The other day a friend who is trying to establish herself on Twitter told me that she was giving up. She just doesn’t get it and doesn’t know what to say, she told me. I have to admit, my thoughts at the time included, “What’s to get? You just talk!”  As though reading my mind she said, “I can’t stand it when people who find it easy think that it’s easy for everyone! It’s not easy at all if you don’t understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.” Oops. Busted!

So, I dedicate this post to my friend and to anyone who thinks they “should” be tweeting but just “doesn’t get it”.  Here we go, Twitter usage, 101!

Think of Twitter as a party. It can be as large or as intimate as you’d like it to be. You don’t tell your life story at this party; you simply share tidbits of information about things that interest you and you receive tidbits of information on topics you’d like to know more about. And when you meet someone who interests you, you continue your conversation in small sound bites. Just as you might look forward to seeing your new connections at the next party, you continue to meet up with them on Twitter. How fun!

Every now and then you might really enjoy what one of these individuals is all about, so you invite them to “virtual coffee” – meaning an actual phone call or email exchange. I tell people that some of my best friends are people I’ve never actually met in person! When has there ever been a time in our history that opportunities like this have been possible? It’s so exciting!

One of the most common statements I hear from people who are resisting the Twitter playground is, “What do I care what someone is having for lunch.” My response? “If that’s all that your Twitter peeps are talking about you’re following the wrong people.” 

Find and follow people who, a.) You can learn from and be inspired by and, b.) You may be able to help. How to find them? Well, if you’re interested in fly fishing then do a basic Twitter search on fly fishing. Check out the profiles of those who mention fly fishing and follow the people who interest you. Make sure to search on variations of the word; in this case fly fishing and flyfishing. You will notice hashtags (“#”) in some of the tweets. Hashtags are a way of creating communities around a specific topic. If you are new to Twitter don’t concern yourself with the use of hashtags just yet, but remember to research the topic further once you are ready to become a power user!

So now you’re asking, “what do I say?” Well, what would you say at your party? Remember, it’s not all about you. If you are a good communicator you typically ask questions and show interest in the life of others, right? Social Media is about what you can give, how you can help others, and learning from others as well. If you are expecting to make a quick buck you might consider another form of internet marketing. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible, but realistically most seasoned veterans are here to offer value. Don’t worry, it all comes back to you in some way; just don’t place your primary focus on how many followers you have and how it will pay off. This is a long term investment of your time.

If you write articles or blogs, simply pull an excerpt or two from them and paste them into your Timeline under “What’s Happening?”  Find interesting articles and blogs on-line and post a link to them with a brief comment. One of the most helpful tools for this is a url shortener. Why? Because you only have 140 characters for your tweet and urls are long. You can also track how many people follow your link with some of these tools. Again, don’t concern yourself with tracking until you are ready to go to the next level, just shorten your urls to make it easy on yourself. I use www.bitly.com.

Ask questions that can lead to conversation. Last weekend, while enjoying my morning coffee, I tweeted, “Why is it that Sunday morning coffee always tastes the best?” It led to a fun thread of tweets with people I’ve never spoken with before. You can ask all types of questions – and don’t worry if you don’t get a response. The idea is to create thought-provoking content and questions that get people thinking.
An easy way to share information is to retweet what others are saying. When you see a tweet that interests you and that others may benefit from, click on the “retweet” feature below the tweet.  You’re not only sharing information when you do this but you may build your following when  your retweet catches the eye of others who are similarity interested in the topic or the person who you are retweeting.  People see that you are interested in the same topics and they will follow you too!

And people may retweet your comments as well.  Whenever possible I like to thank people who tweet my blogs and retweet my comments. I obviously can’t do that from this blog because there are a lot of you who tweet these posts (Thank you SO much!) but if a retweet shows up in my timeline I send a quick tweet of thanks - just as you would thank someone for saying something nice about you at the party.  You can find your retweets by clicking on the “Retweets” tab above your timeline.

To learn more make sure to watch the pros. Find successful people in your industry and view them as secret mentors. See how their personality shows through, watch the value of what they offer in their tweets, note how much of what they say is personal vs. business. CAUTION: If you find yourself getting caught up in the negatives, “I-will-never-be-this-good” kind of stuff, STOP. When I first dipped my toe into social media I followed every successful coach I could find. But it backfired and became depressing and overwhelming! So I chose a few and stopped following the others. Once my confidence (and my practice) grew I reconnected and allowed myself to learn and grow with the best of them!

Let people know that you appreciate them. People who are helping people are not untouchable. If someone inspires you, send them a tweet to let them know. Depending on who it is, you may or may not receive a response, but it feels good to show appreciation and certainly to receive it.

What about those cool twitter backgrounds? My advice is not to worry about your background at first. You can create simple backgrounds from Twitter’s basic set up tools. Once you begin to tweet like a pro you can research sites that offer custom backgrounds or reach out to a graphic designer to make one for you.
You may also be wondering about what picture to use on your profile.  Personally, I like to follow people who have a clear image of themselves posted. It helps me to feel more connected to them. But if you are tweeting for your company and want to put your logo up as your profile picture, that’s ok too. Try to avoid silly avatars or other images that mean something to you but not to anyone else. Let people see who you are!

So where do people find the time? It’s difficult to view Social Media as a priority when you’re already so busy. But let’s face it; if you want your business to be around for much longer, you’ve must jump in. And you may get lost exploring Twitterland for a while - yes it takes time. If someone offered you a free block of advertising on national television, would you turn it down because you don’t have the time to deal with it?  Twitter alone reaches over 20 million users; a fraction of what Facebook reaches. So imagine your reach if you use just these two sites for 20 minutes a day!

And it’s ok if you spend 30 minutes on Twitter and only get one tweet out. Schedule blocks of time 2 or 3 times a week and let yourself explore.  It will help you to feel more comfortable. To save time, consider writing some of your Tweets in a separate document and copy and paste one or two of them into Twitter when you visit. This process may somehow feel less intimidating and just might speed things up for you.  There are also tools that will help to organize your tweets, like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, but again – don’t concern yourself with these until you are ready to ramp up on your twitter usage.

Most importantly, have fun! Make friends, learn, inspire and be inspired. It’s about building and contributing to community. Social Media is an opportunity to become involved in things that were at one time untouchable to you. It’s your connection to the global community and can take you to places you’ve never seen before. Hop on and enjoy the ride.