by Char James-Tanny

“All the little birds on J-Bird St.
Love to hear the robin goin’ tweet tweet tweet”

At this year’s Technical Communication Summit, I introduced social networking at Leadership Day by telling those in attendance about Twitter. Some folks already knew about it, but for others, it was a new concept … letting people know what was going on in real time? Setting up meetings? Getting the A/C fixed in the conference rooms?

By the end of the Summit, about 20 people had sent messages, or tweeted, consistently throughout the conference. Reactions were mixed. Tom Johnson noted that fewer than 1 percent of all attendees used Twitter, but “…even with small numbers, we witnessed the emergence of a powerful, connecting medium.” Holly Harkness mentioned that “only a handful of us were live blogging or twittering.” Sarah O’Keefe was excited because people were tweeting-period. And I hope that many more people use Twitter at next year’s Technical Communication Summit in Atlanta.

So What Is Twitter Anyway?

Twitter is a social messaging service that is also called “a micro-blogging service.” “Micro-blogs” are short pieces of text called “tweets,” no more than 140 characters (which is typically the limit of a text message on a mobile phone). Given how perceptions differ, 140 characters may seem like too little … or a lot. If you type more than 140 characters, the tweet is cut off and an ellipsis is displayed.

For example, the following tweet from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is exactly 140 characters:

Meeting with Disney Institute to learn more about their leadership & management training programs and approach to service & company culture.

Twitter is similar to chat except that it is open to the world (and has that sometimes pesky character limit). Unless you mark your updates as private, anyone with a browser can see what has been discussed by using the public timeline or search. In addition, several applications have been created that make it easier to search tweets, such as Twitscoop or Tweet Scan.

People tweet everything they are doing (“going to bed,” “brushing my teeth,” “driving to the store”), but also:

• Their current status (“Working on an article about Twitter for STC []. Amazing who is and who isn’t on Twitter, and who gets it and who doesn’t.”)
• Upcoming events (“STC’s Technical Communication Summit call for proposals for 2009 conference in Atlanta just released at”)
• Customer support (“check out Twitter’s status report at There was some kind of maintenance problem.”)
• And some companies, like JetBlue and QuickBooks, are using Twitter for customer support. They monitor tweets in real time, and if someone posts anything about their company, they reply.

Taking Advantage of Twitter

So how could your chapter or SIG use Twitter effectively?

• Announce upcoming meetings, competitions, and deadlines.
• Pass on announcements from the office (“Call for proposals for the 2009 Technical Communication Summit has been released”).
• Tweet current meetings (make people wish they were there!).
• Call for quick get-togethers (“I’m at Mom’s Diner, is anyone around?”).
• Make travel arrangements (“When are you leaving for the Summit? Want to share a cab from the airport?”)

Use twemes to accumulate specific tweets:

A “tweme” is a “Twitter meme,” or a tag, that is used with specific tweets. For example, Sarah O’Keefe from Scriptorium Publishing ( started the #stc2008 tweme for this year’s Technical Communication Summit. When anyone included #stc2008 in their tweet, it was added to the specific twemes page. (Go check it out!)

If You Build It, They Will Come…

First, you need to create a Twitter account for your chapter or SIG (or yourself). Go to the Twitter website and click the “Get Started-Join!” button. Follow the instructions to create your account. I suggest that you create the shortest name possible.

The next step for personal accounts is to find people to follow. However, if you are creating a Twitter account for your chapter, you probably want followers. The best way to get them is to use your chapter blog, website, forums, or other communication vehicle to let your members know that they can follow you.

Use the Twitter API to add the latest tweets to your chapter or SIG’s blog or website. See STC Chicago’s blog for an example. (This site also pulls in the latest posts from the STC Forums and links from the STC website.)

Make sure that a couple of people have access to the Twitter account. These people will probably be from your administrative council and will be responsible for sending out and replying to tweets. (And this is why you want a short username-to reply to a tweet, preface the username with @. Long usernames use up more of those 140 characters.)

Should You Use the Website or an Application?

You can always see your latest tweets at the Twitter website. But many people find it much easier to use one of the many applications that are now available, such as:

• Tweet Deck-my current favorite
• twhirl
• Twitterrific (for the Mac)

These apps typically include shortcuts to tweeting, replying (with @), sending private direct messages (with D), and retweeting (which copies an existing tweet, giving credit to the original tweeter).

To Learn More About Twitter

• Common Craft created Twitter in Plain English.
• Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wrote the Beginner’s Quick Start Guide and Tutorial to Using Twitter.
• Tara Hunt of Horse Pig Cow wrote Tweeting for Companies 101.
• The Social Brand Index lists companies that tweet. The accounts are organized by category; for example, business, non-profit organizations, and travel).

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