Social networking sites have been moving up the 'most visited web sites' lists previously dominated by search engine juggernauts Google and Yahoo!; video sharing site YouTube; the free, but sometimes unreliable, online encyclopaedia Wikipedia; and shopping sites Amazon and Ebay.
But social networking isn’t a new thing—people have been doing it for centuries, long before this glorious thing we’ve dubbed the internet first came online. It comes down to the fact that humans are social beings. We crave interaction with people similar to ourselves, whom we can ‘share’ our experiences with and show off our exploits to.
It feels good when someone ‘likes’ something we do. These things are imbedded in our genes, and without them we’d probably still be living in trees and content eating parasites off each other—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The first time my high school’s 14.4k dial-up modem connected with their ISP, one of only three in Australia at the time, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I can look at sites created by other, everyday people’, ‘man this is fast’ and ‘I can’t believe it has photos of Pamela Anderson!’
After getting in trouble, possibly for the tenth time that morning, I downloaded a bunch of Star Wars stuff, read a few reviews on novels I was looking forward to and checked out the latest wiz-bang walkman that apparently played CD’s. I then taught the library staff how to use the net (via the now defunct Netscape, mind you).
Even though Facebook is the current king of social networking, it wasn’t the first iteration of digital socialising. Long before Zuckerman dreamed up his first hack, a clever guy invented IRC (Internet Relay Chat), allowing people to ‘chat’ in real-time. Soon after that came the email, Bulletin Board Services and many other instant messaging services, but I digress.
What I'm talking about are the web based sites that allow users to share their thoughts, pictures and a little, or a lot, about themselves and what they're doing. Apart from Facebook, there are the blogging sites (like this one) and the relatively new micro-blogging sites like Twitter.
Although these sites share a number of functions and features, they seem to specialise in different aspects of social networking: Facebook tends to be more personal, blogs and websites more professional and the most likely to generate an income, and Twitter a more concise, albeit restricted, way to advertise whatever it is you’re selling.
To me, Facebook is more about socialising with people you know and trust, whereas Twitter is about finding people with similar interests and networking with them in the traditional sense to improve your industry knowledge, promote what you've done and are doing.
Facebook is quite self explanatory and doesn't need another article on 'how to get more friends on Facebook'. Instead, I’ll focus on Twitter.
CREATING AN ACCOUNT
The first step is to create your Twitter account. Open the Twitter website (http://www.twitter.com/) and, once the home page loads, look for the area for new users. It’s usually on the bottom right, under ‘New to Twitter?’ and ‘Sign up’.
Keeping in mind you can later choose what information to show other users, enter your name, email address and a password that’s easy to remember, but hard to guess. If you don’t have a password to use exclusively for sites like this, create one; there are tons of password generators on the net that allow you to create a random mix of letters, numbers and punctuation.
Next you’ll want to choose a user name. This unique name is what others will know you as and doesn’t need to be your real name. If your preferred name is taken, try another, and possibly another, until you find one that’s available. Don’t worry about it too much for now; it’s easy to change later.
After chosing a user name and password, and entering your email address, log in and proceed to the tutorial. By the end of this short guide, you’ll know what tweets are and how to post them, how to find people you might be interested in and will be following a few people who might follow you back.
To access all of Twitter’s functions, you’ll want to open the email Twitter sent you and confirm your email address. After doing so, you'll be able to customise your privacy and notification settings, hide information you don’t want other users to see and stop the annoying email notifications, if you’re so inclined.
ADDING A PROFILE DESCRIPTION AND PICTURE
To change your profile description, select ‘Edit your profile’. Write something witty, revealing and interesting about yourself: what you do, what you want to do, what you know, what you’re interested in. It can be anything at all and can be changed whenever, and as often, as you like. As you’ll see from other user profiles, grammar and punctuation are optional. If any appeal to you, imitate (not copy) their wording. Some tweeple use full sentences and fairly accurate grammar, rather than my preference: fragments and non-sentences. The choice is up to you.
You can also upload a profile picture. It doesn’t need to be a picture of you or your cat, but it can be. Choose something that’ll encourage people to follow you and show them some of your personality.
By now, you may have seen the following buttons on the Twitter interface, maybe even clicked a few, but not known exactly how they work. Well, here’s how I see them:
RETWEET AND QUOTE
Re-tweet (v)—to share a user’s tweet with your followers, word-for-word and with the original author’s profile picture attached.
Quote (v)—to post another user’s words in a tweet of your own, mentioning the original author’s name (including the @symbol) alongside your profile picture. One may add extra words to the tweet.
While reading tweets on your timeline, you may feel the desire to retweet or quote interesting posts by people in your relevant fields. This will not only give your followers something interesting to read, but also might gain the original tweeter's attention and possibly a thank you mention.
Give credit where credit is due. Don't just copy what popular users write and try to palm it off as your own. Besides being unethical, your followers will catch on and it might cost you some important promotional partners.
So, someone has mentioned your name in a tweet and you’d like to thank them or say something back. Enter the reply function. I reply to everyone who mentions me in a tweet, or quotes/retweets any of my tweets. They’ve taken the time to single me out and share my name with their followers, the least I can do is reply.
When you want to say something to another user, but don’t want everyone else to read it, you can send them a direct message. Some users send a standard message to new followers. While this is a great way to promote your blog or other endeavours, I worry about being spammy and only send a welcome message to tweeple who send me one.
FOLLOWING MORE USERS
If you go into the ‘# Discover’ tab, you can also search any key word like you would on Google or Yahoo! Growing your own veggies at home? Search for ‘gardening’, ‘garden’, ‘plants’, ‘veggie patch’, ‘organic’, etc and tweets containing these words will pop up.
From there, you can follow the users, see who they follow and who follows them. Very soon you’ll be connected with a bunch of people interested in home-grown veggies, or whatever it is you’re into.
GAINING MORE FOLLOWERS
If you've created your Twitter account just to show off how many followers you have, do what many users do: follow anyone and everyone and hope they follow you back. There are even groups dedicated to achieving this (more on groups later).
But if you want people to follow you because they have similar interests and genuinely want to read and share your tweets with their followers, you'll need to tweet about the stuff you enjoy. When tweeting, I think it’s best to just be yourself and use your natural voice to write interesting tweets. Do this and other users will follow you.
Another reason to be selective about who you follow is that after 2,000 users are in your following list, you cannot follow more people until more than 2,000 users follow you back. This is quite annoying, but if you keep this in mind it won't be a problem.
If you hit the cap, unfollow a bunch of users who aren't following you back. The best way I've found is to open the list of people you're following and click the drop-down menu beside their name. If you see the option to 'Send a Direct Message', they are following you. Otherwise you can unfollow them. It's a time-consuming process, but you're less likely to offend your followers.
That's pretty much everything you need to know to run a successful Twitter account. I recommend playing around with the above functions for a few hours, or days, before familiarising yourself with the below, more advanced features. It’s not that I don’t want you to continue (please do come back!), but experiment with the basic functions might benefit you more then theory.
In short, follow more users, post a few more tweets, check out what's going on in the world and what other users are saying about those events.
HASH TAGS(#) are used to openly collate tweets about interesting topics. They are essentially a word, or sequence of words, that can be grouped together, and searched, as one thing. The main hash tags I use are #FollowFriday and #FF (on Fridays) #amwriting, #amreading, #MentionMonday (on Mondays), #blogpost (when I post a new article on my blog), and any other silly ones I can make up that are relevant to the tweet I’m posting—like #amrambling…
ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS
Due to the 140 character word limit for tweets, users have devised many ways to bypass the character limit, a result of laziness, or a mixture of both? There are way too many of these to list in such a short article and even if I wrote a comprehensive list, it’d be obsolete in a day.
TRENDS are basically the hot topics or words for that moment. This is where the tweeps are at. Some users post on every trend to gain more followers, but I only post in these if I have something relevant to say, or am extremely bored…
LISTS are a great way to organise the growing number of people you follow. Lists allow you to categorise the people you follow, and those you don’t, making it easier to find tweets you’re interested in at any given time. Among my lists, I have one for fellow writers, one for publishers, one for gamers and a couple of others including major newspapers and sources of facts on science. You can even lock the lists so no one else can see who’s on them—a great place for your chips-that-look-like-Star-Wars-characters friends.
And, finally, here are a few Dos and Don’ts to consider when developing your identity on Twitter:
DO post your tweets at different times each day, and on different days of the week. This way you're sure to reach a world-wide audience with varying log-in patterns.
DO follow back the interesting people whom follow you.
DO give people positive energy and they'll likely give it back to you.
DO share your fellow tweep's discoveries and accomplishments. Modern day social networking isn't a competition. If a user sends you a direct message promoting their website, check it out and send them some positive feedback and a link to your blog or website. It'll very likely generate another hit on your site and might gain you a long-time reader—the most sought after kind of reader there is!
DON’T spam your followers. I like Spam on toasted cheese sandwiches with a little pepper and sweet-chilli sauce, but not in my Twitter timeline.
DON’T feed the Trolls! If another user says something offensive, either intentionally or by accident, don't publicly bite back—It will only generate another tweet with their name on it, increasing their exposure and possibly their popularity, and encourage such behavior. Simply ignore the tweet and, if it's definitely offensive, report it and the user.
DON’T follow, or interact with, spam bots—they are the root of all evil and defeat the purpose of 'social' networking. They won't read your tweets, per se, nor visit your website, nor care one iota about you and what you have to say. All they care about is generating followers for their evil masters and taking over the world, ala Terminator. Sure, you'll have a few less users on your followers list, but the ones you do have will be a real, genuine audience made of like-minded people. And, most importantly,
DO have fun socialising! It's meant to be good for us humans :)
Emanuel Cachia is a freelance editor, proofreader, manuscript appraiser, book producer, workshop facilitator and, when time allows, an avid gamer. He lives in the western suburbs of
Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing and is studying a Bachelor of Communications. Melbourne, has a
A member of the committee that short listed the 2012 Ada Cambridge Prize for a biographical short story and subeditor on the July 2012 issue of SEED magazine, he is currently editing Platform magazine, an anthology written by
students and a collection of his own writing. Victoria University
His short stories have been commended in literary competitions, one reviving first prize in the 2011 Melton Short Story Competition. His feature articles, reviews, short stories and poems have appeared in two anthologies, six magazines and five websites (not that anyone is counting). He dedicates his writing to his wife and two children, whom mean worlds to him.
For more of his work and witty comments, follow him on Twitter (@emanuel_cachia), link with him on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/pub/emanuel-cachia/51/18b/679), read with him on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/user/show/5845090-emanuel-cachia) and be his friend on Facebook (www.facebook.com/#!/emanuel.cachia).