With more than 100 million active users and 250 million tweets daily, there’s clearly something to Twitter.
Since its launch five years ago, the social media site’s popularity has exploded, with everyone from world leaders and celebrities to the average Joe joining in.
In a nutshell, Twitter is a social-networking and microblogging site that allows you to see and share short messages – 140 characters or less – called tweets. When you follow another Twitter user, their tweets appear in your news feed.
Breaking down geographical borders, Twitter is a powerful networking tool that connects people, businesses and ideas. For example, it was heavily used during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Iran. And U.S. President Barack Obama actively used Twitter during his 2008 presidential run.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in food or fashion or books or media,” says Erin Balser, a Toronto-based publishing professional who tweets from @booksin140. “There are plenty of pockets of people online talking about plenty of things.”
Balser, who got her Twitter start by reviewing books with just a tweet or two, suggests the best way to get going is to “have a voice” and contribute to a focused conversation, rather than send out aimless tweets about anything.
If you want to get started on Twitter, consider these five novel ways to make the site useful for your everyday life:
1. Establish a group to reach a goal
Because we’re more likely to do what we say we’ll do when we’re accountable to others, Twitter can help to establish and reach personal goals. For example, you can use Twitter to help lose weight by sharing diet and exercise plans.
Ottawa-based bloggers Lara Wellmen and Karen Wilson connected on Twitter, despite never having met in person, to talk about their weight-loss goals. They eventually launched the support-group blog LosingItInOttawa.com.
“Twitter can play a role in helping someone lose weight – you tweet workouts and get encouragement from your followers,” explains Katie Squires, a member of the Losing It community. “Sometimes the mere act of tweeting a workout is what will get me to the gym, because I want that gold star from my friends.”
2. Ask and get answers
Twitter is a great resource when it comes to problem-solving. Because of its concise nature, it’s a great way to ask and answer questions quickly. By asking your followers for anything from personal advice to restaurant recommendations, you tap into a wealth of potential feedback – a practice known as crowdsourcing. Companies and organizations also often use Twitter crowdsourcing to promote products, get customer feedback or to raise awareness or donations for a particular cause.
3. Find a job
Many large companies and recruiting agencies have career-specific Twitter handles you can follow to find opportunities. Job hunters can also use Twitter as a way to canvass their established networks and expand their search for the perfect opportunity.
4. Join a broader discussion
If you’d love to join a book club, but can’t seem to make it to the meetings, consider joining a Twitter book club, which brings together readers from around the globe.
One of the more popular clubs is One Book, One Twitter (@1book140), operated by a magazine editor at the Atlantic. Launched in April 2010, the monthly club has amassed more than 50,000 followers who weigh in with their thoughts about the current selection, as well as suggestions for potential future reads.
Balser says the strength of Twitter, from a publishing perspective, is its ability to introduce readers to topics that fall outside their traditional circles.
“I’m in a couple of book clubs myself with people I know socially or through school, and there’s not a lot of diversity in terms of reading interests, lifestyles and perspective,” she says. “Being able to engage with people on Twitter completely breaks down those barriers. All you need to do is have an Internet connection and a computer or smartphone to be able to talk to new people.”
5. Meet up with a Tweetup
After you’ve established strong connections online, you may want to forge a relationship with like-minded users offline, too. If so, consider tapping into a Tweetup – an event where Twitter users come together in person at a specified time and place, details shared via – what else? – Twitter.
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