OK, so if you read my last article, you’ve started using Twitter. You’ve uploaded a photo of yourself, added a description, started following some other people, including maybe Lady Gaga, Shane Warne, and John Key.

You’ve tweeted a few times about what you’re up to and what you think about whatever was on Campbell Live.

But somehow it’s a bit lifeless. You need to know where the magic comes from. What is it about Twitter that makes it so addictive?

First of all, Twitter is a social network and we are social beings, so a couple of extremely old-fashioned personality traits come in very handy: being organised and having good manners.

Unfortunately, I’ve always struggled with personal organisation and I can be extremely rude, but I’m getting better.

To apply these concepts to Twitter, the secret is in the way you organise your Twitter streams and interact with other Twitter users.

I’ll quickly run through 3 ways of organising your Twitter stream into manageable, meaningful sources of information, then I’ll talk about 3 ways of sharing information so that people see you as a nice, friendly person on Twitter.

Twitter is a massive real-time search engine. Search Twitter for up-to-the-minute information on just about any topic. Just type in keywords like you would in Google, and you can save your searches for easy searching on the same topic in future. But the results of searches can be pretty random. To get around this, use #hashtags.

Hashtags have emerged as the de facto standard for tagging tweets that are on a specific topic. For example, the Canterbury earthquake saw #eqnz emerge as the hashtag for that particular event. The recent Accelerate conference had a few but we seemed to settle on #oto60. Likewise, #cricketworldcup seems to have emerged as the hashtag for the Cricket World Cup that has just started. So if you want to use Twitter to tell the world that Jesse Ryder is God’s gift to cricket, include the hashtag #cricketworldcup in your tweet and it’s much more likely that your tweet will actually be read by people who care about cricket, because a lot of people will have saved the search ‘#cricketworldcup’.

Lists are a good way of organising different Twitter users into groups based on a particular topic. As I mentioned in my previous article, I’ve created a list that compiles a whole lot of New Zealand news feeds. Now when I want the latest New Zealand news updates, I can just check that list. It’s more convenient than checking Google News, especially on my iPhone, and it makes it easier to share the stories with my followers.

This is where the fun starts. If someone tweets something, you can reply to it. You don’t need to be friends with them like in Facebook. So if Shane Warne tweets that his favourite flavour of ice cream is Goody Goody Gum Drops (Shane seems to talk about food a lot), you can simply hit ‘Reply’ and tell him that maybe he should eat less ice cream and concentrate more on choosing a fake tan that isn’t bright orange.

Just like email, you can also ‘Reply all’, so that more than one person is mentioned in your tweet.

If you read a tweet that is so funny, informative, shocking, or weird that you’re just dying to tell all your friends about it, simply hit ‘Re-tweet’. This is just like forwarding an email to all of your contacts.

Twitter gets really interesting when people start replying to you and re-tweeting YOUR content. But how do you know if people are replying to you or re-tweeting your tweets? You need to monitor what people are saying about you out there on Twitter, and you do this with ‘mentions’.

Twitter can tell you whenever you’ve been mentioned in a reply or a re-tweet. You can even set up a SMS service so that you get a text message every time someone does so. So if someone asks you a questions, has a go at you, or tells the world you’re a great person, you’ll know about it immediately.

Direct messages
If you want to communicate with another Twitter user in private, do it with a direct message (or DM). I don’t use these much myself – I prefer email – but a DM is more useful if the recipient has SMS set up. They’ll get your message as a text message immediately. The only thing to remember about DMs is that you can only DM someone who’s already following you.

It’s really important to remember your manners and common sense when using Twitter. Everything you tweet is in the public domain. A good example of this occurred at the Accelerate conference, when presenters were sharing sensitive financial information about their companies. It’s good to tweet from a conference to provide a running commentary for people who couldn’t attend, but make sure you respect people’s privacy.

OK, that should be enough to get you started and hopefully hooked!

Next time we’ll look at some cool tools that make it even easier to make the most of Twitter, including Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Flipboard, URL shorteners, Twitpic, and more.

Like any communication medium, you need a strategy and a consistent approach to make Twitter work for your business. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need help.