Clive Thompson from Wired Magazine — one of my favorite techno-journalists — writes that tools like Twitter can help us develop a “sixth sense” about the people in our networks. All those seemingly mundane facts like “having homemade bagel & lox for breakfast!” and “reading Vonnegut during flight delay…” can add up to give us a picture of what’s happening in the lives of those around us. As librarians, we can use Twitter to help our communities develop a sixth sense about who we are and what we offer, and we can also use it to develop our own sixth sense that will help us tune into the wants and needs of our communities, too. For instance, if you see a lot of chatter in your network about the recent PBS documentary Copyright Criminals, you can schedule a showing at your library and then send a tweet about the event to all your Twitter followers!
So how do you use it? For a basic yet comprehensive introduction to Twitter, MakeUseOf’s The Complete Guide to Twitter is eminently useful and readable. And once you have the basics down, like #hashtags, @mentions, d direct messages, RT retweets, trending topics, and saved searches, you’re ready to get to the fun stuff!
For starters, Twitter will instantly be much more interesting if you build a good network. Search for people who say interesting things — family, colleagues, favorite authors, CNN, The Onion — and add them to your network. Likewise, if you actually take the time to craft interesting tweets, you’ll be adding more value to your network and more people will want to follow you. Although tweeting is a fine art that takes time to perfect (no, really!), you can begin by sharing links to interesting articles, telling jokes, and publicizing unusual events. For more ideas, check out SocialMediaTrader’s 13 Odd Ways to Use Twitter.
Twitter is also a really useful tool for that beloved librarian activity, search & discovery. Chris Lake has written a “Bitchin’ Guide” about special commands and shortcuts that can help librarians massage locally relevant information out of Twitter. For instance, you can constrain a search for “farmers market” to show results only from your zip code; likewise, you can use Boolean operators to search for local chatter about “swine flue AND H1N1″ to find out whose weekend fiesta to steer clear of. (We librarians love our Boolean operators!)
But my absolute personal favorite use of Twitter is to query my network — in other words, to ask people I know if they can help me out with this or that. So if I’m looking for opinions from my colleagues on a new author, trying to borrow an electric drill, or wondering if anyone else is going to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sing-A-Long this weekend, my Twitter network is a great place to start! They’ll always give me excellent information, in real-time.
Eventually you’ll be ready to check out all the add-ons and applications that will help you do even more neat things with Twitter. TweetDeck, TweetStats and Twanslate are personal favorites (use Twitter to ask “Where is the bathroom?” in French!); Traffikd has a pretty extensive list of resources here.
Finally, even outside the library there are scads of people finding interesting uses for Twitter. AcademHacK is connecting with his college students in (and outside of) the classroom, and ReadWriteWeb is rethinking the way they do journalism. And while technophiles and technophobes alike all have their opinions on what’s up with Twitter, I think David Pogue from the New York Times sums it up rather nicely: “Twitter is precisely what you want it to be.”
(Yes, I am on Twitter, as BananaSuit)