on the how-to of lists in Part II of this series).

3. USE HOOTSUITE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT: I rarely use the actual Twitter site–what a clunker. Options like Hootsuite and Tweetdeckmake the Twitter experience a breeze. Hootsuite allows me to schedule tweets and see my lists next to each other, including the @mention, “retweets of me,” and “favorites” categories. I now use UberSocial on my Blackberry since I do about 90% of my tweet reading while I’m working out. (Clearly I’m not training for a marathon, but the system works for me. I’m killing two birds with one stone.) I’m sure the iPhone has its own apps and they’re probably even better.

4. UTILIZE THE “FAVORITE” FUNCTION: When I’m reading tweets during those workouts, I favorite the ones I want to check out later. Later might be weeks away–that’s fine. People appreciate the RT of their link whenever you can get to it. Why would anyone want all their link promoting to happen in one day? Spread out the love, people!

5. KNOW HOW TO RT: Please commit this one to memory. When you start a tweet like this—> @NinaBadzin–ONLY the people who follow BOTH of us will see that tweet. So when you’re RTing someone’s link as a nice gesture (and you should do that regularly on Twitter or you’re COMPLETELY missing the point) then it’s not all that generous to write a tweet like this—>@NinaBadzin wrote a must-read guest post on Families in the Loop.

Wrong! It should look like this—>A must-read post on Families in the Loop by @NinaBadzin. Another option—>.@NinaBadzin wrote a must read post about the ins and outs of Twitter. Notice the . in front of the @–That little . makes all the difference. HOWEVER, don’t start throwing a period in front of every @. (See below)

6. KNOW WHEN TO START WITH @: We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of Twitter etiquette. There’s a time for a less public tweet, called an @reply. If you’re thanking someone for a RT or giving a specific response to an article/post, then an @reply is totally acceptable. Sometimes it makes sense for just the people who follow both of you to see that Tweet. There’s nothing wrong with using the @reply aka @mention, but understand that if you’re trying to promote someone’s post, then you must stick a word or a period before the @. (See #5)

7. KNOW WHEN TO DIRECT MESSAGE: Nothing irks me more than a long personal conversation on the public feed. Like I said above, a few tweets back and forth are appropriate and expected. (I absolutely do this.) But an endless back and forth is bordering on rude. If you have that much to talk about, take it to the Direct Message function or exchange email addresses. It’s great you found a friend on Twitter, but please spare the rest of the us the giggle-giggle, wink-wink. Twitter isn’t Facebook.

8.KNOW WHEN NOT TO DIRECT MESSAGE: Do NOT auto-DM the people who follow you with seemingly friendly notes like, “Thanks for the follow. I hope you enjoy my tweets.” I suppose people who do this think it makes Twitter more personal. It doesn’t. It makes you look like a spammer. And everyone on Twitter HATES spammers. Authentically interacting makes Twitter more personal (responding to general questions, RTing someone’s tweet).

9. BIO, PHOTO, & CONSISTENT TWEETING: Speaking of spambots, make sure to fill out your bio as thoroughly as possible. Upload a picture. Most people avoid following the eggs. And if you only sporadically send out one tweet a week, people will probably unfollow you. Random tweeting is the first sign of a spammer. Twitter is not for observing, it’s for participating. 

10. KEEP YOUR HANDLE SHORT: If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already on Twitter and it’s too late to save you. But just in case someone is reading this who hasn’t yet signed up–LISTEN TO ME–keep your handle short. When people RT your link, your handle counts against the 140-character allotment if they want to add a little note before it such as “Great post” or something of that nature. Your handle, the RTer’s handle, plus the actual link count against the 140. Therefore, if your handle is anything like @LoveBeingaChicagoMom, then you’re making it difficult to RT you.

I hope this helps you maximize your time in Twitterland.  Just don’t forget your significant other (if you have one) and your kids. Twitter is fun and full of resources, but nothing can or should replace the REAL connections in your life.  Go to Twitter Tips: Part Two on my personal blog for more.

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