How IT professionals can get the most out of Twitter

Summary:Twitter is perhaps the most important learning resource that IT professionals have access to, yet not enough of us are using it.

I've been using Twitter "in anger" for about three years. I'm a huge fan of it. It's changed my life personally and professionally in unimaginable ways.

One struggle I have with Twitter is that if I talk to someone who doesn't use it and they ask me why they should, I end up stumped. I usually demure and say that it's rather like the Matrix — you have to see it for yourself.

Hence this piece. Am I able to explain to you all why using Twitter, professionally, is a good thing? Let's see...

Misconceptions

The first misconception that comes up about Twitter is that it's a service that allows people to share what they are having for lunch. It's not about that. In reality, you get very few tweets about what people are having for lunch. Although when you do, they do tend to look delicious.

There's a misconception that Twitter is a "digital social networking service." It's not. What it is — and always has been — is a "micro-blogging service." The purpose of Twitter is to allow people to share thoughts. Where it wins is that a user sharing thoughts can create an audience for those thoughts. This audience is a "social graph," and it's this part that creates a social network.

If you publish a thought on the web (e.g., a blog post), it's not going out to a specific audience — it's going out to the general public. If you publish a thought on Twitter, it's going out to your audience — i.e., those people who follow you.

This is analogous to sharing a thought with people in the office. Rather than opening the window and shouting it anyone who'll listen (e.g., publishing a blog post), people in the office are invested in listening to you because you work with them, and there is trust and respect there. This means you get a much higher level of engagement, and the quality of information shared is much higher.

You can get a lot out of Twitter because you are talking to a trusted and trusting audience. With Twitter you are easily able to gain authority and respect; and you can find others who you respect. Through that, Twitter becomes an immensely powerful engine for learning, because everything that you see on there is in some way relevant to you personally or professionally.

Twitter is like a firehose where you are not — and again I stress this — learning an awful lot about what people like to have for lunch, but one where you learn an awful lot about your job.

Expansion

Being on Twitter is like being at the best day at work ever, while at the best professional conference ever, while being out for drinks after work in the best evening ever, all simultaneously, all of the time. It's always funny, always clever, and always engaging. It's like working with and hanging out with the best set of colleagues you've ever worked with. And it's that that makes it worth doing.

In terms of how you make it work, it's pretty simple.

People will engage with you in one of four ways. If you put a thought out there, a given person in your audience will:

  • Ignore it entirely,

  • Absorb it, but not do anything with it that you can see. (They'll store it in their personal "data bank" for whatever reason.)

  • Reply to it, so you can have a conversation.

  • Retweet it.

The thought itself usually, perhaps counterintuitively, is best served by sharing a link to a web article. The information in a web article is far more dense than the information you can get into 140 characters. This creates a situation where you can send out a thought onto the network like "Hey, what do you think of...? I think it's rubbish/excellent/whatever…"

What will happen with Twitter is that you will find people to follow. If you're new to Twitter, ZDNet manages a list of ZDNet writers on Twitter. When you find something interesting, reply to the tweeter (if you're feeling bold), or retweet it.

What you should do though is make sure you follow the tweeter. This builds their audience, and also starts to create a firehose of information interesting to you.

By creating "noise" in the network this way, you'll be seen. People will start following you. By definition, those people will be interested in what you are interested in. Over time you'll start to move into, become part of, and become involved in the expansion of your professional cohort on Twitter.

One word about another mistake/misconception that people have about Twitter. Don't try and keep up with it. Information will come thick and fast. If you miss Twitter for a day, or even an hour, it's not like email. You don't need to go back and read everything you miss. Just tune into it from time to time, absorb and act upon what is there, and then move on.

Tools

If you're serious about Twitter, the best desktop app to use is TweetDeck. There are also native mobile apps for every platform. I use the official apps, although some people prefer not to. (Twitter has in recent years started to move against third-party Twitter clients.)

Also, do make sure you read ZDNet's David Gewirtz's article on  using two-factor authentication with Twitter  to keep your account safe.

Conclusion

If you're a professional in any field, Twitter is an indispensable tool for learning, and networking. If you're not using it, you should be!

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Matt Baxter-Reynolds is a mobile software development consultant and technology sociologist based in the UK. His latest book -- "Death of the PC" -- is available on Amazon now.

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