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A little bit of what I’ve learned on Twitter

The following column originally appeared on in two parts. As I have no space limitations, here it is in its entirety for your convenience.

And here is the second part:

Twitter is technically simple, but conceptually difficult. When I started, I tweeted useful tips and followed people who I thought might be interested. Eventually, I started following people I thought were interesting. It took me a long time to understand that people talking to me weren’t necessarily talking to everybody and that when I said something, people weren’t necessarily listening. I think I’ve experienced all the Twitter epiphanies, but it took me a long time.

The copy editors I know who don’t use Twitter often say they simply don’t have time for it, that Facebook is enough of a time suck. Well, sure, you don’t have to be on Twitter. There are email lists and Facebook groups that provide a great deal of support. And my understanding is that some of us still work in offices next to other copy editors.

Twitter has space and privacy limitations that are less of an issue on other platforms. But because of its immediacy and the breadth of knowledge available, Twitter is my first point of contact with other copy editors. And if I spend quite a bit of time there, it’s a brief distraction many times a day rather than a scheduled activity. I never think of it as a time commitment because I have it on all the time.

I offer below @EditorMark‘s Tips for Twitter:

1. Know what you want. There are three general motivations for setting up a Twitter account: marketing, learning, and engaging. Unless you are a recognizable brand or pay Twitter for placement, marketing is going to come as an outgrowth of engaging. Learning is usually the last motivation, but it’s Twitter’s greatest strength. And it’s easy: Just pick the people you are interested in and listen. Engaging enhances learning and marketing.

2. Present yourself. You have limited space for a Twitter bio, so consider how you want people to know you. You probably don’t need to waste precious space telling us that your opinions are not those of your employer or that retweets do not equal endorsements. We wouldn’t mind if you told us a little about you beyond your adroitness with a red pen. And a photo shows you are a real person. It’s not necessary, but it helps. Think of it as the quick go-around-the-room in a group meeting: This is who you are, what you’re after, and what we might find interesting about you.

3. Follow the right people. If you want to engage in a conversation, you need to be the one to start it. If you’re at a party alone, it’s no good sitting quietly and avoiding eye contact. Get in there and mingle. Start by following people who share your interest in copy editing. Twitter is great with suggestions. And someone who shares your interests likely is following others who share your interests.

4. Learn the conventions. Twitter has evolved in ways even its creators didn’t anticipate. It’s no longer what you had for breakfast and where you’re going to lunch. Retweet that which interests you, but don’t go mad. Use hashtags that make sense, but sparingly. Comment on other people’s tweets if you have something to add to the conversation. Don’t be offended if no one responds—that doesn’t mean they’re not listening.

5. Engage. The Twitter app on my phone alerts me when someone mentions me in a tweet. The TweetDeck application on my computers also gives me alerts when anyone comments in certain lists I’ve set up. It’s not hard to have them in the background. Twitter is largely a real-time conversation. You can open it up once a day after dinner and scroll back, but that’s not the most effective method. When you do engage, have something to say. This isn’t a requirement—you can tweet your Foursquare check-ins or weight-loss milestones. But others will turn their attention elsewhere.

6. Stick with it. When you start on Twitter, you’re walking into an empty room. The first time you say something, there is an excellent chance that no one is listening. Your first tweet might as well be your favorite yodel. Most first tweets are something like “Well, I guess it’s time for me to join Twitter” or “Is this thing on?” Growth is slow and steady, but that’s true in most any social situation. Give people time to get to know you and get to know them. After a few weeks, you’ll think yourself an expert. After a few months, you will be one.

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