On a journeyImage: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m not one for keeping track of how many Twitter followers I have, nor do I regularly check how many tweets I’ve fired off into the (most likely) void. On a rare visit to the standard Twitter.com website I noticed I was fast approaching the 10,000 tweets milestone. Not a huge number compared to many others, but significantly more than the average Twitter user. Seeing that figure got me thinking about my own personal Twitter journey, and what better way to do that but in a blog post?!?

The beginning

@jamesbrobinson, whilst being the persona and title of the Twitter account that represents me, is not my original passage into this Social Networking giant. There was another account, @abouthere, created on a whim and for a reason I fail to remember. I suspect it was created around a time where I was investigating anything and everything the web had to offer, registering on sites and promptly forgetting the many start up ventures as quickly as I discovered them.

My interest in registering with Twitter came to a head towards the end of 2008 / beginning of 2009. I’m an avid viewer of Revision 3‘s vodcast, Diggnation. The hosts, Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht always used to round off their show by giving out their Twitter URLs. After weeks of their doing so, I decided to register and see what this Twitter hype was really all about.

Getting to grips

Like many other new people to Twitter, I knew of no one else already on the platform, so without a guiding hand I decided to set about configuring and customising my Twitter.com page and that I’d just find my way from there. At the time the suggested users list still existed, so after adding a few people and allowing Twitter to scan my address book for fellow tweeps, I quickly fell into the usual trap of first time tweeps, i.e. using Twitter like Facebook.

Thankfully, over a short period of time, I realised my mistakes and set about refining my usage. As an iPhone user I discovered Tweetie (buying it was the best thing I ever did); having Tweetie freed me up to tweet whenever and wherever I was. I figured out most of the key elements myself, but came across several others tips and tricks for how to get the best out of Twitter.

Connecting with others

In the early days I followed people and tweeted about things I found generally found interesting. I didn’t particularly engage with others, instead preferring to lurk (observing others tweets). At first I was puzzled about some of the people choosing to follow me – it didn’t take long for the penny to drop that most followers were bots or spammers (actually they are usually one and the same). Shortly after I began to find people replying to tweets I’d put out.

Initially I was quite reserved and apprehensive about replying to these complete strangers, but before long I got stuck in, soon discovering that many respondents were interesting people. I started to follow some of those that had contacted me and before long some of their contacts became mine too. The ripple effect gets larger the further it goes out, and today I can think of lots of circles of Tweeps who are now interlinked in a similar manner to how our “real life” friends from different circles can often bond when they are mixed socially.

These days, not only do I interact with most of the people who contact me, I use a variety of tools to seek out new and exciting tweeps. One such tool is MrTweet. It uses recommendations as well as delving into those that you follows’ followings. [Try saying that over and over really quickly!]

Using Twitter as a tool

Twitter is a number of things to me:

A way to keep in touch – I’m a Facebook user, but I despise most of Facebook’s content. I’m only really interested in status updates and peoples photos. If you update your Facebook status more than a few times a day, it tends to annoy fellow Facebook users. Twitter, whilst having some parallels with regards to heavy posting, is far more accommodating to more regular, albeit more concise updates. This far better suits my desires for a social networking platform.

A tool to promote web content – Twitter is a powerful tool; it isn’t just limited to keeping in touch with people I already know, nor those I only know from having spent time on the platform. I run a number of web-sites. Getting an audience for that content can often be an arduous and time consuming task. Properly leveraged, Twitter is an excellent medium for promoting content. Not only can my existing follower base quickly be alerted to something I’ve produced (e.g. this blog post), but other Twitter users can too. When my followers retweet my content, their own follow base is alerted to it. Furthermore, there are many people who actively use Twitter’s search function, looking for specific keywords and phrases that they are interested in. By using strong and appropriate titles for content, sharing on Twitter can be an excellent traffic source for any webby owner.

A way to learn new things – I follow, quite literally, hundreds of people. I have to visit Twitter several times a day in order to keep on top of the vast numbers of updates in my timeline. There’s no formula to how I decide if I’m going to follow someone. It could be something as simple as being amused by their tweets, they might be a subject matter expert in a field I’m interested in, or they might be a company I’m keen to interact with. What I find most wonderful about Twitter is the number of times I watch the news and think to myself, “I heard about that a week ago“. How? Via Twitter of course!

A medium to interact with businesses – More and more businesses are recognising and realising that they need to have an online persona. A method by which they can interact with their customers. I wrote recently about “How to: Use Twitter to get better customer service”  In short, it’s in our best interests to find out if any business we want to buy something from or make a query of, is on Twitter.  Promotions can often be found (Twitter only) and staff are often employed to both safeguard their companies reputation as well as resolve issues can go a long way to resolving any problems you might have with their products or services.

Comparative situations

Going back to what prompted the writing of this post for a moment. 10,000 tweets – that’s a lot. Broken down over the course of a year, it equates to an average of 833 per month or 27 per day. Can you imagine someone posting so much content on Facebook? Equally, how many people send that many text messages per month. I know I’ve had heavy months where I’ve churned out over a thousand texts, but I was working away and working on my own at a time where the Internet wasn’t as accessible as it is today for keeping in touch with others.

Of course, Tweeting isn’t texting, nor is it updating Facebook. It’s a medium all of its own, enjoyed by those that get and understand it, misconstrued by those that don’t. Those tweeps worth following don’t share every meal, bowel movement or day-to-day activities. You can’t really compare Twitter to anything else, because nothing else like it really exists. It’s a powerful, fast paced and information rich stream that you need to embrace and harness to be able to love it.

Looking to the future

I don’t have a grand plan for my future use of Twitter. I don’t see any point. It’s an evolving platform and therefore I think it’s best to just use the network as I see fit on a given day. We’ve already seen how useful it’s been to me and how much I enjoy participating upon it. The only real targets I’m setting myself for the next 10,000 tweets (and year?) are to do a little housekeeping on my follower list and ensure I keep Twitter a two way stream rather than falling into the trap of one way traffic. What I am keen to do is to encourage more of my friends to sign up and participate. I do believe that 2010 will see more people doing so; I’m going to make it my mission to ensure those I personally know can get to grips with things as fast as possible and that they are aware of the common mistakes so that they can avoid them and get on with enjoying all things Twitter.

Your experiences

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my little trip down memory lane. I’m sure there are items within that any tweep can associate with. Do you have any experiences or Twitter memories you’d like to share?

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