Last week I wrote about using Twitter as a tool for discovering interesting and relevant information. This week I’m writing about connecting with others through Twitter.
When you use Twitter as a tool for discovery, you’ll follow people who tweet about information that’s interesting to you. And their tweets will populate your timeline, where you’ll find links to interesting articles in your industry or other fields of interest, as well as videos, photos, and more.
But unlike traditional information outlets, Twitter (and other social media platforms) allows you to participate in the conversation. If someone tweets a link that you like, the conversation doesn’t have to be one-way — from writer to reader — but you can take part in an informal sharing of information through a nebulous network of connections.
Interact with tweets that interest you
If someone tweets a link to an article that interests you, interact with it. You have several options: You can favorite the tweet, which is similar to a “like” on Facebook or a “+1″ on Google Plus. You can retweet it, so it’ll show up in the timelines of all the people who follow you. Or you can reply to the tweet to join the conversation.
Replies show up in the timeline of the person you replied to as well as the timelines of everyone who follows both you and the initial tweeter. This is important to know, because you don’t have to worry about your replies clogging up the timelines of everyone who follows you. Only people who have a connection with both you and the person you’re replying to will see your conversation.
The lack of structure can be hard to get used to initially, but if you diligently search out people to follow who consistently tweet about information that is interesting to you — and if you consistently pass on that information to your followers — you’ll build your own informal community of people who share common interests.
Enjoy the virtuous cycle
Twitter alerts you whenever someone interacts with you or your tweets. You can set Twitter up to send you email or text messages (I find this distracting). Or you can go to the notifications tab on Twitter’s online platform or smartphone app. The notifications tab is a mini-timeline of every time someone follows you, mentions you in a tweet, favorites your tweet, or retweets your tweet.
The notifications timeline is a big help for effectively using Twitter, and I review it regularly. Sometimes I find that someone wants to start a conversation on a topic I tweeted about. Sometimes someone has mentioned me in a tweet to get my response about the subject matter of the tweet (“cc: @theContractsGuy“). Sometimes the writer of an article I tweeted (or retweeted) about comments about my observations. Other times people tweet about articles I write. Whatever the circumstance, the notifications timeline taps you on the shoulder and invites you to engage.
I don’t just use the notifications tab for finding potential conversations: I also use it to find new people to follow. I try to take a peek at the profile of everyone who shows up in my notifications timeline. If someone engages with me on Twitter, whether by following me, favoriting my tweet, retweeting my tweet, or mentioning me, their tweets might be a valuable source of information that I’d want in my Twitter timeline. This has been an important strategy for building the cadre of followees I discussed in last week’s post.
Don’t be shy
As I understand it, the vast majority of active Twitter users passively consume information but don’t interact. Since Twitter’s such a great tool for information discovery, you can get a lot out of Twitter without ever sending a single Tweet into the ether. But if you remain a silent listener, you won’t benefit from the richness of community that Twitter can be.
Although it’s valuable to listen, it’s much more satisfying to join in the conversation. It doesn’t take much. Just the occasional retweet will alert the initial tweeter to your interaction, and it’ll give your followers access to information you found interesting. Little by little, those small acts will introduce you to new and interesting people — and it’ll introduce others to the interesting you in the process.
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