We started by looking at why various social media platforms can constitute a vital and valuable part of your business intelligence stream. The principle is that default ways of reading Facebook, Twitter and Google+ may not suffice, but that if you're committed to finding the valuable content, there are ways to get it.
This installment looks at how you can use Twitter to be on top of the news at about the same pace as professionals at major news outlets. The two secrets you need are:
- Understanding hashtags
- Using the right tools
Understanding Hashtags - There's an inconvenient little secret that we have to embrace before we can get to the gold in Twitter. Most of us say far too much.
So when the arms-length pundits* tell us that Twitter is silly with its 140 character limit, they're not paying attention to the fact that you can say an awful lot in 140 characters. With just a little serious inspection and discovery, it becomes clear that you can communicate a great deal in a message envelope of that size.
And there are two magic bullets available that allow you to punch a hole in the limit and access a message space of infinite size. Those bullets are called short URLs and hashtags.
Quickly, short URLs are simply addresses that have been submitted to a service that takes the full URL and generates a shorthand address that goes to the same spot. For example, this address from my last article (http://community.xmatters.com/people/vlowe/blog/2012/10/24/why-you-should-be-reading-facebook-at-work-pt-2) becomes this when shortened by such a service. (http://bit.ly/Rq3UPo) There are a number of services you might choose to do this work and it's an ideal way to get a web address into a form suitable for sharing. (I wrote about these at Tech Whine some time ago in this article and this one.)
The second one is the hashtag. This is simply a keyword preceded by the "hash symbol" The principle here is that Twitter will treat the symbol in a special way, and a number of other platforms also give increased meaning to words presented in this fashion. #socialmedia or #indiefilm or #sfgiants are all examples of hashtags that occur in a content a lot.
When you supply a hashtag in your messages, others can locate your message as part of a search for concept or "branding." More important than that is that as a reader, you can locate messages that pertain to a subject or belong to a specific conversation by searching for a given hashtag instead of simply reading the stream. (A search for #zombiesongs yielded this Tweet, "People get ready, there's a brain comin' #zombiesongs" and this one, "Every Time You Go Away (You Take a Piece of Meat With You) #zombiesongs" More useful content was available when I looked at #edchat #screenwriter and #edtech tags.)
So instead of being limited to 140 characters, a Twitter communication can thread ideas together by including the same hashtag in each message -- and it can refer outward to a more extensive information space by using a shortened URL.
Using the Right Tools - There are too many tools for Twitter to cover even the good ones easily. But two that I can recommend heartily are Tweetdeck and Seesmic. For readers of the Twitter message space, each of these allows ready monitoring of hashtags in their own columns (Tweetdeck is show in the image above), as well as the means to monitor several accounts both in and out of the Twitter platform. They do much the same thing and I'll talk about what that is by considering Tweetdeck.
In my own instance of Tweetdeck, I can see the 6 or so accounts I maintain for various communities as well as my own personal account, and updates made in my LinkedIn and Facebook news streams.
I can post from any of my accounts, and I can set up posts to be delivered at later times. So as a communicator in the middle of a marketing campaign, I can spend an hour or two of work to set up messages for the week, and then I don't have to worry about it for a while. I can still insert ad-hoc real time messages from my mobile device, but the steady stream of updates that I want to use that tell my story can be sculpted to reliably hit at peak reading times.
But this is really about reading, so I'll leave Tweetdeck by saying that it's very handy to have a tool that can monitor issues that matter to me across a variety of platforms. One of the best features that Tweetdeck offers is the ability to "click through" to a person or hashtag to see what else is related. Here are some practices that I use with the tool that let me stay on top of news that interests me.
- I monitor hashtags that relate to the news I'm tracking
- When people post interesting material to those tags, I click through to look at their streams, and if they are interesting overall, I follow them
- I follow people who are influential in the area, industry, or issue that I'm tracking
- If they interact with others in a meaningful way, I click though to those people to see if I should be following them.
You can read interesting additional perspective by taking a look at what Doug Peete at xMatters had to say in their community forum (What Twitter Feeds Helped You Through Sandy and Other Major Incidents).
Next time we'll wrap up this series by taking a look at Google+ and discover why you should not believe the arms-length pundits who missed the point about this platform. There's probably something in there for you and we'll look to see what it is.
* arms-length pundits are those folks who don't actually make any attempt to engage with a platform, they simply discover some trivial fact about it to which they object and then pronounce it unworthy.