“Harnessing Twitter” – OpEd Studio, May 19

Sarah Milstein at the OpEd studio.

How do you get your point across in 140 character or less? Thursday night’s studio on Twitter began with Jolie Solomon challenging one woman’s use of “nothing words” in class. (What does “laying the groundwork” mean, anyway?) The goals of each woman at the seminar ranged from getting more followers on their personal Twitter accounts, to using Twitter as a tool for “Ted Talks” (Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences) and media exposure.

In her discussion, guest speaker Sarah Milstein successfully demystified Twitter the seminar attendees. Milstein, co-author of “The Twitter Book”, gave a presentation on harnessing the power of Twitter. She became the 21st Twitter user after the site was created in 2006. Milstein is also the co-founder of Two Tomatoes Records.

According to Milstein, women tend to be more active in social media. But about 70 to 90 percent of individuals who use social media are “lurking” – meaning that they are not actively posting, networking or tweeting through the sites. She described Twitter as a “low risk” way to network and build relationships with people in your field. The standard for use is simply to read. Read the posts of other people, organizations or news outlets that you are following.

If you’re interested in becoming a Twitter “thought-leader”, it’s important to create a Twitter persona. It could be your own, but feel free to experiment with multiple personalities in the same account.

Milstein emphasized the importance of sharing “valuable stuff.” This could be as simple as linking to a fascinating news article or opinion column you read recently. You can also link to photos and videos on other sites. When sharing links, it’s often a plus to include your own opinion before the link. If the author or host you are citing is a Twitter user, it’s all right to “call them out” and include their user name with the “@” symbol in your tweet. (For example: “The seminar tonight was great! @oped_studio.”) Sites like bit.ly offer a free url shortening service to help keep you under the 140 character limit.

Sharing tips via Twitter is another way of mixing the practical with the personal. Point to credible sources and give people information they can use. Milstein discussed Twitter’s ability to provide a vivid personal connection and make a window into your own life. You can share funny anecdotes about your dog, or mention helpful tips about finding a hotel in Barcelona. Milstein suggested following the “80/20 rule”: Keep 20 percent of your posts about you, and 80 percent about everything else.

The value of Twitter doesn’t necessarily rely on how many friends you have. According to Milstein, following is extremely overblown. It’s not necessary to have thousands of followers. If someone follows you, no Twitter etiquette compels you to follow her in return.

The class also discussed Twitter’s ability to spread news and big events faster than most news media outlets. The site’s ability to cultivate organic trends and memes via hashtags (searchable phrases or words with the “#” preceding them) makes it an indispensable tool for thought leadership.

But sometimes the most compelling tweets are the simplest ones. Don’t feel you have to be clever each time. While the tweet is essentially out there forever, it has a shelf life of about five minutes, so don’t stress each tweet.

One attendee noted that it’s very easy to get lost in the “vortex” of tweets. Milstein said that it’s important to play around on Twitter but, “While you’re playing, be interesting.”

Check out the OEP on twitter @theopedproject. Follow our studios @oped_studio.

-Katherine Milsop

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