How IT professionals can get the most out of Twitter

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.

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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.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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19 comments
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  • Still don't get it, sorry.

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

    Misconceptions"

    Well, you start by addressing some "misconceptions." Which isn't exactly the same as telling us why it's a good thing.

    "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."

    Which is really only helpful to a handful of jobs, like blogging. And oh, yeah - Facebook and other social networks work this way too.

    So why Twitter over Facebook or Google+?

    "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."

    . . . if you're a blogger with an audience. For somebody like myself, it just feels empty. And being an introvert, I'm unlikely to ever want a lot of engagement with people I don't know or care for.

    For me at least, Facebook feels better in this respect. My friends and family don't use Twitter - they use Facebook.

    "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."

    Which is also why I simply don't get the point of using a medium limited to 140 characters. Facebook and other social media sites are simply better when you have a lot of information to convey.

    "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. "

    Well, I'm still stumped. I used it in the past, but it wasn't worth keeping. My account remains, but I haven't looked at it in ages. I just don't get the obsession with Twitter, other than it appeals to media types like bloggers. Outside of the media industry, I don't see it as being quite as compelling.
    CobraA1
    • Have you tried it?

      The writer says 'difficult to explain so try it for yourself'. If you haven't tried it yet, give it a go. If you still don't get it, leave it alone.

      But I agree with the writer.
      I found this article
      I found you
      I found my voice
      I laughed at the petty insults
      I disagreed with you
      I agreed with others
      I learnt something
      I sent something to my boss as interesting reading

      All because of Twitter.
      Geoffg5371
  • How IT professionals can get the most out of Twitter

    Agreed with CobraA1. For me the issue is the 140 character limit. Its hard to explain tech in 140 characters. If you are just sending out a bunch of links to various websites to get around the 140 character limit then I should just go to those sites directly and bypass twitter.

    " The purpose of Twitter is to allow people to share thoughts."
    And that is the problem. There may be a few thoughts worth reading but the majority are not and its not worth the hassle to sift through them to find those few. There are definitely better ways to get your thoughts out there and to your target audience without being limited by characters or buried with all the other posts.
    Loverock.Davidson
    • and that...

      is more proof of you being a dinosaur.
      jasona93
      • And that....

        is more proof of me working smarter and not harder by trying to decipher a 140 character message or trying to go through a middleman to get to a linked site.
        Loverock.Davidson
        • so...

          the better ways to get your thoughts out there are...commenting here? look, people have written code for browser extensions to specifically NOT see your thoughts expressed here. Twitter has its merits, as does any tech device or service discussed here, even the ones you don't like or don't know how to effectively use.
          jasona93
          • There are better ways to get thoughts out there

            Yes there are better ways. Bloggers posting blogs on the media sties and there is a variety of tech forums to specific interests. It makes more sense to go to those and get the information you need than to go to twitter, sift through your news feed, look for an interesting post, then click on the link that takes you back to the website. Just go to the website directly and avoid all that. Kind of the same with forums, people can discuss tech without being limited to 140 characters. That being said twitter can be useful in a few situations like getting a quick message out during an emergency or when your favorite website has gone down and you want to verify its down.
            Loverock.Davidson
      • Twitter is a dinosaur ;)

        FYI - Twitter is eight years old. In the computing industry, that's about the age of a dinosaur ;).
        CobraA1
        • age of a dinosaur

          From a 24000 year old HomSap unit expressing himself about the computing industry, that in it's core was developed and have changed very little since the big dev revolution in the 1970's. Massproduction tech have developed though, but changiing GUI's, GFX and packing bloatware can hardly be regarded as true dev. Computers are still buildt with the same binary and IC bricks as of 40 years ago.
          X15meshman
          • But that misses the question, does it not?

            Yes, it is the case that computers are still binary systems of integrated circuits.

            But that misses the question, does it not? How computers are made, and how they are developed are interesting accounts of history, but not all that relevant to the matter at hand, which is Twitter and social networking.

            Anyhoo, since the last statement is some odd exegesis of the historical context of computing, I think it is suffice to say that nothing more can be added, and I will close this article and move on.
            CobraA1
      • And that....

        is proof you have no clue.

        The fact that you just blurt out a short pointless insult without bothering to explain yourself.

        I suspect you are used to a channel where there really isn't room anyway to fit any explanation, or clarification behind your opinions, so you have gotten used to not bothering to even try.

        Am i correct?

        (Please keep any answer within an arbitrary 10 character limit)
        MatsSvensson
    • it's not hard at all..

      I didn't really understand tech at all before Twitter and I'm still no expert but I know a hell of a lot more thanks to Twitter. I found this forum through Twitter after all.

      You don't explain tech on Twitter, you trail it and give access to resources, like ZDnet, that do explain it. Twitter is to tech as a movie trailer is to a movie. Clever Tweeters get you interested then you follow the breadcrumbs. People who don't get simply need to try it and practice until they can use it effectively.

      Simply put, Twitter is one of the most fantastic resources in my life. I'm pretty sure, used effectively, everyone would get something out of it.
      Geoffg5371
  • what a sad article

    this guy needs a personality and a life

    pathetic as those #bringbackourkids losers who get false sense of accomplishments from meaningless tweets.
    everss02
  • Best part of twitter is...

    The ability to link to articles that one posts. I get a bunch of news from Twitter. Is it in the tweet? No, it has a subject line, then a link to the article. This is how I use it, and how I find it the most effective.
    Stuart Becktell
  • It can be useful...

    to get out time-sensitive, non-secure communications. We use it for status on a real-time service - if there are disruptions, we can quickly let followers know, and the 140 char limit is no problem. And as the author noted, old news is no news!
    randysmith9
  • 140 char limit

    No problem if having the knowledge how to type in text in an image.
    Twitter is a very good supplement to RSS for news, and have high integrity
    in the selectivity of "followers"

    Seeing these collectors of followers competing over who have the most
    is quite amusing, as "who want to be the largest cock on top of a pile of manure" ?
    except if each of them support you with funding’s in some way or another.

    #HPC
    X15meshman
  • You are wrong!

    (i would love to explain why, but i have imposed a arbitrary 14 character limit on explanations, so there really isn't any possible way to go deeper into the subject... )
    MatsSvensson
  • Twitter is perhaps the most important learning resource that IT profe...

    Try stackoverflow.
    Sacr