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The TrainingZone guide to Twitter


Think Twitter is just for hearing the latest from Demi Moore and husband Ashton Kutcher? Think again. A strong network of learning enthusiasts are 'tweeting' like mad, and if you're not part of this social networking phenomena, you risk getting seriously left behind. Susie Finch and Verity Gough have some top tips for getting started. 

Despite having been around since 2006 when a couple of enterprising US bloggers set it up, Twitter has only recently exploded in popularity, with a massive surge - apparently with Generation X users - and rumours of companies like Google interested in its acquisition.

While the popular press has picked up on how the site features tittle-tattle from celebrities, for members of the training community Twitter provides a fantastic opportunity for networking and gaining great insider knowledge.

What is Twitter?

The best way to describe Twitter for the uninitiated is that you post brief statements in no more than 140 characters explaining what you are doing, how you are feeling or highlighting a link to an interesting titbit you've found on the net. Beacuse Twitter is immediate it can even alert you to events before they filter through to the standard news websites. In one tragic example a British party skiing in Switzerland used Twitter to try and help them locate two missing members.

Getting started

When you first sign-up to Twitter, as with many social networking sites, you will need to have a username and password (which are case sensitive) and provide additional information such as a basic biography. The key to the registration process is using the right keywords in this bio - like every other area of Twitter you're restricted in the number of characters you can use. Use search engines, either Twitter's own or Twitter Troll (which isn't always working) to track down relevant people to follow, so use words you think will be popular when others search, so they will find you. You could include 'trainers', 'business coaches','learning technologies' if they are relevant to your field. If you're after clients or customers in a particular locality include that as a keyword. Not surprisingly, there's a strong network amongst the learning technologists, who regularly swop interesting links and information.

Twitter glossary
Tweet: The word used to describe the update a person posts on their Twitter page: you tweet, you are tweeting, you have tweeted
Following: The members of Twitter you have chosen to 'follow' (see their updates)
Followers: The members of Twitter who have chosen to follow you
Retweet (or RT): The act of reposting on your page a post from another member which you find particularly interesting or useful

Prettify your profile

A good head shot or image that best represents you and what you do can also go some way to generating 'followers'- do not underestimate the power of a well-designed home page. There are lots of free downloadable backgrounds available online or you can upload one of your own personal images. Try: Twitbacks and Twitterbacks for ideas.

Your first tweet

The key to making the most of Twitter is demonstrating that you're an expert in your field. Remember, you can always have more than one Twitter profile, so it may be that you have a professional page and one for personal tweets - which is more suitable if you want to discuss last night's episode of Eastenders or the fact that you are making lasagne for tea.

Try and build personality around your business if you can and avoid perceptions of a faceless organisation - we have recently started adding our own names to tweets for that reason.

There are no rights or wrongs, but the point of Twitter is that you generate followers, so having something interesting – or at least funny - to say is crucial. We like Steve Bridger's honest, witty, and often irreverent style.

How often should you tweet?

Ensuring you tweet on a regular basis is key to building a good community. You can use a service which sets up pre-scheduled tweets for particular times in the future if you know you're going to be busy. Our favourite is Hoot Suite.

Every character counts

With only 140 characters available, it's important you're as succinct as possible, and if you're including links to websites use a service such as TinyURL or (our favourite) which 'shrink' URLs. If you use Hoot Suite's own URL shortener you can track how many people have clicked on the links in your tweets - and look at colourful pie charts which tell you which country they've come from!

Follow me

Free-to-use 'follow me on Twitter' badges are all over the internet which you can put on your website, in your email signature and on your business cards. Some examples are here and here.

Who to follow?

While Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross may be entertaining, it's the people who can directly benefit you that you want to be following. There are several ways to track them down. Via the Twitter search engine you can search for people who are interested in the areas you cover, or just go to 'Find People' in the top right hand bar, and type in learning and see what comes up. Mr Tweet will also suggest which influencers and followers you should check out - which is useful when you are relatively new. lets you search members' biographies, names, job titles and locations. And we like WeFollow which is a useful way of both finding others who share your interests and promoting yourself - and we found out about it from other Tweets! Twitterfall can also be useful - for example, if you are at HRD, add #hrd09 and #HRD09 to the custom searches in order to follow all HRD tweets and tweeters.

Don't be shy

Don't forget to check the '@replies' section on the right hand side of your Twitter page. This lists the members who have tweeted directly to you so you can respond. You could also type your username into a Twitter search engine to see whether there are people you aren't following who have been talking about you. You can also register for Twilerts - which will send an automatic email when your name is mentioned. This is a particularly useful tool if you are following several hundred, or several thousand, people.

As well as responding to other people's questions you should also ask some of your own. You can't know everything and it will encourage some community interaction. You could also use it to do a bit of market research and ask questions directly related to your particular area of expertise.

Retweet, retweet, retweet!

If you're new to Twitter you may be confused (as we were) by the regular use of 'RT'. This stands for retweeting, which is the re-posting of particular tweets from other people which you found interesting or useful. It's worth doing if you want to demonstrate that you're not all about flogging your services but are also willing to share tips and advice. Retweeting may also encourage a particularly influential member to start following you. The accepted way of retweeting is to type 'RT' followed by @ and the tweeter's username. eg this is a retweet: RT @dwil23 Interesting article in TrainingZone on LMS and cloud computing/SaaS. Nice to be appreciated!

Tweet on the go

There are various applications such as TwitterBerry and Twitter for iPhone which allow you to update your page from your mobile phone. This also allows you to react instantly to particular events.

When you become really confident about using Twitter, and indeed social networking in general, you'll find that there are lots more tools to help you, like AlertThingy (although, if you've built up a following this particular tool may prove irritating, because of the constant alerts). Part of the buzz surrounding Twitter is the constant creation of new, free tools for users - which tweeters openly share when they stumble across them. There's a useful list of tools from Phil Bradley to get you started and keep an eye on Jane Hart's list of Twitter tools for updates.

Having shared our experiences and handed out advice, we'd like to point out that there are no rules! For example, George Siemens bio reads quite simply: Mashed potatoes without the gravy... ! Once you've dipped your toe in the water we hope that you will find, like us, that Twitter can be informative and fun, as well as reaping business benefits.

Just one last word of warning though, social networking is highly addictive, and you may just get completely hooked. Could you even end up accepting a marriage proposal via Twitter? Stephanie Sullivan did, and she apparently first thought Twitter 'ridiculous' - a cautionary tale?

Susie Finch is the features editor and Verity Gough the deputy editor for Neither claim to be social networking experts - we're still learning. With thanks to Dan Martin, editor of BusinessZone, for his much appreciated input - he spotted the business potential of Twitter long before we did, and has a loyal Twitter following.

We'd love to hear your Twitter tales - do you find it useful? Has information sharing via Twitter helped you in your work? Have you gained new business from it? Do you have some tips to share? Or some useful tools that you've found that we haven't mentioned? We hope to bring you more on members who Twitter and useful Twitter tools in the future. Please post your comments below.

And don't forget to follow us on Twitter at TrainingZone



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