If you don't understand what that title means, the answer is probably no! It seems that what started out as something a CNN journalist inaccurately described as "a place where teenagers were posting what they were doing throughout the day, from the cereal they were eating to the movies they were ...If you don't understand what that title means, the answer is probably no! It seems that what started out as something a CNN journalist inaccurately described as "a place where teenagers were posting what they were doing throughout the day, from the cereal they were eating to the movies they were watching", Twitter has grown into a Twitosophere of over one million users.

So what is Twitter? In a nutshell it can be described as an instant communication tool/microblog where users post a 140 character maximum answer to the question ‘What are you doing?’

I decided if I was going to give Facebook a go, I might as well try this too! Besides, loads of businesses I knew were already Tweeting! (I can hear my father from the other side saying "Yes, and if they all jumped off the harbour bridge......")

But in today's fast-paced, instant information society, the sad reality is 'you snooze, you lose'.

Like most business people I’d heard a lot about Twitter and wondered what it was all about. Just another time waster? Another social networking site for bored teens? I saw more and more of my colleagues joining and wondered ‘How do they have the time?’

I took my first tentative steps into Twitter not long after joining Facebook. At first I was overwhelmed … then slightly scared! The amount of followers I was attracting and in such a short time was a little disconcerting … surely I’m not that interesting! I also had the same lamentation as other non-tweeters: “I don’t have the time”, “I’ve got better things to do”, “Any potential clients will think I’m a time waster if I’m seen on Twitter all the time”.

I did some reading, visited blogs, looked at what my followers were posting and made a few tentative posts of my own. Before I knew it I was off!

According to Deborah Micek (author of the Twitter Handbook and Secrets of Online Pursuasion), "Twitter is a powerful tool if you only use it to stay connected with your clients. But it can be used a number of additional ways to make your business life easier, better and more connected ... from attracting new clients to making powerful, new connections".

It’s been an interesting journey so far and in the first month I learned a few things that might be useful to share. So here are my Twitter Observations for anyone considering joining … and perhaps even for those who are already Tweetaholics!

  • Use a program like Twhirl or TweetDeck to help you deal with tweets - your own and others. These are desktop applications that are great time savers and are terrific for setting up searches.
  • Don’t just post links to your business tools.
  • Don’t DM people with free downloads from your site - unless they’ve asked for it. You’ll quickly get a reputation as a spammer.
  • You don’t always have to answer the question ‘What are you doing?’
  • Don’t know what to say? You can include links to your blog posts. If you find an interesting article, tweet that with a link. See what others have said and if you like it, retweet (RT) it. Look at what others are saying to get an idea of the types of things to tweet about.
  • If you’re using Twitter primarily for business networking, don’t just talk about what you’re having for lunch. Try to mix it with useful tips and resources - not just from your own site or your own products but others you find. It’s okay to include personal tweets to let people get an idea of who you are as a person - since we all know ‘people do business with people they know and like’ - but there should be balance.
  • Be helpful - not self-promoting.
  • When you get new followers acknowledge them. A good way to acknowledge them is on #followfriday - this is when you Tweet something like - “Good tweeps to follow: @execva [a few others] #followfriday” - Your followers really appreciate the attention and the fact you’re bringing them to the attention of others.
  • Twitter is about being personal - never use an automated direct message (DM) to acknowledge followers. An automated message is pretty obvious and very impersonal.
  • You don’t have to automatically follow everyone back who follows you. When you get new followers, take a moment to check out their profile to get a feel for who they are and what they tweet.
  • Find people to follow by searching for topics you’re interested in, your industry or region.
  • Find people to follow by checking out who’s following your followers!
  • When your response tweets become back and forth conversations between you and one other Tweep take it DM. It’s annoying for your followers to only receive half the conversation when replies in some cases may only be one word. Remember you and your other Tweep may not have the same followers. You don’t have to reply tweet all the time.
  • Turn off - or better yet don’t use - the Twitter Facebook application. It annoys the heck out of your Facebook friends and you clog their newsfeed with occasionally seemingly nonsensical or, to them, apparently banal tweets and retweets.
  • ANSWER people who go out of their way to DM you or reply to your questions. You’re trying to build relationships, not listen to yourself tweet!
  • Remember people are in different time zones. You may get a response to a tweet but it’s WAY down on the list in the morning. This is when setting up a search of your own name or Twitter ID is useful as it will help track down tweets you should respond to or be aware of.
  • Don’t try and read all 300 tweets you get up to. Just the first 10 or so is enough for anybody! Again, here the search function of desktop applications like Twhirl and TweetDeck are great.
  • Be careful about following people with 10s of thousands of followers - they may follow you back but are probably more about self-serving tweets than anything else. (See ‘popularity contest’ note below.)
  • Some people use Twitter primarily as a way of ‘hearing the sound of their own tweet’, tweeting but not really interested in the response. You learn who these Tweeps are pretty quickly.
  • It’s easy to think that Twitter is a popularity contest - more about the number of followers you have than the quality of your tweets. This becomes apparent when you see Tweeps with 50,000 plus followers who are following back 49,900 of them. I mean seriously, do these people actually read all the tweets they’re getting from those 49,900?? Doubtful. It becomes apparent how Tweeps are using Twitter when they post things like “Hey check out my ranking on http://twitterholic.com/” If you’re using Twitter for business focus on quality, not quantity. (The Twitter powers-that-be recently decided to limit bulk follows to 1000 per day... perhaps they're realising Twitter is morphing into a serious business networking tool!)
  • Set aside time once a day or once a week to tweet. I find once a day is best as I can keep on top of anything happening currently and with an application like Twhirl running in the background (in my system tray) I get pop up notification of tweets and can quickly see if anything is pertinent and relevant.
  • #followfriday is an example of a hashtag. It helps Twitter determine what's called trending topics. Google 'hashtags' to find out more.

You can make some seriously good connections on Twitter. It’s not just for bored teens instant messaging each other about what they’re wearing, eating or doing. Use some of the Twitter Tools out there to help you stay productive. Twitter is fast becoming the next big thing … and it’s loads of fun too!

Author's Bio: 

Award-winning virtual assistant, Lyn Prowse-Bishop, MVA ASO CAVB PVAA is owner/manager of Executive Stress Office Support (eSOS), specialising in medico-legal digital transcription, virtual author support and executive personal assistant services for clients around the world.

One of Queensland’s most respected and well known virtual assistants, Lyn is also founder of the Australian Virtual Business Network, serves as Australian representative on international committees looking at standards and certification for the VA industry, and is a foundation steering committee member of the annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention. She hosts Australia’s first internet radio show/podcast for the VA industry – Virtual Business Show – and is Queensland representative on the Board of Independent Contractors Australia.

How can you spend less time in the office and more enjoying life? Visit her site or email lyn@execstress.com to find out.