You’re one of two people on the social network Twitter: professional and relevant, or just another user.
Twitter isn’t being referred to as “next big thing” anymore — for many businesses, entrepreneurs and those out to self-promote, it’s seemingly the only thing.
Micro-blogging has exploded onto the social networking scene with Twitter, years behind the status update features of Myspace and Facebook. Unlike the two aforementioned, however, Twitter doesn’t come with fairly dimensional layers and the lengthy learning curve. You put in your e-mail account, grab a few buddies (“followers”), and start updating your profile with opinions and thoughts (what’s called a “tweet”).
For those users simply out to make friends and chatter, Twitter is easy as pie. But, for those of you out there like myself — who want to make noise in our professional communities — Twitter stands for a lot more. We want to network, share links and feedback, and stage our work for our peers. The social network is a promotional piece in itself… one with fine lines and tight limitations. One catch with Twitter is that it only gives its users 140 characters to swoon the world, so making lengthy statements calls for a crafty and careful approach. It only takes one lousy misstep to hang yourself in the eyes of others.
Your actions on Twitter reflect your characteristics offline, whether that be a good thing or not. If you’re using Twitter just to connect with friends, well, being silly and ludicrous is perfectly acceptable(Note: prospective employers use Twitter too, you know?). That’s your prerogative. Personally, I’m one of those users who find Twitter to be a springboard. As a designer, my image within my community is important to me, therefore I watch what I say or do unless I fully understand the repercussions.
Speaking of image, that’s a surefire ploy to turn heads and open eyes on Twitter. A friend of mine recently wrote about giving your Twitter a little flare by customizing your profile — an undeniable way to come off as somebody who cares about their appearance (thus, somebody who takes their work and tweets seriously, too).
The Relevant & Everyone Else
I personally use my Twitter page as a means to promote design; rarely do I tweet about something unrelated to the realm in which I professionally associate myself with. I micro-blog about typography, illustrations, branding, inspiring web designs and, on occasion, toss in the shameless self-promotion. The followers on my list stay with me because I give them relevant bits of information and inspiration, or things they can personally relate to. People know what to expect when they start following me: the rare pinch of personal information, lots of professional pork.
There’s nothing wrong with being personable on Twitter. Tossing the rare “Pizza sucks” message out there keeps you looking human and less robot-like. Nonetheless, do your best to keep your integrity in check. Giddy your Twitter followers in relation to the industry you service in. A week-long flame war over the best brand of
tap bottled water is not something I expect to see from a fellow artist, nor would I care.
If the elections of last year proved anything, it was that people on Twitter don’t like being flooded with stuff they’re not passionate about (even if they should be).
I don’t want to go into great detail on the following topic, but I do want to say that Twitter is no different than Myspace or Facebook in that there are people out there only trying to get another name on their friend list.
People will follow you with the expectation that you’ll follow back. Some of those very same people — “social sharks” they’re called — will then ditch you the moment the follow is returned, all because you’re a number to them. Pathetic, I know.
On the other side of the coin, there’s nothing wrong with following somebody you personally find interesting, even if they don’t return the favor (some people are simply too busy to keep up with their own followers).
The number next to your follower list on Twitter is by no means a way to measure your professional worth. Trust me, there are some downright awful “designers” who have Twitter numbers I’ll never dare reach… and I’m not losing sleep at night.
A common trend on Twitter is something called “retweeting” — inner-slang for forwarding a message. Retweeting (you may see people use “RT” or “R/T” for short ) is when a user copies somebody else’s tweet, usually verbatim, and blasts it out to his or her followers. If this sounds like a helpful trend that’s because it is. There’s tens of thousands of links being handed out by people on Twitter everyday, so being able to catch even a smidgen of them is a feat — retweeting helps spread that information to even the darkest, dreariest corners of Twitterverse. And sharing is kind.
The problem with retweeting, however, is that it’s recently turned into a game of “How many ‘RT’s’ can I fit into a post?”. I’ve seen complete posts where five people have individually retweeted the same message — to the point where all I’m reading in the message is “RT: RT: RT: RT: RT:”. Think I’m kidding? I dug the following example out of Twitter Search from earlier today:
RT @Shaylynne: RT @ericloganvanman RT @truesprit RT RT RT smile RT @loubortone New Web 2.0 pick-up lines…
Needless to say, retweeting isn’t foolproof. Why do we need to know that you’re the fifth person (on a virtual assembly line) to rehash a tweet? Use the delete button on your keyboard — that’s what it’s there for.
There are a lot of really good articles out there that detail Twitter’s platform in greater depth; I recommend reading a couple (particularly this one) and educating yourself on the features, benefits and trends.
While it’s not for everybody, Twitter can be an effective tool to help move your career forward, no matter what it is you do for a living. Let your tweets be driven, self-aware and, above all else, original.
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