One of my favorite hymns (especially at Christmas) is “Go Tell It On The Mountain”. In the olden days, going to a high place and yelling good news was a way to be heard over a large distance. Compare this to everyone standing in a crowd and just yelling. You’d never really be heard. It’s just noise at that point and chaotic.
On the surface, I will admit Twitter is probably the most confusing and “messy” social media/networking service I’ve ever used. I view it as standing in the crowd yelling. I know I’m not alone in that thought either. When I first started using Twitter, I set up my account and waited a bit for some people to “follow me” which was kind of a silly thought. With millions of users, I was just a speck. So I started following a bunch of people. Low and behold, people started following me too. Now I had this stream of random thoughts and posts from topics all over the spectrum all constrained to 140 characters. I almost threw in the towel not seeing how this could ever be worthwhile. Sound familiar? But then I found out it’s when you start “peeling back the layers” you begin to see a very powerful and beneficial service for Catholics and Catholic parishes.
When you take the time to truly learn how to maximize the use of the great features built into the Twitter service, it becomes more of “tweeting it from the mountain”. I also sometimes see it as the paper boy standing on the street corner yelling, “Read all about it!” and people come over to see what the story is about. Either way, it’s a great service and here’s what I’ve learned and why I love Twitter today:
- Following begets followers. When I was having difficulty finding work several years ago my wife said to me, “Stick out your hand.” So I did. She grabbed it, shook it, and said “Hi. My name is Brad.” ‘Following’ people on Twitter is like sticking out your hand and saying, “Hi. My name is . . .” The majority of people will “follow’ you back. So who do you follow? You can start by using your contacts in your email account or through a topic search. You’ll also find people/organizations to ‘follow’ on their websites. Look for the little blue bird or “Follow Us/Me On Twitter” link. You can also find a comprehensive list of great catholic Tweeters from the great folks at http://www.TweetCatholic.com.
- Saved searches reveal a lot. Just like you can search for topics on Google, Bing, or Yahoo; you can search on Twitter in the search field to see what others are tweeting on the topic. If you search a generic term like ‘catholic’ you will find all tweets that have the word ‘catholic’. You can also search hastags (#) (which are explained below) and will give you a more targeted list of tweets since hashtags are used to denote a topic. You can save these searches as well to easily pull up later. For example, I have saved searches for my town which allows me to easily see things going on around the area.
- Lists are a great way to follow targeted topics from sources you trust. Lists are one of my favorite features. You can create lists for various topics by adding Tweeters to the list. For example, I have a ‘Catholic’ list that is ever-growing and is comprised of great Catholic Tweeters I come across. This way, I can easily click the list and see everything they are tweeting about. You can add anyone to a list and do not have to ‘follow’ them if you do not care to. It depends on the topic for me whether I ‘follow’ everyone in the list or not. List also can be easily fed out elsewhere to services like http://www.Paper.li. This service pulls all the tweets from a list and creates a nice looking online newsletter automatically which can be generated daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Check out one I created called “The Catholic Daily”. Links for lists become Twitter.com/username/listname (i.e. Twitter.com/bwest2/catholic).
- Learn the lingo. Twitter has it’s own little ‘language’ for things that can take a little getting used to. Here’s some of the basics:
- Tweet – This is the 140 characters or less post you send out. You can also add links to websites, blogs, videos, etc. Since links can be long as web addresses, there are URL shorteners that popped up a few years ago and you will typically see the links look strange (i.e. http://bit.ly).
- Retweet (RT) – This is a function that allows you to retweet something someone else posted to your ‘followers’.
- Hashtag (#) – By putting the ‘#” sign in front of a topic, it allows it to be easily searched for an found by others. Likewise, the hashtag phrase becomes a link you can click on and see all tweets from others ‘participating’. For a great example, see Jonanthan F. Sullivan’s article “Lessons From a Minor Twitter Meme” about#catholicrulesfortwitter. By the way, there is great ‘#CatholicRulesForTwitter” merchandise you can order online as well. Click here for the store.
- @Username – The ‘@’ sign before a name or username is the link to the person/organization. Although people can use “screennames”, their real name will show up as well. For example, I am @bwest2 on Twitter but my real name shows up on my profile. The link for the person always becomes Twitter.com/Username (i.e. Twitter.com/bwest2)
- FF – This stands for ‘Follow Friday’ which is a little Twitter ritual on Fridays where people will mention others (i.e. FF @bwest2, @catholicservant). This is another great way to find new people to follow. It’s polite to “retweet” tweets you are mentioned in for a ‘FF’ or mention the person who originally sent the ‘FF’ and tweet ‘Thanks for the mention’. There’s a whole Twitter etiquette thing that would make for it’s own blog post.
In any event, Twitter is a lot of fun and you should have fun with it. It’s a great way to share things you come across from across the web or just your thoughts. Parishes, individuals, organizations are finding it a great way to ‘tell it on the mountain’ everyday. Use it one your mobile smartphone and you can easily tweet pictures at a place or event using your phone’s camera. I don’t use that enough, but love the feature.
How are you using Twitter?