This is admittedly off the beaten path for HH content, but I've had enough people ask me about it that it must be of general interest. Please chime in with your own thoughts on this vast subject, as I do not consider myself an expert.
"Twitter makes me like people I've never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life."
I've been on twitter over a year. It took me about six months (seriously) for it all to "click," but now it is my first choice for social media connection. I've found tons of interesting people who I'm not sure I would have come across otherwise. I use it to give and receive useful information and I am directed daily to interesting blogs and websites. Most of the articles I choose for Friday Links comes through something posted on twitter, and I've even become friends in real life with people that I've met on twitter.
But from the outside looking in, I know that twitter can be confusing.
You set up a twitter account in a similar way that you set up a facebook profile or any other such online account, but without much information. You need an email address, a short bio, and you must choose a twitter name. My twitter name is hollywoodhwife, which means you can follow my twitter stream at any time at twitter.com/hollywoodhwife. You can change your twitter name at any time without messing up your account.
Tweeting: A tweet is 140 characters or less of your thoughts at the moment. Writing a tweet is very similar to writing a facebook status update. Some people post the mundane: "I had a great breakfast!" and some people are more deliberate about the messages they're putting out there for their followers. Anything goes.
If someone writes something particularly funny or useful, you can re-tweet it, much like forwarding an email. When you see the "RT" then you know that everything after that is a re-tweet (or forward) from someone else.
If someone puts a "#" in front of a word, it's a hashtag. You can sort ALL tweets all over the internet by hashtags. So for example, this tweet above went into the Glee hashtag stream because I put the "#" in front of the word Glee. If you were a huge fan of the show, you might be following the #Glee tweet stream (meaning that you're seeing all of the tweets in the world that contain something about Glee) to find other Glee fans. It's just a way to connect by subject instead of by searching individual people. You can put a hashtag in front of anything. (#Lakers, #Parents, #Oprah)
Followers and Following: When you follow someone this means you want to see what they're tweeting. Their tweets appear in your stream that you read of all the people you're following. When you follow someone, this does not mean that they will follow you back. They may or may not.
I think it's easiest to start by following people you already know in real life or very high profile people or people whose blogs you already read, etc. Once you're following a good handful, you will naturally find others to follow by reading people's RT's or following interesting links that then makes you want to follow that person.
People will also start to follow you. There's a TON of spam on twitter, so don't be freaked out by odd people who appear to be following you. You can block someone that you suspect is spam or someone with whom you're uncomfortable, or you can just let it take care of itself (they tend to become deactivated accounts fairly quickly). If you're really paranoid about spam or who is following you, you can set your account to private, but to me this kind of defeats the purpose of twitter.
The key to twitter is conversation. You'll find others and others will find you as you participate in the overall conversation. "Participating in the coversation" means replying to people. When you tweet your general update, only your followers see the tweet. When you reply to people, like I did above, only the person you're replying to AND anyone that follows you BOTH sees the reply in their own stream. So the reply is still public if you were looking at my twitter page, but when you're reading the tweets of those you follow it's not flooded with everyone's replies to everyone else.
Once you get in a groove of tweeting and replying to other people's tweets, you will start to see why twitter can be useful and fun. Soon you'll be following enough people that you may want to separate them into lists, so you can quickly scan the relevant column. I have a list for other bloggers and a list for other people in L.A., among others. I have also found it necessary to use a third party application rather than just the generic twitter website. (I use tweetdeck on my computer and echofon on my cell phone.)
Now that you know the very basics, you may be asking yourself why you would want to tweet. Maybe you still don't understand the benefit of it. It's hard to grasp how instant the information flies on twitter, both serious news and silly communications. For that very reason, I asked my followers the very important question above.
Within minutes, I got dozens of answers. Here are just a few pulled from my tweetdeck:
So you see, friends, that is the value of twitter.
This was just the very most basics of twitter. There is so much more to say, so many more layers to it. But you have to start somewhere, and it feels better to start with some knowledge than to start blind. Any questions or anything you want to add, sound off in the comments!