In Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum. They speak in a way that looks like it should make sense, but upon closer inspection actually means nothing at all:
“`I know what you’re thinking about,’ said Tweedledum; `but it isn’t so, nohow.’
`Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.’
`I was thinking,’ Alice said politely, `which is the best way out of this wood: it’s getting so dark. Would you tell me, please?’
But the fat little men only looked at each other and grinned.”
Alice’s problem is that the information she needs isn’t what Tweedledee and Tweedledum want to talk about. She needs to sit and listen to them banter and tell stories before she learns how to speak with them effectively, and get what she wants—directions out of the woods.
I signed up for Twitter about three months ago, and for a very long time, I would read and reread my Twitter feed, trying to make sense of all of the posts. It was exhausting! People abbreviating words beyond recognition, using all sorts of symbols to connect to different people or websites, and the fact that some people and organizations would tweet so much that it crowded any other discourse out. Many of my friends were singing Twitter’s praises, but I just was not getting it. I knew it was possible to understand this stream of information, but how?
What I finally realized, just like Alice, was that I needed to take the time to listen. I learn by observing, then trying things out for myself in small steps, weighing all the options and making sure I’m making the right choices. As I was listening, I tried imitating things I saw other people doing in their tweets: re-tweeting other people’s posts , shortening links with programs like bit.ly and ow.ly, and even adding hashtags (#) to words, which allow my tweet to show up with other tweets that include the same hashtag (such as #AmeriCorps).
Spending all of this time in Twitter was invaluable. Just like learning another language, it is essential to spend this time listening and repeating in Twitter in order to understand and use it. It helped me go from feeling like Alice in Wonderland talking with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, to actually being able to carry on a conversation with the Cheshire Cat.
The first step is to make a Twitter account. Open a new tab and do it! Right now, I mean it 🙂
One of the things that really helped me was to watch movies like Common Craft’s Twitter in Plain English , and this webinar about using Twitter for VISTA members , but only after I had signed up for a Twitter account. Twitter is not something that you can understand just by reading about it—you have to make an account, put up your picture, and jump into the stream. The whole point of Twitter is that it is information in real time, so if you are not experiencing it in real time, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
At the website netwitsthinktank.com they have a great article about Twitter best practices for nonprofits
I think the most important tips from this list are-
*First- sign up and fill out your whole profile! If you don’t put all your information up there, no one will be able to know who you are, or what you do.
*Answer the question- “Why am I on Twitter?” If it’s for your organization, do you hope to let people know about your services? Attract volunteers? Discover donors? Learn more about other organizations like you? Whatever it is, spell it out, so you can focus on that area and not waste time (and it is very easy to waste time with Twitter!) It’s also important to see if your organization really needs to be on Twitter- are the people you are trying to connect with a part of that community? Do the research, but if not, it’s ok to focus your energy somewhere else.
* Twitter is a “place to interact, participate, talk, respond, and listen.” You don’t have to do all of these things right away, but if you don’t do all of them eventually, people will not be drawn to you or your organization.
How has Twitter helped you do something that you wouldn’t have been able to do? Has it allowed you to meet someone, figure out an answer, plan an event, or make something happen? Comment your stories below, or better yet, tweet them from your new account! You can check us out at @VolunteerMD, and me at @KimberlyRice1