Photo by JoeBryantStudios.

Let me introduce myself. I’m Laurie Owen, I’m a new contributor to this blog, I’m over 60, I have a social media business called ReachThemOnline, and I have every intention of giving you good bits of information that you will actually be able to carry away and implement right away.

Baby Boomers Welcome Here!

If you’re over 50, part of the “baby boomer” generation, I want to make sure you feel right at home here. We are part of a growing statistic within the use of social media sites. Whether we’re using social media sites to keep in touch with family and friends, to connect with potential business connections, or to sell a product, we are becoming a force with which to contend. But of course, that’s nothing new to us. We as a whole have been a target market since we were babies. Why should this trend be any different? And, along with that, we’ve historically been an adventurous lot, so whatever trepidation you may have about swimming in this particular ocean, I guarantee that in very short order you’ll be swimming with the best of them, and having a ball doing it. Kick off your shoes, be sure to ask me questions. No question is too small. If I don’t know the answer, I can refer you to those who do (Ivan is a great source of technical knowhow). I know what it’s like to start a new enterprise at our age (I’m over 60). Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sea of information that’s available at my fingertips, but I read blogs and attend webinars as a hobby, so I’ll be able to point you in some solid directions. Oh—and if you’re younger, that’s okay too. In fact, one of the unintentional side-effects of this paradigm shift that we’re calling Social Media, or Social Relationships, is that it is helping to create bridges over the generation gap. As more of us “fine aged wine’s” begin to become more knowledgeable, I guarantee that we’ll have those young “kids” (that is, anyone under 50) coming to us for advice. In fact, I will be using a 20-something acquaintance of mine as an example for the purposes of this blog, as I help him develop strategies for his online presence.

A Surprising Conversation–I Know More than About Twitter Than Someone Half My Age!

I’ve known Joe Bryant for a few years. When I first met him, he was just a skinny kid with a big dream. He is one of those rare people who knew what he wanted to do when he was quite young, and he has relentlessly moved in that direction. So now, in 2010, he lives and works in the very competitive arena of Los Angeles . I’ve been watching his online presence for a few years now, and I’ve seen him mature and become increasingly successful as an artist. My assumption would have been that he would be light years ahead of me in the use of social media for communicating and promoting his work. He uses a Droid, for goodness sake!

His parents still live in the Olympia , Washington area, so he comes back a few times a year. When he does, he usually arranges for a few photo shoots. Last week, I noticed a comment on his facebook page, saying that he had one more appointment available. Because I needed a new, more polished headshot, I contacted him. By the way, the image at the head of this article is his work. He was a joy to work with–but that’s another story. As we were driving toward our photo shoot location, we started chatting about social media. At one point, he made the comment that he needs to increase the number of followers to his Twitter account. I said, “Well, it’s not really about the numbers as much as it is about the quality of your contacts and the quality of your communications”. He casually mentioned that he has over 400 followers. So, I asked him what list categories he is using, and what hashtags, and what search categories. After about a minute, he gave me a puzzled look and said something like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I was amazed and I have to admit it tickled my funny bone to be the teacher in an arena which more intrinsically belongs to his generation. Beyond that, though, it surprised me to find out that while he uses Twitter on a daily basis, he really doesn’t know how to use it effectively. There are a couple of object lessons here. 1) Never assume that a person knows (or doesn’t know) something and 2) You’re never too young or too old to learn something new.

Basic Twitter Terminology–Let’s Start With Hashtags

I’m going to begin this series of blogposts by giving you the same information and advice that I have been giving Joe. There used to be a radio show called “News Read Real Slow”. I want my approach to have some of that flavor. If I’m going too fast, ask me a question. If I’m going too slow, give me a poke with a stick. To begin, I’m going to assume that you already have a Twitter account (and if you don’t, leave a comment at the end of this blog, and I’ll cover it next time.) A few features within Twitter that you, like my friend Joe, may not be aware of are the use of hashtags, retweets, direct messages, mentions, lists and searches. This time, I will cover the hashtag feature.

A hashtag is a Twitter convention which allows people to do fast searches, and also to establish categories under which conversations can take place. This is what a hashtag looks like: #nameyourcategoryhere (notice that the hashtag is always one long string, no matter how many words are included). For a real-world example, businesses in my hometown of Olympia use the hashtag #olympia. There is a chat about blogging which happens every Sunday evening using the hashtag #blogchat . When you click on a hashtag, a new window will open in Twitter. At the top of the page, it will say “Real-time results for #whateveryourcategoryis”.  You can also save this window as a search by clicking “Save this Search” at the top of this page.  You will then be able to return to this hashtag any time you want.

Even with the feature of being able to open a window in which to see what is happening in that category, the fast pace of Twitter can sometimes become overwhelming—especially if you are in an active chat in which hundred of people are participating. To meet the needs of Twitter users, there are many applications which can be used with Twitter. One that I often use is Tweetchat allows you to only see the tweets that are happening under a particular hashtag. You enter that particular hashtag in a search box at the top of the page. Tweetchat then connects with Twitter, authenticates your username, and the conversation begins to scroll. When you are participating in a chat using a hashtag, you have to be sure and add the hashtag to each of your outgoing tweets, or it will not end up in the “chat room”. One of the advantages of using an application such as Tweetchat is that it does that automatically for you, which saves a lot of time and effort. Tweetchat also allows you to feature and block other users (within the context of the hashtag only). There are always some participants whose contributions are more appropriate for what I want to discuss, and there are others who may be using the chat to push an agenda I’m not interested in discussing, so this feature is useful.One of the nice features is that you can pause the feed if you want to read and respond to a particular comment.

I encourage you to play with the hashtag feature. Try the hashtags I mentioned above, and pay attention to when people use other categories. Click freely, and begin to get a sense of what people are chatting about. Next time, I’ll talk about how to use replies and direct messages to participate in conversations at a deeper level. Happy tweeting!