Leslie White and I did a two hour (well, actually 1:15 after you took out the breaks and the fact that the predecessor session went long) session on Twitter at ASAE's social media workshop last week. We had planned to talk a little about the mechanics and a lot about what associations are actually doing with Twitter. But we got bogged down in the how - how do I set up an account, how to I protect/unprotect my tweets, how do I use re-tweet, @ messages, via messages, direct messages, URL shorteners, etc. I was not thrilled at the time, and upon reflection, I'm even more dismayed that we got so sidetracked, not least of which because I'm sure a certain percentage of participants were totally bored.
The biggest problem is that, if you lack a solid answer to "why," no matter how easy the "how" is, it's too hard. And if you have a good answer to "why," you'll figure out the "how."
When I asked how many participants had Twitter accounts, probably 75% of the room raised their hands. When I asked how many had tweeted within the last month, maybe 25% still had their hands up. When I got to how many had tweeted within the last day or hour, it was pretty much down to just the presenters.
Now why is that? Is it that it's SOOOOOO hard to go to www.twitter.com, compose a 140 character message, and hit "return"? No.
But if you haven't a good answer to "why am I doing this?" ANY "how do I do it?" is too hard. Because you know what's easier 100% of the time? Doing nothing. You need a reason to move. And without that, any "how" is too much trouble.
And the thing is, the "how" of Twitter is really, really simple. (And yes, I know I'm techno-friendly, but I'm definitely not a bleeding edge early adopter type. And I'm not a rocket scientist, by any stretch of the imagination. Which means that if I can figure it out, so can you.)
Step 1: Sign up for account.
Go to www.twitter.com. Click on the big green Sign Up Now button. Type in your name and email address, select a username and password, type in the captcha, and click on the Create My Account button. That's it. If you want to get fancy, click on "settings" to add a little more information about yourself, and maybe a picture, and decide whether or not to protect your updates (I recommend no), but to start tweeting - and, more importantly, paying attention to conversations - all you have to do is have an account.
Step 2: (recommended but not required) Set yourself up one of the alternative platforms.
The thing about the Twitter interface is that it's kind of like when you first got cell service. And you got a free cell phone. And you were really excited about that free phone, until you realized that all it did was make calls (if that). The alternate Twitter platforms are like smart phones - they make the basic functions of Twitter easier to use and provide additional features. Most people use either HootSuite (a web site you log into with your Twitter account information) or TweetDeck (a piece of software you download and install on your computer and log into with your Twitter account information).
Step 3: It's a cocktail party.
You wouldn't charge into a party where you don't know anyone and start making loud declarative statements, would you? (I hope not.) You'd start by listening to what's happening, getting a feel for the room, and then joining a conversation that sounds interesting. Twitter's the same way, only online and in 140 character bursts. Who do you follow? Start with this group, then see who they're following. You can also go to What the Hashtag and look for topics that are interesting to you. Follow any bloggers? You can do a people search on Twitter and see if they're there. Going to any conferences? Many organizations assign conference hashtags (like #smw09), which means you can follow what's going on at that event and, again, maybe find people to follow.
Oh - and all those "cool kids" comments? While there are some genuine social media rockstars (and no, I don't mean Ashton Kucher or Oprah), I'll tell you the secret to becoming one of the "cool kids" (and I won't even make you pinkie swear that you won't tell anyone): get on the social media platforms (blogs, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), talk to people, and say interesting things. That's it. It's a total meritocracy.
See? Easy how.
So what's the why? You have to answer that for yourself, but I'm going to try to help you, by relating some stories of ways I've used - or seen others using - Twitter to engage people and benefit their associations over the next few weeks. Want me to talk about what you've been up to? Email me at ewengel at yahoo dot com. And check back - I post 5 days a week, and I plan to focus on this (barring my Wednesday blog roundups and my Friday Top 5 lists) until I run out of stories to tell.