My family is very fortunate that our home has been blessed with a beautiful garden in spite of having nary a green thumb in sight. When my wife and I first saw this property two-and-a-half years ago, it looked like something out of a magazine - the inside was pristine and the outside looked like a snapshot from the local botanical gardens. Our three active kids have ensured that the inside is now far from pristine, and we haven't put nearly as much time into the garden as we might have liked, but it's still an inspirational place. For example, I was so inspired while sitting out here working on a Facebook fan page the other week that I got an idea and decided to record a video of myself out in the garden, just because it seemed like the right thing to do on a beautiful day.
A Legacy of Love and Labour
The main reason that the garden is still presentable is that, from late April to mid-October, there is always something blooming each week. My wife and I do some work in the garden, but nothing compared to the work that was obviously done by our predecessor. Clearly, a lot of love and labour went into creating and maintaining the garden. That lesson, that preparation and planning can produce wonderful long-term results, has again given me inspiration, this time for a post on Twitter.
Before we get into how gardening can possibly teach anyone a lesson about Twitter, let's get through the general Twitter stuff, that most of you probably know by now if you watch Oprah or are fans of Ashton Kutcher. Twitter is a "microblogging" service, where you can stand on your soapbox and say whatever you like, as long as it's 140 characters or less. Each message is called a "tweet". The message goes out to the Internet in general, but particularly to your "followers" - people who have expressed interest in hearing what you have to say. If you're not the soapbox type, you can just be in the audience, by following whomever you think it is who has something worthy to impart. You don't need to use your real information as your username, so you don't have to worry about people finding out your personal information.
Legions of Followers
To the uninitiated, the whole having followers thing sounds like a bit of an ego stroke, which of course it is, but no more so than being a follower is a bit of a humility stroke. Therein likely lies part of the genius of Twitter. It's great both for the soapbox shouters and those who like to listen to them. Those who are neither may be a little less excited about its possibilities, but could certainly find at least enough usefulness out of it to understand why it's this year's social media darling.
How Can Twitter Help Me?
I've certainly been getting a lot of questions from these types of "in between" people, both as individuals and representing businesses, about what they should do on Twitter. If Oprah is doing it, it must be worth checking out, right? Well, it can have many useful functions, depending on what you're looking for. It can act as a "breaking news" service, from which you can get news as it happens. Twitter is the first place you will normally hear about pretty much anything of relevance that is happening in the world. It can also be a very current search engine, which will return results about the state of something at this particular moment in time. For example, do a search for gardening and you'll get a real-time stream of what people are doing out in their gardens. You can also share videos, share pictures and now even post voice notes over Twitter. Best of all, you can measure your Twitter stats to learn how many people are clicking on and reading your tweets. I use a URL shortener called bit.ly because I use my Twitter account mainly for posting links to stories you won't find on the six o'clock news, and I love the fact that bit.ly gives a simple 2-click process to post relevant links to Twitter with the added benefit of traffic stats.
To Plant or Not to Plant
Of course, anything this popular gets the attention of businesses and marketers. The tendency among people or organizations who want to sell things is to want to make everything, from marketing and sales copy to the sales cycle itself, shorter, so that it can offer quicker returns. There are no shortage of examples of this on Twitter. My view is that you should indeed be ready to be able to jump on some of these new opportunities, but you need also need to consider longer-term consequences. What this meant for me with Twitter is a decision to hold off jumping onto the Twitter bandwagon until I understood it and knew exactly how I wanted it to fit into my overall Internet presence. In other words, to further cultivate the garden metaphor, I knew that to get the balance right between perennials and annuals, a gardener needs to plan, so I needed to figure out where in my garden to put the Twitter space, what to plant in it, and when I wanted it to bloom.
My Social Media Garden
In my social media garden, I use different social networks and services to manage different types of information, because if I scattered it all across everything, I wouldn't be able to keep track of it, and it also wouldn't look very good. So, I use iGoogle to bring in and organize information, I use Digg to keep track of the social value of that information, I use Twitter to re-publish interesting information, I use a Facebook fan page to distribute premium (ie. sellable) information, and I use different blogs (like this one) to create and publish original material to a target audience. Giving each service a specific place in the garden allows me to keep the garden organized so that I can measure the effectiveness of each particular patch and know which areas need work if they aren't adding to the overall health and appearance of the garden.
Only the Good Stuff
Like any social network, Twitter does have certain etiquette points you should understand before you roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. There are lots of ways to increase your amount of followers, but the golden rule of social media is that people will choose to follow you based on the quality of the content that you post. I have tested this out. Using the traffic measurement tools that I mentioned, I have cross-referenced links that were clicked more often with the number of new people choosing to follow me. In other words, when I posted something that was interesting, I picked up new followers.
The "Twittiquette" question I hear most often is whether you should follow someone who is following you. My answer is that you shouldn't feel obliged to do so. I only follow someone who has chosen to follow me if that person is posting content relevant to the reason I am on Twitter. For instance, if you're on to learn about gardening, and one of your followers posts a lot of gardening tips, then follow that person back. You will lose some followers by choosing not to follow everyone who follows you, as some people expect a reciprocal follow and will "unfollow" you if you don't reciprocate, but it will keep your Twitter presence less cluttered if you are disciplined about it.
Irrelevant Personal Details?
Critics of Twitter often cite examples of people tweeting irrelevant personal details ("I'm out in my backyard gardening") to argue that there is no relevance to this type of information, and so it's essentially a useless waste of time. I agree in part, but if for example you're about to plant something and learn from another gardener in your area that it's a bit too early, that has relevance to you, so it's news. There is a great video of a Wall Street Journal interview with Twitter's two founders discussing this and several other issues. Of course, this theory only works if you and your followers (presuming you have any) are tech-enabled, so there is an argument to be made that it's great for the techies and their opportunities, but doesn't do much to help the "ordinary" person. What do you think?
To tell me what you think, or if you have questions about using Twitter, you can leave a comment here at the bottom of this post, or, if you're feeling ambitious, you can use Twitter and tweet me what you think. If you're a Twitter newbie, you can give it a try without worrying about breaking someone's account or saying something you shouldn't. Just go to Twitter and set up an account. Once you've set up your account (or if you already have one), you'll see a 'What are you doing?' box at the top on your main Twitter page. This is where you type your tweets. In order to address a tweet to a specific person, just begin your message by typing the @ symbol before the person's username (so I am @oryx_orange), type your tweet, and I will see it in my Twitter profile. So go ahead and mess with it - I promise I won't get upset if you do something wrong! If you want to receive "always up-to-date" news on technology and all kinds of other stuff you won't see on the 6 o'clock news, you can click 'Follow' on my account page and you'll be a tech expert in no time!
Plan Your Garden
Whether or not Twitter belongs in your social media garden is something you'll have to decide on your own, but the most important thing to remember is that the easiest way is not always the best way and, like anything, any patch in that garden will require planning and care for it to yield what you want it to. So roll up your sleeves and get your hands a little dirty with Twitter, but before you get them really dirty, take a step back and figure out what you want to plant and when to plant it.
P.S. A great big thanks to all of you who supported me by purchasing my "How To Promote Your Business on Facebook" Guide and/or becoming a Fan of my Facebook Page.
P.P.S. If you are already on Twitter and you like this article, feel free to tweet it. You can use the following text as your tweet:
Twitter - An Annual or Perennial in Your Social Media Garden? - Magic Bookshelf http://bit.ly/18Vs4K