First off, apologies for the month long posting hiatus. Between studying for an exam and starting a new job, blogging kind of took a back seat.
Compared to other aspects of the Internet, and indeed social networking, my exposure to and usage of Twitter is relatively minimal. I, largely as a result of ignorance, shied away from the platform as I felt it was a means by which people could update their every movement from brushing teeth to driving to work to eating lunch. I felt that I had no time for the mundane and inane chronicles of my networks' lives. Also, I felt that Twitter was just a replica of a tool in my social network that I already had – the Facebook status. While it is true that they share some similarities – for example a character restriction on each – there are a multiple fundamental differences.
I created my Twitter account last year as it was the method by which to enter a Jack Daniels competition. One needed to, if I remember correctly, send through via email one's Twitter username. The first few to do so would win a Jack Daniels tasting pack. I am a HUGE fan of Jack Daniels – it’s my whiskey of choice. So I put aside my prejudices and signed up, entered the competition (and was one of the winners).
In order to discuss Twitter fully, it is necessary to update the less knowledgeable on some of the concepts and buzzwords used.
A tweet is a message generated by a Twitter user, and is posted to their central Twitter stream. Each tweet is limited to 140 characters, so being brief is essential.
A retweet is the instance in which a Twitter user re-posts the message tweeted by someone else.
Usernames in Twitter are preceded by the “@” symbol. So when referring to another user in a tweet, one does so like this: @username. This creates a direct link to the referenced Twitter user from the tweet, allowing the reader to view the referenced user’s Twitter profile.
A fundamental part of Twitter is generating topics (referred to as trends) of tweets. The method in which most users mark their tweets as referencing a particular trend or news topic is to hash tag (#) the keywords in their tweets. For example, if my tweet is about a new cell phone technology, I would include #cellular #technology somewhere in my tweet.
Following a Twitter user is akin to subscribing to their tweets. When opening your own profile, all the tweets and retweets of the users whom you follow will appear.
Something to keep in mind is that Twitter, like most other social networks is not restricted to use on a website through a browser. Many applications have been developed specifically for Twitter to be used on desktops, smartphones, tablets etc. One can thus be connected at all times; everywhere.
As I mentioned before, my preconception of twitter was that it was used by people with little better ways to spend their time other than updating every aspect of their boring lives. I could not have been more wrong. Twitter is a tool that is being used on so many different fronts. I will discuss some that have impacted on me.
A new type of journalism has emerged through Twitter. Gone are the days where journalists had to lug in cameras, microphones, notebooks and the like to report on events. The delay between filming news pieces (for TV), recording sound bites (for radio) and writing and submitting articles (for newspapers/magazines) has been eradicated completely. A journalist armed with a smartphone can report on a news event as it unfolds, fact by fact; happening by happening. These events are picked up by followers of the journalist, broadcasted and disseminated faster than any other news medium.
South African journalists have really picked up on this tool and are using it to great effect. The best example that I can think of is Mandy Wiener (@MandyWiener). She covered the Jackie Selebi and Glenn Agliotti fraud trial by Twitter. By following her, one could get live updates of the courtroom proceedings as they unfolded. Due to the 140 character restriction, she has become a master of the succinct – she gets the hard facts out there with no unnecessary embellishment.
Another great example is Stephen Grootes (@StephenGrootes). The poor guy seems to be sent by 702 Eyewitness News to all the seriously, seriously boring government and political press conferences. Now, while these are important, and much crucial information is disseminated at these gatherings, not many people could bear to listen to the ramblings of spokespeople and politicians for hours on end nor are many people willing to read through transcripts of the proceedings to gleen useful information. This is no longer necessary. Thanks to Stephen and others of his ilk, one can read just the important details via his tweets.
There is also a trend of radio presenters using Twitter to communicate with audiences during and after their shows. The most active of those I follow are without doubt 5FM jock Gareth Cliff (@GarethCliff) and 702 host Kieno Kammies (@KienoKamies). Other interesting 702 presenters active on Twitter are John Robbie (@702JohnRobbie ) and Bruce Whitfield (@brucebusiness).
Users of Twitter that happen to be at the scene of a newsworthy story can now broadcast the events to the world. One of the most famous to date is Sohaib Athar (@reallyvirtual), a resident in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. He tweeted in real-time the targeted assassination of Osama bin Laden by US Seals. He was unaware of it at the time – he just happened to be awake in the early hours of the morning when there were helicopters flying and explosions occurring in his neighbourhood.
Interests and pastimes
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Twitter for the mass market is the ability to follow news, articles and opinions of one’s interests. Whether you are interested in current affairs, politics, celebrities, astronomy or a myriad other topics there will be a bloggers, writers, journalists and others tweeting and linking to these topics. Technology, obviously being one of my interests, results in my following some of the South African gadget gurus. They have and make extensive use of their Twitter accounts – they tweet their impressions on gadgets, trade shows and industry trends. Some notable examples are Simon Dingle(@simondingle), Toby Shapshak (@Shapshak) and Aki Anistasiou (@AkiAnastasiou).
The 140 character restriction means that Twitter cannot be used to write articles. Thus one has the ability to include links to web pages in a tweet. There are even services which can reduce the size of your URL should the length of said URL be causing you to exceed the Twitter character limit. Thus, one can tweet a short comment on a topic, and link it to more comprehensive information contained on the internet. Most news services make use of this option, tweeting news headlines and linking to the associated articles.
Advertising and brand building
There are a few approaches to advertising on Twitter. A company can open an official Twitter account and use it as a communications platform. Special offers, new products, company news and the like can be tweeted to followers. This is a great way for companies to build up brand loyalty and get their names more widely known. A great example in the South African context is Dion Wired – a premium electronic goods and appliances store (@DionWired). They regularly give information on new products in stock, gadget reviews and they run Twitter competitions Dion Wired also interact with customers and answer product questions and queries. On the smaller side, and proving that any business can use Twitter, is Dave Sheer Guns (@DaveSheerGuns) – a Johannesburg based arms and ammunition store.
Another approach to advertising on Twitter is getting well known people, celebrities or others with a large following on Twitter to give brands/products a mention – for a fee of course. It’s a type of product placement if you will and it can be really effective. A famous person punting a product on Twitter can have effects similar to that of Oprah’s book club picks on book sale numbers.
The uprisings in the Arab world were widely reported on in the normal media channels with an acknowledgement that social networking, especially Facebook and Twitter, allowed citizens to communicate, organize and coordinate their activities to such an extent that they could overthrow their oppressive regimes. In countries where all other media and communication platforms were censored and restricted, Twitter allowed free dissemination of information to an extent never experienced by these peoples before.
On a less revolutionary scale, there are many initiatives which are propagated via Twitter. These can range from events and charity collections to awareness campaigns. Two examples are #TesticleTueday and #BoobieWednesday where Twitter users spread messages about administering self checks for testicular and breast cancer.
There are many more aspects to Twitter, and many further ways to utilize the platform than those I have mentioned. But being both brief and a beginners guide, the above should serve for now.