Twitter for people who hate Twitter

Yes, this means you

Hey there, friend, I’ve got some rough news for you: It’s time you got on Twitter.

I’m not much for evangelism. Recommending things? Cool. Sharing something that made my life a little better? That’s OK. Evangelism means something a little more aggressive, right? There are things that I like that I think other people will like, but I worry that shouting it from the rooftops or trapping you at coffee table for three or four hours isn’t really the way to go.

For example: If you and I ever end up together in my hometown, I’m going to take you to Scottie’s for a cheeseburger, fries and huckleberry milkshake. We’ll sit outside and try to keep warm while the greasy fries slowly coat our arteries. At least, I’ll try my best to make that happen. I’ll be persuasive, but I wouldn’t call it evangelism.

You really want to get a salad? You want Indian food? OK, I’m cool with that.

But I have to admit I get a little nutty when it comes to small businesses and social media. Especially Twitter. See, most people don’t realize how powerful Twitter can be, so I do my best to convert the naysayers. I even get sneaky about it. Check it out: Exchanging business cards is a legitimate way to make connections. It’s like exchanging gifts.

“That was a great conversation, New Friend. I really like what you’re doing.”

“Yeah? Me, too. I mean, ditto. I mean, I really like what you’re doing, too.”

“We should exchange business cards.”

“That’s a great idea.”

“That way we can keep cheering each other on and help each other out.”

“I know, right? That’s awesome.”

Sure, I’ll take a business card from someone I meet at a conference, but I don’t hand one out. It’s my Twitter trick. Instead, I pull out my phone and say, “I have a great idea—let’s connect on Twitter.”

Then they flash me a sheepish smile, shrug their shoulders, and explain that either 1) they think that they’re on Twitter, but they have no idea what they’re doing, or 2) Twitter is evil and should be tossed into a burning Icelandic pit while Bjork stands at the edge and serenades its demise.

That’s when the evangelist in me kicks in. “No worries, pull out your phone,” I say. “Twitter is perfect for your business. Let’s take a look.”

Signing up for Twitter

Signing up is pretty straightforward. Go to https://twitter.com/signup and follow the instructions. The one thing that might stress you out here? Your Twitter name. Like a lot of things on the Internet (domains), it has to be unique. You might find that your name or the name of your business is already taken. Don’t worry about it. If you can get the name you want—or something really close to it without adding too many underscores—that’s great. If not, just do the best you can. You’re going to list your real name in your profile anyway; that will help people find you regardless of how complicated your username gets.

One idea I love: just use your entire domain name as your Twitter handle. The first part AND the second part. You know, all the stuff after the dot. Chances are good that you’ve already figured out a unique domain name for your business; why not use the same name on Twitter? Examples:

If the name “emmajones” isn’t available, I could use “emmajonesco” (emmajones.co).

If the name “scificafe” is already taken, I could go with “scificafecom” or “scificafenet.”

Join Twitter

You get the point. Try to get something simple, but don’t stress too much about it. People will be able to find you by your Twitter handle, real name, and email address (even though they won’t see your email address on your profile).

When you sign up, you’ll add a picture, type in your real name, describe who you are, and add a link to your website. That’s the important stuff — the stuff that connects you to other people who care about the same stuff you care about.

Twitter basics

Before we get too far into Twitterland, let’s review the basics. Now, I won’t go into a lot of detail here—mostly because a lot of other people have done a great job explaining all this stuff—but there are some general terms you’ll want to know right away:

Tweet. It’s the primary (made up) verb for Twitter. It’s the message you post. It could be an original post, or a reply, or a retweet (re-post) of something that someone else tweeted. That’s it. You can conjugate it, past-tense it. It acts just like a verb. Examples: He tweeted. She tweets. I love tweeting. We will tweet and retweet until others recognize how clever and charming we really are.

140. The length of your tweet—in characters. The tricky thing here is that spaces count as characters. For instance, the phrase, “I love blue bluebirds” is 21 characters long. Count ’em. There are 18 letters and 3 spaces. And honestly, I love this about Twitter. When (and if) you tweet, it takes the edge off. Plus, how long does it take to read 140 characters? Most people hate reading. It’s hard. But 140 characters? We can do that.

Replies. Replies are all of those goofy at-symbols (@) you see in tweets. When you see a tweet with @someonesname in it, that’s basically a reply. Twitter alerts you when someone replies to you or whenever your @name is mentioned in a tweet. It’s an easy way to connect and let someone else know you exist. If you want to reply or comment on someone else’s tweet, it’s easy. Click on their tweet, and then click Reply.

Retweet. Self-explanatory, right? Prefixes are great. A retweet is a tweet that happens twice. And I know what you’re thinking: There are way way too many tweets out there already. Why in the world would someone post it again? It’s simple. To let someone else know you like what they said. It’s a compliment. And when you retweet something, they see who you are. It’s an easy first step to connecting with someone else.

Hashtag. Hashtags are categories. It’s a pound symbol followed by a word or a phrase smashed together to be one word. There are no official categories on Twitter. You make it up as you go. If it’s a common word or phrase, chances are good someone else has used it. Something like #pancakes or #crossfit or #babyphotography. You can search for hashtags on Twitter. They make it easier for you to connect with people who care about the same stuff you do.

Who to follow first on Twitter

When you first sign up, Twitter will ask you what you’re interested in and recommend some people and organizations to follow. If it looks like something interesting to you, go for it. Twitter also gives you the option to scan your Gmail contacts (or other email contacts) to see if there are people you know already on Twitter. I recommend doing it if you have time. Like a lot of things, Twitter is better with people you know. Especially in the beginning.

First, search for people who already do what you do. In a lot of cases this is your straight-up competition. Let’s say you’re starting a small vegetarian place in Spokane, Wash. Chances are good that you scoped out the competition before you opened your doors. You probably ate at other vegetarian restaurants in town to get a feel for them. Search for them on Twitter and follow them.

Maybe there’s a local co-op you like to go to for produce? Search for them. If they’re on Twitter, follow them. A local chef who writes books about vegan life? Follow them.

Good? All set up? Following a few people? Great. That’s just the beginning. Don’t be shy looking around to find more people to follow. You can see who your friends follow. You can see who your competition follows.

And what does all of this following get you? Ideas. It’s like you have a custom channel that talks about stuff that’s important to you. You can see what others do. You can see what works and what doesn’t. You’ll find new recipes, new strategies, and new ways of doing business. All it costs you is a few minutes a day, looking through your Twitter feed.

What’s next?

Now, you might be wondering what you should tweet. What witty thing should you say? Do you have anything worth saying? Should you talk about your breakfast? Should you let the world know you just joined Twitter? Well, I’ve got good news: you don’t have to tweet about anything. At least, not right now. Schedule some time each day to review what’s happening in your Twitter feed. When you’re ready, you’ll know what to say.

And for those of you still a little worried, we’ll cover what to tweet in our next blog post about Twitter. We’ll set you up with some templates and ideas to help you join the conversation and network with others. You know, a lot like what you do when you exchange business cards. Only better.

Image by: Faisal Aljunied via Compfight cc

Shawn Pfunder
Shawn's been working with freelancers, entrepreneurs, and business owners for more than 20 years. He's consulted companies large and small on communication, social media, and marketing strategies. At heart he's a small-business superfan. He believes that working for yourself is one of the most courageous and creative moves anyone can make. Currently, he's the Editor in Chief for The Garage. When he's not hanging out with solopreneurs, Shawn loves to write, run, and travel. He's passionate about teaching and he's convinced that a good story is the best way to do it — especially if it involves El Caminos, potato fields, and really loud music.