By Stephen Waddington, Speed Communications

It’s easy to forget that Twitter is only four years old. There are 175 million people using Twitter worldwide and new applications and uses are being developed almost daily. If you haven’t dipped your toe in the network you really should.

Here’s a cheat sheet to help you on your way.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a network that enables users to publish short messages. Tweets are text based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on a user’s profile page.

How do I use it?

Point your web browser at Twitter.com. But you don’t necessarily have to use a computer. In fact to get the best out of Twitter we’d recommend using a third party application such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. You can download an application for your mobile phone or iPad so that you can Tweet on the move.

It’s overwhelming? How can you possible follow 1,000 people day-in day-out?
You don’t need to read everything. Use lists, searches and filters via Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Twitter.com to track down people and information that is useful to you.

People that want to find you will always be able to seek you out. As an individual dip in and out when it suits you.

As a business you need to have a process in place so that your Twitter account is staffed throughout the day. Let people know when you’re available via your profile.

What can I use it for?

As media fragments social networks such as Twitter are enabling individuals and brands to create their own media and build an audience. Here are some of the applications of Twitter.

Research — whatever your area of interest you’re sure to find people talking about your brand, product or service on Twitter. It’s the biggest focus group you’ll ever participate in. Have a quick look using Twitter search

Reputation management — set up a search on Twitter to monitor conversations around your brand. You might be surprised what people are saying about you. We’ve an example here for Rolls-Royce

Conferences — Twitter is adding a new dimension to events. Organisers are using hashtags to engage with an audience at an event and enable people not attending to participate. Have a quick look at what people are saying about the latest TED conference

Customer service — Twitter’s convenience provides an efficient way of engaging with customers. If you set up a Twitter feed customers will almost certainly find you. Andrew Grill has more on this topic.

PR — analysts and journalists love Twitter for its ease of use and ability to quickly source stories. Stephen Davies has tracked down 700 UK journalists on his blog. Follow those relevant to your business to identify PR opportunities

Sales and new business — if you set up a Twitter account and are useful to your network you’ll almost certainly generate business. You don’t have to look hard to find example big (computer company Dell) and small (a deli in Newcastle)

How do I build a network?

Whatever your area of interest or topic you’ll find an audience on Twitter. Import your address book, search for people online and use Twitter search to find individuals that are talking about topics that interest you. And check out the people that Twitter suggests that you should follow. For a more sophistication planning approach to identifying a Twitter audience head to PeerIndex.

What’s a hashtag?

A hashtag is a word or phrase prefixed with the hash (#) symbol. If you’re following a particularly subject or event it will almost certainly have a hashtag that you can use to follow conversations around that topic on Twitter.

What is a trending topic?

A trending topic is a word, phrase, or hashtag that is posted multiple times on the network. Topics trend when a lot of people are talking about the same topic such as the X Factor. Twitter users can use trending topics to find out what out what are the most popular topics being discussed in a location.

What is a URL-shortener?
Use URL shorteners such as bit.ly to truncate URLs so that they’ll fit within 140 characters and track how it gets forwarded around your network and how many people click on it. Shorteners are integrated into most Twitter applications.

How do I get started?

1. Create and agree a set of social media guidelines for your organisation
2. Register an account and build your profile
3. Find and follow other Twitter users
4. Listen to what people are Tweeting
5. Engage: retweet and reply
6. Contribute your own content
7. Build your network through engagement

Stephen Waddington, MD, Speed Communications - www.speedcommunications.com/

Twitter @Wadds

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