Thursday, March 20, 2008

Twitter - What It Is and How I am Using It

Twitter is an interesting social networking tool. It looks deceptively simple--like instant messaging, except that the 140-character messages are sent to a large group of followers. It is a bit like the status line in Facebook, but it is so much more.

Below is the terrific Common Craft video called Twitter in Plain English that will get you started understanding it, but again they only really scratch the surface. And like many of the tools on the web, you really do have to try it (probably for a few weeks at least) before you really "get" what it is about.

The discussion in the comments over on the LISNews on the post Twitter in Plain English prompted me to make an extensive response, especially as I was identified as a (horrors!) Twitter user. Since I put so much effort into writing it out, I thought it a good idea to share here as well:

Twitter is definitely not a one-size-fits-all networking tool. I use it to connect with people around the world who are interested in social media and social networking tools as I am. I meet people at a lot of different meetings and conferences, and normally would forget who most of them are. If we can connect somehow through a tool such as Twitter or LinkedIn, I am likely to keep that person top of mind. Being able to talk with them via Twitter allows us to push past mere casual acquaintances.

Here are a few of the work-related ways I am using Twitter:
  • organizing informal face to face meetings with people; for example, several months ago Mitch Joel was on his way to Toronto from beautiful Montreal and sent out a message via Twitter saying "who is available to do lunch?". I responded, and we had a lovely "twitter lunch" (as he called it) exchanging ideas about social media. Mitch is someone I had met at Podcamp, but sitting down and sharing a meal helped to solidify our contact into more of a friendship;
  • promoting events; letting my friends and contacts know what is happening in our city and elsewhere
  • learning about key events in my city
  • micro-blogging key information coming out of talks I attend for those who cannot be there (and reading those others are attending)
  • hearing about important articles and blog posts in my areas of interest first, allowing me to take part in those discussions early. I especially like to read along what Steven Cohen of Library Stuff posts since he is always up on the latest things
  • promoting my own writing and projects; I get a great number of blog/web hits from Twitter since the people who are following me are interested in what I am pointing them towards
  • brainstorming ideas (see my blog post yesterday for an example)
  • seeking reference/research help from colleagues, such as obtaining suggestions for where to look next
  • seeking tech assistance when I can't figure something out myself with some of the social networking tools
  • connecting with people who have potential work for me (I have just started a consultancy and am already sourcing work from the people in my Twitter network)
  • looking for people who may be able to help me in my work
  • hearing about international news (usually big stories hit Twitter before mainstream news)
  • since I am working from home, it lets me feel connected and acts as my "water cooler" break during the day
  • and my particular favorite: guerrilla librarianship - I nudge people towards library services who might not otherwise think of them. I sometimes answer questions as if they were reference questions, and also promote critical thinking about web sources--all the while pointing out in a fairly public forum how librarians can help.
This last one is a win-win because people find the answers they are seeking, and the image of library staff gets boosted with a group that might not think about using libraries.

That being said, it is a time-consuming pursuit. And, it takes having a certain number of people you are following and a certain number of followers (roughly 30?) before you really start to see the benefits. After a year consciously building a following, I have close to 700 followers--imagine how many of those I could mobilize if I need help with something. Wow.

In a future post I will put together some ideas for getting started with Twitter. In the meantime, if you would like to follow me, find me at

What about you? Have you tried Twitter? Did you like it? Why/why not?


Anonymous said...

I've used Twitter for several of the things you mentioned in your article.

Specifically, to plan meetups, connect with friends, get news as it's happening, and have interesting blog and news articles shared with me and by me.

Nice positive article.

Connie Crosby said...

Hi Todd:

Thanks so much. Twitter is a difficult thing to describe, especially given all the ways we are using it without even realizing it. I found it informative to sit down and write out this list.


Marianne Barber said...

Hi Connie

I've just started to Twitter but not yet thoroughly immersed and need to do more before I can set about persuading my colleagues to do likewise. This posting will be very useful - especially your finding about 30 being a good critical mass.


Connie Crosby said...

Hi Marianne: I'm glad you found this post helpful. If you have any questions, let me know here, on Twitter (I am if you haven't found me already) or via email

Best of luck!