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What is Twitter, What Can I Do With Twitter?

The world is saturated with twits, tweets, and tweeps. Everyone, from Oprah to NPR has decided that this is the most brilliant application ever devised by man. They constantly cite it, talk about it, and overhype it to the Nth degree.

The one thing they never explain about twitter is how it is intended to be used. They don't explain the reTweet, or spambot followers. They just tell random people to get online, and drop their thoughts, in 140 characters or less, of course.

It's not their fault, really, as twitter doesn't really have a defined purpose. The idea is that it is supposed to enable real-time communication, sort of a text message broadcast to the entire world. The actual purpose of tweets are left up to the users' imaginations.

It was too much for me to get my mind wrapped around when I started, that is for sure. With this in mind, I'd like to tell you a couple uses that will make twitter a valuable investment of your time.

This article will serve a very practical purpose, both for the novice user of twitter, and for those who have lost interest: It'll tell you how, what, and why to follow certain users, along with giving you the ability to find and organize that data in a meaningful manner.

With that in mind, let's begin. There are around 7 major types of twitter users. Your interests will determine which of these folks it would be in your best interest to follow:

1. Newsies: The New York Times, Tribune Media, Huffington Post, Drudge Report, and various other news agencies use twitter as a point of distribution for their articles. Updates commonly carry newly published content, or respond to readers of their content, which will naturally drive new readers to their site.

2. Gurus: These people, like Tony Robbin or Robert Kiyosaki(of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame) use their accounts to push out mini-seminars. Their updates range from the inspirational to motivational, deliver news updates, and of course, push product in-between.

3. Gossip Gals: They don't miss a single controversy. It doesn't matter how small, these girls(and guys---think Perez Hilton) won't let it rest. While TMZ and the Smoking Gun throw out some really interesting stuff, I wouldn't put it in the category of "news".

4. Info-Marketers: Pushing everything from get-rich-schemes, to plugging their latest eBook, these folks peddle all things downloadable. They are always mentioning some resource that seems designed to help you make money, but will make them money instead.

5. Regular Marketers: Generally, tweeps of this ilk are pushing a physical product, or building up that brand. You'll see everyone from tire companies to toilet paper purveyors interacting with their customers and fans. To spice things up, fun facts and interesting news are served with soft-sell promotional tactics.

6. Power Tweeters: This is an odd group. They generally tweet about anything and everything. Most of the time, they are female in gender, and are a mixture of Gossip Gals and Newsie fare, with a spatter of hometown chatter. They never sell anything. Many times, they will live-tweet their thoughts on concerts, television shows, and fashion.

7. Everyone Else: This encompasses roughly 97% of the twitterverse. They followed a few people, didn't learn how to link, reTweet, or even reply inside of twitter. Eventually, they get tired of the whole thing, and move back to playing "Mafia Wars" on facebook.

While there are sub-groups within every group, these are where the lines are generally drawn. The most important takeaway from this breakdown is the following: Most people on twitter are trying to sell you something. Now that you know who's online, how can you get the most out of twitter?

Glad you asked. The first thing to get is a twitter client. For the purpose of this article, we're going with TweetDeck, a leader in the twitter client arena. It's easy to use. Download it, open it up, enter your username and password...and magically, you have a bird's eye view of everything happening in twitter(or at least who you are following, and their activity).

You'll see your live twitter feed on the far left, in-between you'll find any replies that have been made to your messages(if you've just opened an account, there won't be any messages here), and on the far right, your direct messages(private messages between you and another user that are not broadcast to other users).

The first thing you should do is find twitterers who meet your basic informational needs. For that, I actually prefer to use google, as it generally does a better job of finding who, or what you are looking for than twitter's native search service. Google your local station's call sign and add twitter to the end.(e.g. WKPY twitter). Let's say we were searching for a our local station in New Mexico. We'd follow @KOBTV. That will be useful for weather alerts, local news, and community events.

Next, get a national news feed you trust. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox all have twitter feeds kicking out news at the speed of type. You can now see what is making waves at the national level, along with any upcoming special reports.

Now comes the fun part...your interests. Love tech...grab @TechCrunch. Need your daily fix of stats and scores: Follow @ESPN. Pick 2-3 twittering entities that don't overlap. For instance, unless you just love too much information, don't follow ABC, NBC, and CBS news.

From there, it's time to find interesting people to follow. See if your favorite celebrities, nobel laureates, or trashmen are online. Check out their profile online, either by searching google with their name, followed by twitter, or by going to their website, and finding out what it is. This is probably the greatest chance at interaction with the rich and infamous that you will get. Rainn Wilson(Dwight Schrute of "The Office") is one celebrity with particularly interest thoughts, links, and conversation.

You have a base of good, solid tweets that you are now following. Here comes the fun part. There are people around the world having conversations about the latest news, movies, restaurants, whatever. Now, you just have to find them. Pull up the search feature in TweetDeck. There are two ways to search: hashtag, or plain text. Hashtags denote a post in a certain category. For instance, if you were looking for all the updates that include the President, but don't actually mention him in the body, this is the easiest way to search. If you are just looking for all mentions of Barack Obama, you would enter his name in plain text.

Searching in TweetDeck will open a column that automatically updates each time the search term is mentioned. For instance, you could keep a column opened for any topics you are interested in, and monitor them in real-time. I like to keep an eye on precious metals, mining, and tire news(boring, I know). When I am monitoring twitter, I keep a #gold, #silver, #mining, and #tires tab open, so that I can keep abreast of what is happening. It's like a stock ticker. Glance, see something you like, and read any article links that come through. If I see someone who is tweeting regularly about a topic I am interested in, I follow them, so I can see any of their general tweets as well. Rinse and repeat for each topic you have an interest in, and the list of people you follow will be over 100 in no time.

Now, for the bad part: Taking out the trash. Twitter is full of people who will spam you, by doing the most flattering thing of all: following your account. Since twitter sends you an email notification that someone is a follower, your curiosity makes you want to check them out. Many times, they will masquerade as a female in a bathing suit(or less). Their names will often be followed by a dash with a 4-digit number. You should immediately go to your follower page, and hit "report as spam". This helps twitter eliminate them from the roster, and keeps any of your followers from checking their garbage out.

On a lesser note, I try to clean out people I follow from time-to-time. Some of them have reverted to inane chatter, instead of providing important news. Even worse, they are tweeting more often, and saying even less. If you are spending time in twitter, make sure that dump a few people to keep things uncluttered.

Some of you might be wondering how to get legitimate followers. It's simple advice: Be you. If you are chatty, be chatty. Talk about your interests. ReTweet things from others that you find interesting. Be consistent. Spend time on twitter. The more you are engaged with others, the more likely it is that people will like, and follow what you have to say.

Now, let's recap how to get the most out of twitter:

1. Know the major categories of Twitterers. Filter them out based upon your interests.

2. Get a twitter client, like TweetDeck, to help you manage the vast streams of information coming through.

3. Make sure you are following a local news station, national news station, and sources that cover any informational gaps that you might have.

4. Follow celebrities that are active and intelligent.

5. Use search and hashtags to sort out topics and people to follow that are of interest to you.

6. Take out the trash regularly to make sure your feed isn't overloaded with garbage. Block or report bots as spam.

7. Gain more followers by contributing to the conversation, and being yourself.

That's all for now. There are far more advanced methods of tweeting, following, and being heard. Most of those methods are custom rules, developed by each user. You wouldn't think publishing a message would need rules. After all, how complex should sending out 140 characters be?

Evidently, as complex as we can possibly make something that has no definable purpose.

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