If you're reading this site, not to mention this article, I sincerely hope that you're on Twitter. You may be in an early stage of your devotion, but using it nonetheless. Perhaps you're even totally disgusted with yourself that you've succumbed to the pressure. Don't worry, you'll get there.
When I first heard about Twitter, I felt that I'd finally hit that stage in life where I couldn't relate to "the kids these days." But, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
So, if you're like me and simply trying to make sense of the hubbub, my goal here is to provide you with the top tools that will make your time worthwhile, and you may actually get some value. You can quickly play catch-up to the biggest thing online in the last six months. (Seriously, check out this trajectory.)
So, what are you going to do with Twitter once you've installed TweetDeck? (Tip one: Start by installing TweetDeck.)
First, find people to follow. That was my big introduction to the space. First, find your friends and follow them. Then, learn who is using Twitter well and follow their lead. From them you can learn the nomenclature and idiosyncrasies of Twitter culture. If you really don't know who is doing it well, then ask around. But often it is easy to see. Read posts. If you like what they have to say, follow them. Here's a way I recommend you find people:
Tool 1: Twellow. Looking for new followers? Twellow is a directory of Twitter, organized by category. From tech companies to librarians, Twellow is worth checking out.
Who's talking about me?
If you represent a brand (and most of you do in one way or another), then you better know what people are saying about you. Join the conversation. Here are a few ways to find out "the word on the street":
Tool 2: Search.Twitter.com. The basic Twitter search form works great for pulling up recent conversations around a hashtag or keyword. Grab the RSS feed for your top monitoring terms and stay up to date through your reader.
Tool 3: Monittor. When you need to be on top of what's going on, as it happens, Monittor is your ally. Simply type in keywords and watch as a magical river of tweets unfolds before you. It is ideal for monitoring brand conversations, as well as top trending topics on Twitter. Here's a tip: If it looks like nothing is happening, do a refresh on your browser, as sometimes the program can lag.
Learn the protocol and lingo
RT, DM, @reply... I am not going to do a better job explaining these here than what you can find in the Twitter support area. If you're dedicated to learning the right lingo, take a few minutes to read it. But, a few things to keep in mind that you may not read there is that it is important to be respectful. Answer the simple question of "what are you doing?" and be diligent based on the expectations you've set for your followers. In other words, if you post daily about a particular topic, keep up with it and stay true to it. Otherwise, you will lose followers. Grow into your ambitions. Don't start fast and furious only to sputter and change your tone.
Join the conversation. The only way you can do that is to start your monologue. Find your voice or your platform. What do you want to communicate? Banter with friends, spout your expertness, or provide solid links to smart writing -- just start talking. I already mentioned TweetDeck, which has been a timesaver for me, not just in posting, but in organizing as well. But here is another that lets you prepare to communicate:
Tool 4: TweetLater. With the ability to manage multiple accounts, as well as schedule tweets for later (ideal for businesses looking to communicate over the weekend or after-hours), TweetLater is indispensible. Though still a bit clunky, TweetLater is continually improving its interface and now allows you to monitor your @replies, as well as sign up for daily digests based on keyword terms.
Post other stuff
After you get a little more advanced, you may decide you have other things to say. You can post voice, icons, and other wonderful things, but start with pictures.
Tool 5: TwitPic. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and Twitter only gives you 140 characters... well, you can see where I'm going with this one. Supplement a boring diet of text-heavy tweets with visual documentation using TwitPic. Upload a photo and tweet directly from the site.
Tool 6: Twittercal. A helpful app for staying organized, Twittercal allows you to send messages directly to your Google calendar by sending a quick tweet. Book meetings on the go!
So, you want to know the value beyond the cordial conversation you have with others? What's this providing me in traffic, engagements, or ROI? I can't say that Twitter or anyone else has that completely dialed in, yet, but here is a start:
Tool 7: Cligs. Much more than a URL-shortener, Cligs offers some interesting insight through analytics that track clicks as well as geographic information. Have fun figuring out that three people from Finland clicked on your link.
To me, the most inspiring aspect of Twitter is that you can really learn things from the masses. What is popular in your industry or your personal interests? You can find it on Twitter; the trick is to distill things to a manageable level. Here are a few ways to keep on top of things:
Tool 8: Twitscoop. If you like tag clouds, you will love Twitscoop. It is a handy tool for uncovering the top trending topics on Twitter.
Tool 9: StrawPoll. Looking for quick insight? Desperate for once and for all to figure out which came first? The chicken or the...? Struggle no more! Just set up a poll through Twitter using this easy tool and ask away. It's great for customer insight and fun to use.
And the final tool: @icowboy. That's me. And, yes, self-deprecatingly I just called myself a tool. The reason: I feel that your best tool in the Twitter toolbox is to follow others, engage in dialogue, and provide value in some small way to those that follow you. You're talking to people, to brand loyalists, or to fans. Treat them with respect by learning from them as well and acknowledging them when you do.
Feel free to follow me and consider me a friend (in the Twitter sense). Check out who I follow or who else is following me. It is a surprisingly small community, and you might recognize a few more tweeples there who you may want to follow as well.