I laugh when I hear skeptics claim that Twitter is a passing fad and they won’t use it. “I don’t need to tell people what I have for breakfast every morning.” If that were the extent of the use of this social media phenomenon, I would probably agree. There is certainly evidence that a huge percentage of the content is total fluff when @charliesheen and @justinbieber are two of the most popular Twitter users. A San Antonio based market research firm launched a 2-week long study in mid-2009 and concluded that 40% of the content could be categorized as “pointless babble.” The growth of Twitter over these past two years is proprietary information and in fact it is a violation of the API Terms of Service to “…use or access the Twitter API for purposes of monitoring the availability, performance, or functionality of any of Twitter’s products and services or for any other benchmarking or competitive purposes, but estimates as reported in Wikipedia are that there are currently 200 million users generating 65 million tweets a day and handling over 800,000 search queries per day. Also in the past two years, Twitter has outgrown the image of the childish gibberish observed several years ago and has been adopted by professionals in the news media, financial services, politics and government. Coincidentally, the current economic woes and high unemployment rate has put Twitter into the hands of businesses and job seekers as a tool for research and communication. For skeptics to say that they won’t use this tool is the same as saying that they are ignoring some of the tools in the toolbox. Maybe they don’t know how to use it properly? These are the people you might see trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver.
While there are no real numbers (yet) on Twitter user stats, there is no denying the popularity of its use as a quick and easy communications medium. Like the early days of chat rooms monitored by online services like Prodigy and AOL, Twitter has opened a free form space to do the same thing by the use of hashtags (words or phrases with a # sign prefix) which serve to group topics together for clear public recognition. If you are a foodie or follow a sports team there is probably a hashtag for that. A number of community leaders have scheduled specific times for like-minded users to “meet” together online and “chat” about a topic using a common hashtag. There are currently over 400 different chat hashtags in use and the list is still evolving. One such Twitter community #HireFriday was originated over a year ago by Margo Rose, also the founder of Compassionate HR, with the purpose of helping job seekers find work in a tough economy. Every Friday people looking for work tweet their needs and a link to their resume in 140 characters or less and that is re-tweeted by others to multiply their reach and exposure. At Noon EST each Friday this community meets in a public forum for an hour with the hashtag #HFChat to discuss pre-announced job search topics. So far in 2011, #HFChat has reached over 840,000 people with an exposure of 46.8 million impressions and its popularity is still growing.
How do you join one of these chats? First you have to have a Twitter account (follow this link and just do it!). The simplest way to check out a topic or follow a chat stream is to enter the hashtag in the “search” box at the top of the screen and you have now filtered all tweets into one stream. Ta daa!
There are several other useful tools that can be used to facilitate a Twitter chat. Most are highly intuitive and give detailed instructions when you sign up so there is no need for detail here. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but since it is free to sign up for a basic account on most of them, you can shop around until you find the one that works best for you. Keep your eyes and ears open for new tools entering the market, but here are a few of the most popular:
- One that is probably easiest for beginners is TweetChat which lets you follow the chat stream in real time and automatically adds the chat’s hashtag at the end of your post so that you can easily add your own thoughts and ideas to the flow. It is relatively simple to scroll back to catch up if you missed something as these chats do move rather fast at times. You also have the ability to change the refresh speed and font size.
- Another tool that is good for experienced tweeters as well as beginners is Twubs. This offers samples of communities to follow if you are searching for a particular topic and don’t already know the hashtags. Like TweetChat, Twubs also automatically adds the chosen hashtag to your tweets so that you don’t forget to do so and miss communication with the rest of the group.
- Another powerful tool is Cotweet which is not only good for chats, but is a useful alternative front-end for Twitter. You can toggle back and forth between the ongoing chat and your Twitter inbox with the SearchPad.
- TweetDeck is unlike the other tools mentioned here which are launched in a browser. This application becomes resident on your computer because it is an Adobe Air desktop application which must be downloaded. TweetDeck has been the most popular Twitter application with a 19% market share and was recently bought by Twitter for a reported $40-$50 million price tag including cash and Twitter stock. Because of its reliable up-time and real-time refresh rate it is ideal for chat moderators. This has been my personal choice as it allows me to have columns visible for private DM (direct message) tweets from my colleagues, a separate column filtered to show the chat team’s public tweets, and a general column to follow all users.
- No discussion of Twitter or Twitter chat is complete without mentioning HootSuite. The refresh rate is not as fast as the others for real time chat, but the tabbed format makes it ideal for following tweets from various topics, users or conferences. When someone says to check something on Twitter, I go to HootSuite rather than to open Twitter itself. This is the only one I actually pay money to use. The free version is extremely powerful on its own, but for power users there are paid versions which take it to another level. In the professional version tweets can be uploaded from a .csv file, it can be tied to Google analytics, and there is a powerful search feature which lets you find other users by various criteria including their Klout score. There is something for everybody here.
Things are changing so rapidly in social media that this article will probably be out of date a few minutes after you read it. New tools are becoming available all the time and the ones mentioned here are on a constant path for improvement. For starters, hopefully you know that tweeting can be informative, profitable and fun and have a few ideas of the major online devices to make it work. Now tell me what you had for breakfast.