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New (more positive) thoughts on Twitter

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The other day, I finally (and accidentally) discovered how Twitter can be useful for me personally. It all started on a cold, blustery Tuesday….

I was anxious, because my new addiction, Master Chef, was clashing timetable-wise with my pre-paid tickets to the Lily Allen concert in Sydney. I wanted to get to Lily Allen fairly early, because with no assigned seats, I needed to ensure I could sit down and wouldn’t have to stand with the teeny boppers.
Problem was, it was celebrity chef night on Master Chef – I didn’t want to miss it! Would Lucas get through?
Sitting in my seats at the Hordern pavillion at 7:30 I was glad I got there early to bags seats with the other ‘adults’, but I was also dying to know who won Masterchef. A quick look on my friends iPhone solved all my worries, as people were tweeting just seconds after Lucas’s victory.
Admittedly I could have waited till it got onto the MasterChef website, which would not have taken much longer, but such is the ‘youth’ of today. We want it all, we want it now, and in two seconds it will be old news. In such an environment, ‘real-time’ search engines like Twitter might just have a place. Since I am the most impatient of all, I have found a happy use for Twitter.

Sure you can’t see the most up to date news unless you know what to search for, but you can see what the zeitgeist is, by looking at the twitter trends. Right now for example, 2 of the 3 most popular twitter threads include Iran (democracy debate), which is heartening, and shows that maybe Twitterers aren’t as shallow as the non-converts might think. This pride diminishes, when you see that the second most popular thread, and the eighth as well, are on ‘John and Kate’. If you aren’t familiar (and I only am because I just stayed with my friend in the US) this is a couple from the US show John and Kate Plus Eight, and they are apparently splitting up. The fact that this gets two spots in the top 10 might insinuate a very large proportion of US users.

Another positive thing about Twitter? I only just noticed the new ability to erase Tweets you have written…great addition for those impetuous people out there (like me…).

The 411 on Twitter

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I have posted many times before about Twitter, but despite all my posturing I still am not a frequent user. I know some people utilise both Twitter and Facebook, but I feel like I spend enough time on Facebook without spending more time on Twitter too.

I am a Facebook girl.

The other reasons I don’t use Twitter are that I really don’t have many non-work-related friends who use Twitter, and I suspect that a large majority of Twitter users are PR or marketing people (or people doing their own PR). This could just be a personal prejudice of mine. This article in the Independent , estimates the number of users as 2.4 million in the UK and a staggering 15.7 million in the US (April 2009).

Despite this huge ‘following’, there are apparently only 46 employees in Twitter – very small in relation to its users, and also its funding this year, $35million USD.

Since I am a marketing person myself, and since I love Lily Allen, I have decided to make a concerted Twitter effort. Today, I updated my Twitter (Trakka) 3 times. Admittedly this was within the space of 5 minutes, as I couldn’t decide how to start on my new endeavour. But still. Three times in one day is a great start I think. Now, my Twitter window will be open all day long on my laptop, next to my Yahoo mail, work email and Facebook.

To help me begin my quest, and to help others understand what I am talking about, here is my official 411 on Twitter:

What is it?

Twitter is a pared down version of the Facebook status update feature. It is touted by its founders as being a way for people to stay connected through the exchange of quick and frequent messages, which is true, if the people you know are actually on Twitter. More often it seems to be used by companies and celebrities to promote themselves or their products (Lily Allen, Skittles, Hugh Jackman, etc).

The updates, with a limit of 140 characters, are colloquially referred to as ‘tweets’, and are posted to your own profile and sent to your ‘followers’ (Similar to Facebook, where ‘followers’ = ‘friends’.). Unlike Facebook, your updates are also searchable, which has given rise to the comment that Twitter is the first ‘real-time’ search engine. A claim I disagree with, littered as it is with spam.

If you are reluctant for the public to be able to search your status, you can make it private. But by default, of course, it is public.

Similar to Facebook, and email, you can also receive private messages in Twitter. This disturbs me, as I already need to check my work email, private email and Facebook Inbox to see if anyone is saying anything to me – like Drew Barrymore says in ‘He’s just not that into you’, "It’s exhausting!".

What are the #’s about?

If you put a # before a word, this means that you are identifying it as belonging to a stream of twitters about that particular word or term. E.g. #Olympics, #Obama, etc.

What is an @reply?

If you want to use your status update to say something specifically to someone, you start your update with @, then the username of the person you are addressing. Because many updates are public and searchable, you can reply to people who you are not following.

If you want to see if anyone has done this with your username, there is an @username link in the right hand navigation of your home page where you can check it.

Now, come and follow me, @Trakka (yay, I am glad I got my nickname!)

Using Twitter for Search

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I bet the Prime Ministers Office is buzzing tonight, with policy makers, PRs and assistants, scouring online newspapers to gauge the reaction of the nation to their 2009 Budget.

With the availability of online newspapers, no longer do we have to wait for the 5 o’clock news, but instead we can go online and refresh any newspaper site until the first stories start to come through about whatever topic we are interested in that day. Alternatively, we can get Google alerts to send us the news clippings as they arrive.

If you asked social media experts though, they would tell you that there is at least one other major source that the PM’s office should be canvassing tonight – Twitter. Recently hailed as the new ‘real-time’ search engine, Twitter is supposed to rival Google as an information source, particularly on real-time.

If you check out the Twitter stream about the budget, you will see that the vast majority of tweets are not reactionary or emotional, but rather statements. One of my hopes, and that of many marketers in general, was that Twitter would have been a source for gauging the opinions and feelings of your customers. But for any given topic, you have to wade through a lot of useless tweets to find interesting opinions.  The feelings are so far usually very high level and predictable – e.g. “it is so sad about the Victorian bushfires”.

It is also littered with tiny URLs – which are distracting and useless if you aren’t going to click on them. And realistically, you would have to have a lot of spare time to click on all, or even a proportion, of the URLs you find in a news-related Twitter stream. If I wanted to read related articles, I would still prefer to use Google news as a source, as it is a bespoke search engine for searching relevant articles and there is at least some quality control over the articles which are suggested.

Twitter just isn’t doing it for me – I don’t want to see all those tiny URLs, I don’t want to read banal comments like “the budget is out today”, and I don’t want to have to sort through low quality tweets and spammers.  I am ‘old-fashioned’, I prefer the technology of yesterday – Google and online news. News.com.au for example has a collection of articles from a few different papers, and you are allowed to comment – so with them you get the ‘facts’ as well as a selection of opinions from ‘regular’ people.

While the hype of Twitter seems to have peaked, and now is falling slightly, I continue my sceptical opinion of it, and wait to see what it is truly useful for.

Government Drugs Campaign on Facebook

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If you live in Sydney, you probably have noticed a big new anti-drugs campaign by the Australian Government. The new campaign is targetting the use of ICE specifically, and the ads can be seen all over bus stops and train stations.

Also, this morning, I can see that the Government has really got ‘with it’, and have now started advertising on Facebook. In the right hand margin of my home page, where the sponsored ads go, was this:

Ice Facebook ad

I would love to see the analytics associated with this campaign – how many people are actually playing that ad?  Who rings this number? Who clicks through to the website (if you even can)?

I am obviously in the ICE target demographic, since I am being shown this ad. Isn’t it kind of depressing the kind of profile advertisers have of you? They send me ads about get rich quick schemes, losing weight, finding a partner – and now telling me not to use ICE! They obviously have a very poor opinion of me.

When it comes to awareness, this Ice campaign has definitely worked on me, however, like all public interest campaigns, whether it is a well known ad is one thing, whether it prevents usage is another.

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