Hello again. One thing I’ve learned to expect is that, just as I get used to a site being one way, it will inevitably change. Twitter has changed its look, and some of the information I gave you last time about the location of featurees, is now out-of-date if you’re using the New Twitter. Your Timeline, Retweets, @Mentions, Searaches and Lists are now at the top of your Home page. One new feature that I like, under Retweets, is that they are now organized by Retweets by you, Retweets by others, and Retweets of Your Retweets.

As I write, my aim is to keep in mind what I wanted to know when I first started using Twitter, so that other Fine Aged Wines such as myself will receive what they need to feel comfortable in Twitter. Please let me know how I’m doing. If you have more questions at the end of this post, feel free to comment or to follow me on Twitter and ask me a question there (remember, as I covered in the last post, if I’m not yet following you, you may address me with an @reply: @laosinger or @ReachThemOnline)

By now, you probably feel fairly comfortable navigating around Twitter, and even interacting with other people. You’re probably getting at least a few “followers”, and you’ve found a few people to follow. The next steps are crucial, especially if you are just getting started, because the sooner you organize your little corner of the Twittersphere, the easier it will be to keep up with all of those contacts. If you’re like me, you may not remember from one tweet to the next exactly why you were following that person. This is where the List, Search and Favorites functions come in.

1) Lists—Like the Labels in Your Wine Cellar

As I mentioned last time, there are two “pages” within your Twitter empire. One is the Home page, the other is the Profile page. Go to the Home page and notice the categories listed on the right hand column—or at the top of the page, if you are using the New Twitter. One will be Lists. This is a little bit complicated, (but I promise not too complicated). Click on that link, and you have the option of creating a list category. Now, how you choose to use this function will depend to a large extent on your purpose for being on Twitter—whether primarily personal or primarily business. I have three Twitter accounts (and most businesses have at least two). One, @laosinger, is more personal and aimed at social interaction, plus some information about massage and also about Parkinson’s. My second account, @laurieanhealing, I haven’t really utilized fully yet, although once I become a Trager Practitioner, it will be my primary massage-related account, and I will migrate all of my massage and Parkinson’s-related information to that account. The third account @ReachThemOnline I share with my business partner at http://www.ReachThemOnline.com This account is all about social media, which is our business, with a sprinkling of inspirational sayings, or talking with contacts. I have different list categories for each account, although there is some overlap. For instance, we have a category in our ReachThemOnline account called “Olympia”, because we are focusing much of our networking activity toward businesses and organizations in the Olympia, Washington area. More on how we built that list in the section on Search.

Personal Use: Let’s say that your main interest in Twitter is to find like-minded people, old friends and family members in order to stay in touch and maybe even have times when you all agree to be on Twitter at the same time, using a particular hashtag (see the first of my series of blog posts). Further, let’s say that you’ve already found that several members of your family are active on Twitter, but you don’t like having to scroll through your list of those you follow in order to find Great Aunt Sharon (who at 90 years old has been active in Facebook and Twitter longer than any of you!). If you create a “Family” list category, you’ll never have to search for her again. Once you’ve created this category, you can go to the profile page of each person you want to put in this list. You do this by one of two ways: the first is to click on your list of followers, and scroll down until you find someone you want to put in this category. Click on their profile name, and their profile page will open. Another way to do this, if you happen to remember all the names of the people you want to place in this category, is to do a search on each @username. Once you’re at their profile page, you’ll see a clickable box which looks a bit like a list. Click on this, and your list of categories will open. Click on the box next to “Family”, and voila’, Great Aunt Sharon is now in your Family list.

Another option you can choose for each category is whether or not to make that list public. If you choose to make the list public, any other user of Twitter may open your list and choose to follow the people on your list (more about this later). There are good reasons for making the list public, if you happen to be a business wanting to connect with other businesses. And, obviously, there are times when it would be best for the list to be private. The Family category is probably that kind of example.

From now on, as you receive new followers, or follow new people, you will probably want to put them in categories right away. You can create new categories as you need to, either in advance or at the time you follow someone. Also, one person may be in several of your lists. When you click on Lists within their profile page, there will be a drop-down menu of all of your categories. Simply click on each box which applies to that person.

Business Use: If the primary focus for your account is business-related, you will definitely take advantage of the fact that one user may be in several lists. Perhaps you want to communicate quickly with your network, or perhaps you are using Twitter to grow your list of prospects and referrals. For instance, if you are a photographer like my friend JoeABryant (and yes, this is a shout-out to you Joe—this is something you need to do before your list gets any bigger!), you may have a list called “business contacts”, where you put all of the people with which you currently do business. You may also have a “prospects” list. This one, you might want to be private. Both of these categories are pretty broad, and potentially cumbersome, so you create other lists for particular groups within the larger “business contact” list. For instance, most photographers have categories of people they work with—models, brides, high school graduates, stylists, photo processing companies, hair and makeup people, and talent agencies. Each of those groups should have their own list. This way, if you have an upcoming photoshoot, and you don’t yet have a hair stylist, you can open this list and send direct messages or @replies to the people on the list you want to work with.

Another business goal might be to build a list of potential, high-quality contacts and prospects. A very good way to do this is to pay attention to the leaders in your particular field, and to pay special attention to their lists. If they have chosen to keep their lists public, you have instant access to people whose business friendships they value. Most people who are “old hands” at Twitter understand that their public lists are truly public. If you think of Twitter as a giant networking event, you can use these already-existing lists for developing some high quality friendships. Of course, there are some unspoken rules of engagement, which actually are quite similar to the rules of any networking situations. A good strategy would be to follow and “listen” to the person who is at the center of a sphere of influence. Notice what they tend to talk about. See who they tend to talk to (although you won’t be so privy to that unless they follow you back). Go to the profiles of some of the people they follow. Get a good sense of what this particular community of people values. Then, when you’re confident that you have something of value to add to the conversation, try a couple of retweet’s or @replies. If you’re sending an @reply, you can add your comment. If you’re retweeting from within Tweetdeck, you can also edit the original tweet so that you add your comment. Either of these formats can be used to signal that you find what they’re saying to be interesting, amusing, entertaining, thought-provoking or whatever your authentic response is. You may get a response, such as “Thanks for the reply,” “ Thanks for the retweet,” or even a comment in response to your comment. If you get a comment in response, that is usually a pretty good indicator that the person is open to further communication. You can even open an entire list from another person’s profile and save it as a list. This will allow you to follow that community more easily. Be courteous, make sure that anything you say will add value to the other, and you may be surprised at the quality of contacts you begin to make and maintain. People respond especially well if you’re witty, thought-provoking, polite and charming.

Searches—The True Powerhouse of Twitter

Twitter is one of the most used search engines in the world right now, and its influence is growing. A lot of that growth rests on the fact that people prefer to learn about products and services from other people who’ve used them. Let’s say that you’re thinking of going to a particular restaurant for dinner. This is a place you’re never been to, and you’d like to know what kinds of experiences other people have had. Go to the search box and type in the name of the restaurant. A new window will open up with all the tweets including that name. You may get no results (which tells you something) or you may get a whole page of comments, some positive and some negative. You can pick out one or two and send them an @reply, just to see whether you get a response, or simply read several tweets in order to get a general consensus. You may find that someone has “blogged” about this restaurant, so you follow the link and read their review. You may also find that the restaurant has its own hashtag. Any of these searches can be saved. Just click on the “Save This Search” button at the top of the page.

Another use of the search function is to see what is happening in your part of the world. Do a search on your city, and you may be surprised to see how many people are talking about events. You may even find that there is a common hashtag that many people use, and you may want to save that search in order to stay current with events around you. A very good example of this happened just last night. I was on Facebook, and Kimberly Bohannon of GFYD (Go For Your Dream) mentioned that she’s looking for networking events in the Louisville area. I decided, on a whim, to see what I could find. I did a simple search on the word Louisville. I had to scroll through a lot of tweets, but I found meetup’s for atheists and pagans and an upcoming conference for women with MBA’s, and the jewel of them all–a website which included a calendar full of business-related networking events in the Louisville area. Poor Kimberly probably thought I was burying her beneath an avalanche of information, but my experience really points out how powerful Twitter is as a search engine. I also discovered that a lot of people are using the hashtag #Louisville.

If you’re a business, you can search on your business name. Because this is an inquiry that you may return to again and again, go ahead and save the search. This way, you can monitor what people are saying about your business. If what they’re saying is positive, drop them a thank you @reply, or even make a further comment about other, related products that you just received. If the comments are not so positive, you’ll also want to respond in order to clear up misunderstandings or in order to make something right. A rule of thumb that I read recently is to apologize once in “public”, and then follow up with a more private type of conversation. This may require asking them to follow you, then sending a direct message.

You may also want to try common keywords that people use to search for your type of business. For instance, if you’re a fishing supply company, do a search on the word fishing. Maybe you’ll get a person who’s fishing and frustrated with the lures they’re using. Drop an @reply, but aim at keeping it light rather than making a direct sales pitch. Maybe something along the lines of “I find that this kind of lure works well for me” or even a tongue-in-cheek comment about the occasional frustrations of fishing. Let your business name do the selling, while you just chat with the person, one fisherman to another. Stay authentic and low-key and aim at adding value to the other person’s experience. They will remember you and possibly return as a customer.

3) Favorites—Like Your Private Reserve Cellar

One of my favorite functions within Twitter is “Favorite.” This allows you to set aside information that you find particularly interesting or valuable. Your favorites do not show up on your public profile. They are just for your private use. Let’s say that you are researching a topic, and you’ve found that some of the tweets are more directly related to your topic than others. My example is Parkinson’s. When I search on the term Parkinsons, I get a lot of flotsam and jetsam along with the useful information. I simply click on the little star beside the valuable tweets, and I now have a growing list of articles and information to return to later.

Another, very valuable use for the “Favorite” category is represented by my blog, laurieanhealing. This particular blog is within the Google Blogger system. Here’s the really fun part:  Within Blogger, you can install a special “widget” which will allow only those parts of your twitter stream which you’ve marked as Favorite, to show up on your blog. Therefore, with some exceptions, almost all of the tweets that you see on this blog will be about massage or Trager or Parkinson’s. Also, many of those same tweets will not show up on my Twitter profile unless I’ve retweeted them! How cool is that? This allows me to have a second “Profile” page which is aimed only at the people who share my interest in massage, Trager and Parkinson’s.

So now, my friends, I believe I’ve covered enough of the basics of Twitter, plus a couple of “insider” tips, that you will be able to use Twitter for the powerful communication tool it is. Happy Tweeting, and please follow me and send me an @reply so I will know to follow you back. If you have any questions, I will be happy to help you.

Next blog post, I’m going to talk about the question, “How Can Social Media be Harnessed for Social Good?” I have been inspired by Mashable.com ‘s involvement in this question, and I want to talk a bit about local responses. In this context, also, I will begin to explore how to get the most our of your LinkedIn experience.