Twitter Essentials

Twitter, the microblog, “what are you doing” application, is achieving critical mass. How do I know? Some of my late-adopter friends are showing up there and quietly starting to follow my Tweets. I’m nowhere near an A-List personality, so if people are getting down the food chain enough to be interested in my stuff, Twitter must be in prime time.

What are the essential things to follow on Twitter? What’s the best way to interact with it? And how often.. and what should you post there?

I don’t claim to be the expert, but Twitter appeals to me with it’s immediacy. You instantly get ideas and information with the speed of a text message and can compile a list of people and organazitions that interest you.

In Twitterspeak, user-names are preceded with the @ character. For example, I’m @comcastscott. You can view an individual user’s home page by appending their user name to the site like so: comcastscott.

The protocol for deciding who follow who is a bit uncertain. Some folks follow me right back the minute I start following them. Others are a bit more circumspect, letting you read their tweets but without following you back. Still others keep share their Tweets only with a select few. So don’t feel bad if you follow somebody and they don’t return the interest.

My twitter essentials:

The News Sites: @BreakingNewsOn, @cnnbrk, @bbcnews – These are three of the better breaking news feeds floating around Twitter. The best thing about it is that you get the alerts instantly. Mine come faster than the email versions. They only hit you when something important is happening. It’s important to know that some of the breaking news sites are created by someone other than the official organization. It’s easy to do on Twitter and usually works well, but sometimes the linkage breaks and isn’t fixed with he speed you’d expect. I also follow @nprnews and @nprnewsblog.

The Uber Geeks: @xenijardin, @Scobleizer, @dsearls. Xeni is the queen of the techno bloggers, while Scoble and Doc are two of the more literate thinkers in the blogosphere. Robert sometimes tells us a little more than I care to know about his day, but the gems are almost always there among the chaff and he’s among the earliest of early adopters. There are others I follow, @geeknews, @jeffjarvis, @chrispirillo, @jowyang, @ijustine, @robpatrob to name a few. Some of these folks a prone to share miscellanea that you may find annoying in its frequency and content.

The other stuff: If you’re a sports person @espn may be of interest. They don’t filter that feed, so you’ll get everything. Twitter has a search box, so look around and you’re likely to discover more specific sports feeds. @detroit_tigers is a guy who comments on the action in-game. @cnetnews hits you with links and headlines from the venerable tech site. @techmeme provides links from the tech news aggregation website of the same name.

You can discover other interesting feeds by following the Twitter Public Timeline. The more enlightened websites and blogmeisters will have a link to their Twitter feeds on their home pages. For a time, there was a superb Twitter search utility called Summize that allowed you to plug in a search term and see the most recent Tweets on that topic. You can also find interesting people to follow by visiting It looks at your current friend list and makes recommendations.

Want to know who the top twitterholics are? is the place. You can sort by how many they follow, how many follow them and how many tweets they have sent out into the twittersphere.

As Twitter evolves, it’s become a place where companies can connect with customers to get feedback and solve problems. We’re doing this aggressively at Comcast. My co-hort Frank Eliason has a team of special agents that monitor the blogisphere. As @comcastcares, he keeps twitter percolating on his desktop day and night and reaches out to customers in need. Our main tool to identify Tweeters who comment about Comcast is the Twitter search engine Summize. Popping Comcast in the search box generates a long list of valuable input and gives us a chance to engage in near real time to help.

What to write and when? Like any communication medium, think of your target audience. In general, people will stop following you if you say stuff that doesn’t interest them. Overdoing it by posting dozens of tweets a day may also deter people from keeping you on their list.

How to get your Tweets? There’s the website. Your Twitter home page shows the latest series of tweets from everyone you follow. You’ll have to refresh the page to update it. You can also set up your preferences to fire some or all Tweets to your favorite IM program or to your cell phone. Be careful with the latter. If things are active and you follow a ton of people, your SMS messaging will be buzzing all the time. There are third party programs like Snitter and Twirl which display your Tweets in a nice graphical format, much like an IM application.

There is much more to learn, but you’ll pick it up with experience and fall into the vibe that works best for you. So if you’re into instant information and haven’t tried Twitter, give it a whirl.

Already on Twitter? Who are your favorite Twitterers? How do you use it? Tweet me with your comments to @wscottw.

Update: It was inevitable that spammers would find a way to shoehorn themselves into the twittersphere. Here’s a site that describes how to tell if you’re following a spammer… and what to do about it.

Update: Twitter has become the place where breaking news seems to get out first. aggregates links that people post there in order of popularity. Also… Wonder where those tweets are coming from? Twittearth can show you, real time. Good stuff.

Update: Here’s a useful video that describes Twitter basics.

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Author: Scott Westerman