I want to give this one last shot.
March 1, 2016 6:10 PM   Subscribe

In 140 characters or less, tell me one tip/trick/event that helped you understand how to use and/or like Twitter.

I have an account, have had for years. I dip in every now and then. I keep hearing people I respect say how much they enjoy it, how useful they find it. It's never stuck for me. I'd like to give it one more shot. I have heard "it's all about finding the right people to follow". Okay. How? Give it to me in sound bites, please. If a bunch of avid Twitter users can't whittle their enthusiasm into easily digestible sound bites I think I'll be convinced it's just not for me.
posted by Diablevert to Computers & Internet (68 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Fortunately, MeFi allows more than 140 characters, but I'll keep it short.

Determine what you are passionate about, and follow people who share your passion. One of my favorite quotes is from The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean:

"There are too many ideas and things and people. Too many directions to go. I was starting to believe the reason it matters to care passionately about something, is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size."

(Replace "the world" with "Twitter.")
posted by The Deej at 6:16 PM on March 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

An understanding of the value of ambient awareness.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:18 PM on March 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

It might help to know some of your interests. Follow publications and their writers. Favorite authors, musicians, chefs, etc.
posted by veggieboy at 6:19 PM on March 1, 2016

Turn off retweets. Use lists to curate "radio stations". I've got "people I see", "people I personally like" "people who talk about this thing I like"

And somehow turn off that part of your brain that cares how many tweets you missed in the last hour/week. It's that last thing that is fueling my current Twitter hiatus.
posted by politikitty at 6:19 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by trunk muffins at 6:19 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start with people you know. Pay attention to who they’re retweeting and talking to; follow whoever seems interesting. Voilà! Under 140 chara
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:36 PM on March 1, 2016 [14 favorites]

Unfollow everyone they make you follow. Search for words or hashtags that interest you, like... yarn or #knitting or Beats or #ambient. Follow those people. Tweet on topics that interest you. Gain followers that way.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:38 PM on March 1, 2016

I mainly just enjoy having somewhere to blather away all the twisted/goofy little thoughts and observations that pop into my head as I go about life.

It's also fun to follow along and join in conversation concerning things like shows that are airing, events, news and other realtime goings-on. Just search for whatever is happening.
posted by wats at 6:41 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have a network. Local friends are good. Follow just a few celebs. Make jokes. Post pictures of your pets. Don’t worry about missing things. [139 characters]
posted by fedward at 6:47 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

honestly the thing that made me start using the hated twootles was, and i am dead serious, a fanart "photoset" of two of my favourite video game characters annoying one another via twitter, and i thought to myself "i can use this to annoy so many people i love all over the world" and so far so good.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:57 PM on March 1, 2016

Are you a sports fan? The twitter conversation during my team's games is my favorite part of Twitter. #purdue #redsox #saintsfc
posted by COD at 7:01 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

To expand: what made twitter work for me from the start was the fact a bunch of my friends were already there. So I have a network of people I already knew, who weren't necessarily local, but I ended up building quite a bit of a local network as well (probably helped by the fact that DC has a lot of active users). The thing that makes it fun is the group participation, less for me in the sense of what's-the-latest-hashtag, more for the fact that if I care about something, chances are I've got friends on twitter who care about it too.

And I crack a lot of jokes that don't get play, but sometimes one of them does seem to amuse people.

So, be smart, be funny, be human. Don't feel like you have to be bound by a single topic, but if you're an expert on a topic and you can express that in 140, by all means go for it. Also don't sweat losing followers. I tweet a lot about drinks and software, so I might get followers from one of those groups who then decides there's too much of the other, and they go away. So I don't really pay attention to my numbers, since it will all work out. I swear some of my followers are just there for the cat photos.
posted by fedward at 7:04 PM on March 1, 2016

(Each separate break could be a Tweet.)

For me, I like comics. So I followed a bunch of people who make comics & started tweeting about that. Some followed me & we'd chat a bit.

I'd then see who they were following and follow some of them. Then they'd follow me and more chatting would happen. It was fun.

I also like following people who are local and into the same things I am. I've actually made friends that way. It's awesome.

I see Twitter like hanging in a bar. Sometimes you're talking to people you know. Sometimes you're talking to people your friends know.

Sometimes people drop in and out of the conversation, or someone passes by and adds something and you meet someone new.

I like that Twitter is of the moment -- if I miss things, I miss them. There's always something going on and people to interact with.

It doesn't need to be for everyone, but I like Twitter a lot. Sometimes it's annoying, but it's mostly positive for me.

Twitter can be whatever you want, really. I just see it as a fun way to express some ideas. I think it's great.
posted by darksong at 7:07 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I follow journalists from all the local papers (so I get all the views) and then I follow my neighbourhood happenings through the local BIAs and merchants and restaurant Twitter accounts. And some internet celebrities (Mia Farrow is great!) And yes, pay attention to who people retweet.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:08 PM on March 1, 2016

1. I thought Twitter was the dumbest shit ever until I started thinking of it as a micro-RSS feed.

2. It also helps to think of it as the Internet's peanut gallery.

3. If I had to use the actual Twitter website I'd poke my eyes out. I use the Tweetbot app on my phone instead.
posted by neckro23 at 7:16 PM on March 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

Science Twitter is amazing. Regular Twitter's ok. Mefi turned me on to Nuzzle; aggregates links from your Twitter stream firehose.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:20 PM on March 1, 2016

I think you need to accept that Twitter is a stupid shitty medium but also realize that there are some really brilliant people who are using it. When incredible people are sharing certain thoughts on Twitter that they are not sharing elsewhere, it becomes worth it to swallow your disdain and follow them.
posted by 256 at 7:21 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I use it for comedy. I started following just a handful of people whose humor appealed to me (eg Rob Delaney, ohnoshetwitnt) and would look through the people they followed for ideas on others to follow. I try plenty of accounts on for size and pretty much immediately unfollow anyone who posts anything that annoys me. There are some really amazingly funny folks posting stuff I would never get to see anywhere else - it's a unique format.

I try hard to avoid politics as I think the whole idea of political ideas conveyable in 140 characters is Part Of The Problem if you know what I mean.

I use a gender neutral avatar and a masculine sounding name, I think that helps me not get the shitty twitter treatment that many women get.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:22 PM on March 1, 2016

I use Twitter passively, a "micro-RSS feed" is a good description. It's my source for local information, with links to more stories if needed:

- local transit accounts (for delays, rebuilding work closures, etc.)
- local news accounts
- a couple of major national/world news accounts like BBC
- local government (mayor's office, etc.)
- seems like each of the neighborhoods in Boston has their own Twitter account, so that's great to follow to find out about what's happening - fairs, celebrations, etc.
- local power company (in case there are outages)
- LOTS OF PUPPY PICTURES (for mental health)
- BirdsRightsActivist (you'll thank me later)
- Dog Solutions (also)
posted by Ender's Friend at 7:31 PM on March 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Metroid Baby: "Start with people you know. Pay attention to who they’re retweeting and talking to; follow whoever seems interesting. Voilà! Under 140 chara"

That only works if you know anyone actively on Twitter. That's always been my problem getting into it.
posted by octothorpe at 7:49 PM on March 1, 2016

Tweeted "ouch, I just gave myself a paper cut." Two minutes later coworker shows up with bandaid.

(Yes, I could have duplicated the result by going around the office asking for bandaids, but Twitter connected me to the person with the item I needed without me even having to leave my chair.)
posted by MsMolly at 7:51 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Start with people you know" can mean sportscasters, comedians, newspaper columnists you like, etc. Don't have to know them personally.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:58 PM on March 1, 2016

Lists are good for making it useful. I have a local news list for things like "why are there sirens?" and a food/drink list for "where can I get extra-cheap food right now?"
posted by asperity at 8:13 PM on March 1, 2016

One other thing I also found useful is knowing that you can choose to block seeing things certain users of your choosing retweet.. some people retweet things A LOT which can get annoying and clog up your feed with stuff you don't necessarily care about. Others who retweet more sparingly or do choose better quality things to retweet are the ones whose RTs I tend to keep switched on.
posted by wats at 8:16 PM on March 1, 2016

Just follow Cher, Carrie Fisher, and Lin Manuel Miranda. Oh, and Honest Toddler. Delightful.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:18 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start following MeFites. I use it almost exclusively to talk to other MeFites.

The only other thing I've used it for is to talk to other people during airings of reality shows occasionally. For instance, if I'm watching The Voice, I'll sometimes have conversations about contestants performances. And there's usually someone providing really funny running commentary on whichever show I'm watching. Search keywords or hashtags to find these conversations.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:21 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I follow lots of people I like and people who do things I do/things I like. I do not follow random/popular accounts.
posted by wintersweet at 8:30 PM on March 1, 2016

(I mean, OK, I definitely follow some accounts that are popular, but because I like them for whatever reason. Twitter will push you to follow various famous accounts, but that's pointless unless you're into what they're tweeting.)
posted by wintersweet at 8:32 PM on March 1, 2016

Choose topics on which you want to read breaking or eyewitness news, or insider conversations.
posted by salvia at 9:09 PM on March 1, 2016

Three words. Lin. Manuel. Miranda.
posted by matildaben at 9:26 PM on March 1, 2016

Don't stick to people you know. Follow a lot of people and a variety so it's not everyone saying the same thing a hundred times in your feed. Don't be too choosy. Follow and unfollow at a whim. It's just Twitter.
posted by ctmf at 9:36 PM on March 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

local news - and cat photos.
posted by jb at 9:57 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Would also second BirdsRightsActivist.
posted by jb at 9:58 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use Twitter for two completely different things:

1) As a free-form open chat room among a loose group of friends. I don't really care that my tweets are not locked down (though I reserve the right to change that if needed) because there's so much noise to signal in the grand scheme of things, there's little context for the silly shit that I'm spouting, and I am not posting regularly enough or in a focused-enough way to attract followers on my own content-based merits. My account is under a pseudonym which is not linked to my real name or to any email address that I use in conjunction with my real name. (It's not absolutely perfectly secure, but it's not easily Googleable back to my real name.)

2) As a newsfeed for shit going down with protests, "officer involved shootings," and other concerns involving bias against people of color and queer folks. Incidents that tend to hit the actual news cycle days late (if at all) and with a narrower storyline. It's not a replacement for mainstream news, but it is a window into the on-the-ground perceptions, reactions, and commentary that is easier to find on Twitter than elsewhere, IME.
posted by desuetude at 9:59 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding @crush-onastick

"An understanding of the value of ambient awareness."

I firstly, and mostly, love Twitter for being able to see what friends (in many senses of that word) are up to. My world feels a little better knowing they are enjoying a glass of wine, seeing something amazing, having a good meal. You know, the banal things people make fun of Twitter for. And also if they are having a rough time.

I secondly use Twitter to follow people relevant to my work. And thirdly, people interesting and/or wildly different from me. It's a great way to get perspectives outside of your own. These second two groups I really don't interact with.

Am currently following just under 600 people. That feels a little more than ideal for me. I generally read/skim over all/most tweets in my timeline, so more than this gets overwhelming.
posted by maupuia at 10:08 PM on March 1, 2016

Came for the need to have some sort of online presence to look au courant. Stayed for the news updates, NASA tweets & concert tour alerts.
posted by Beti at 10:24 PM on March 1, 2016

A social network is where you listen to friends. Twitter isn't a social network. Twitter is a place where you listen and talk with people you didn't know before, who like to talk about the same things. The specific the topic, the better.
posted by suedehead at 11:32 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid to unfollow people you're no longer interested in. It's not a lifetime commitment.
posted by primethyme at 11:41 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Let's say you're really into space travel. On Twitter you might start by following NASA, individual astronaut accounts, the various other national space agencies, science reporters who write about space travel, and reporters who cover launches. Their tweets would point you to joke accounts, like the one for Bobak Ferdowski's hair. (He was the Mars rover launch guy with the Mohawk with stars and stuff cut into it.) Then you might go down a rabbit hole of other joke accounts, like, say, accounts that refute moon landing conspiracy theorists. Or you might get super interested in the identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly because of how studying their bodies' reaction to space travel can tell us a lot about long-term space flight. Then you might notice Mark Kelly took amazingly beautiful photos of his view of earth over the year he was in the ISS and tagged them all with #earthart. Then you search for all photos tagged with #earthart, and two hours later you wonder 1) where can I print these out to hang in my home and 2) I have to find more beautiful landscape photography that isn't tagged with #earthart, but how? So then you start following as many National Geograpgic and Smithsonian magazine photographers as you can. Then you stumble across Smithsonian mag photos of a Space X landing, and then you wonder how much it'll cost you, a space tourist, to travel to the moon in 20 years after you've saved up 200k in disposable income. You google it, but you want updates in case the price goes down to a more manageable 30k. So you follow the Space X account.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:28 AM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Follow people who post stuff you like. Unfollow people who post stuff you don't.
posted by panic at 1:22 AM on March 2, 2016

One thing I don't think others have said: during many breaking news events Twitter has been well ahead of major media outlets. If you follow young, freelance journalists and/or activists you often get breaking news.

(This is a little paranoid, but sometimes I think Twitter is going to be my early warning system when shit hits the fan.)
posted by CMcG at 2:43 AM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

beautiful simplicity.

harder to write short letters than long letters.

make ample use of images and tagging other users.

keep it rolling.
posted by nickrussell at 2:45 AM on March 2, 2016

Ask companies quick questions instead of e-mailing them!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:54 AM on March 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you add a post or article to any location on the internet, Twitter is the place to announce and link to it so that it may be found by anyone who is interested in it, today or next week, or even next year in many cases.
posted by megatherium at 3:41 AM on March 2, 2016

For me, science Twitter. I'm connected to a lot of people in my field (and adjacent ones) via Twitter who I've never met otherwise, and it's great to have a broader group of colleagues to talk to - both about sciencey stuff and life stuff.
posted by pemberkins at 4:03 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

A social network is where you listen to friends. Twitter isn't a social network. Twitter is a place where you listen and talk with people you didn't know before, who like to talk about the same things. The specific the topic, the better.

that's silly - I tweet with friends all the time. I rarely reply to people if I don't know them.

Talking to strangers 140 characters at a time sounds like such a headache.
posted by jb at 5:35 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sometimes works best if you're using it in relation a particular niche interest (/s) rather than a general "anyone who might be interesting" approach, which can be vague/overwhelming.

Your hometown/a cultural interest/particular sport/political perspective/branch of journalism etc. You start to see familiar users interacting with each other and can join in, so it starts to feel more like a network than just a huge noisy room.
posted by penguin pie at 6:09 AM on March 2, 2016

Response by poster: I dunno guys, so far most of the advice above seems to boil down to, "just follow some people you like." Does anyone have anything more specific?

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be a dick. But for me, even having followed people I am vaguely acquainted with/positive toward, just dipping in now and again and seeing a random sampling of what they're giving out about hasn't been super compelling. And if anything paying more attention is worse, more likely to be less interesting.

I feel that I'm being a discouraging nudge and I don't mean to be. For me right now Twitter feels like wandering round a giant cocktail party eavesdropping on clusters of people, but it turns out they're all accountants.
posted by Diablevert at 7:23 AM on March 2, 2016

if you gave us an idea of what you're interested in I'm sure folks would be able to provide specific recommendations for relevant feeds.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:26 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Literature (esp. between the wars) economics, tech, the Dark Ages/feudalism, history of everything other than Western Europe/America, cooking techniques, baking techniques, Game of Thrones, Stephen Sondheim, sarcastic songwriters in general, indie rock, language, poetry
posted by Diablevert at 7:39 AM on March 2, 2016

Baking: Dan Lepard
posted by Beti at 7:46 AM on March 2, 2016

Given your most recent update, have you searched on Twitter for any of those topics, or accounts related to them? Off the top of my head:

(MeFi's own) @languagehat

If you know about accounts like this (and you understand how hashtags help you discover more content), and you still don't want to use Twitter, I'd suggest you follow that instinct.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Read don't post.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:32 AM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I gave up following individuals almost immediately, too random and generally useless. Mostly follow local organizations--non profits, news sources, some government accounts.

All the other accounts I follow are of the stuff-to-read type--ones that specialize in recommending high-quality, longer form articles.

The other major way I use Twitter is search--again mostly local, using keywords for subjects that interest me. These are standing searches in Tweetdeck so I don't have to constantly enter them.

I don't follow celebrities, and I use the service purely passively--I don't tweet or DM, ever.
posted by aerotive at 9:33 AM on March 2, 2016

If you like sarcastic songwriters in general, you're going to want to take a look at @mountain_goats.

Variation on a theme from above: enjoying Twitter and finding it useful are two different goals. I opened a Twitter account because I live in a city with a notoriously unreliable transit system, and searching Twitter for mentions of the MBTA every morning is by far the most accurate way to figure out whether I am going to get to work on time. After using Twitter for those specific kinds of searches for a while (around news/sports/local events I have an interest in) I started to come across a few names over and over, and it seemed reasonable to start following them.
posted by ann_disaster at 10:55 AM on March 2, 2016

My favorite people to follow are minor celebs who turned out to be hilarious.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:11 AM on March 2, 2016

For me, Twitter is Micro-blogging. Just reading and posting ideas in 140 characters.

I'm interested in History. So I search for History and look at BBC History Magazine (@historyextra), then I look and see what accounts this one follows and find interesting posters in that list. I then, check those posters' "following" accounts. This is how I find interesting accounts to follow.

You can do this for most of your interests.
posted by Coffeetyme at 11:39 AM on March 2, 2016

Follow artists, scientists, institutions you like. Follow who they follow. Many now link to New Things on Twitter before anywhere else.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:09 PM on March 2, 2016

I have gotten a lot out of Twitter, but I still don't understand it, in spite of doing two Asks already. But maybe my first Ask about Twitter would be useful to you.

I am trying to simply spend more time there in hopes of having understanding sink in. It seems to be very slowly sinking in, but I am pleased with making progress in the right direction, fwiw.
posted by Michele in California at 12:14 PM on March 2, 2016

POETRY! You'll want to look up the hashtag for #twitterpoetryclub, which is in session every other Monday night from (I think) 7-9pm Eastern. The most recent one was this last Monday, so the next one will be March 14th.

How it works: people take photos of their favorite poems in books (sometimes they do screenshots) and tweet them out with the hashtag, and the organizer retweets them. This obviously lends itself to poems that are on the shorter side, but I've seen all sorts. It seems to slightly tilt towards more modern poetry but I've seen plenty of older stuff on there too. I studied a LOT of poetry in college so sometimes feel like I've read ALL THE POETRY, but I have found some FANTASTIC new poets and poems this way. I also participate in every session and get genuinely excited when Monday approaches and I can share some of the good poems I've found over the last couple of weeks on various social medias or in books.

Twitter poetry club is a little gem and if you like poetry I think you might enjoy it.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:20 PM on March 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also, I follow a ton of economic and finance people - this is another little niche corner of twitter that's really good. I'm not sure if your interest is more finance or econ or both but when I get home I'll look at the list I've put together for this purpose and post some of the ones I like (can't remember all of them off the top of my head).
posted by triggerfinger at 2:23 PM on March 2, 2016

But for me, even having followed people I am vaguely acquainted with/positive toward, just dipping in now and again and seeing a random sampling of what they're giving out about hasn't been super compelling. And if anything paying more attention is worse, more likely to be less interesting.

Yes! That's the point. Everyone is boring when you read everything they write. So instead you follow a crap ton of people, and chances are every time you skim your feed, at least a few of them said or linked to something interesting today.
posted by ctmf at 4:10 PM on March 2, 2016

I use Twitter to make me smile at least once a day. So I mainly follow cute animals and a smattering of personalities of Weird Twitter.
posted by like_neon at 2:31 AM on March 3, 2016

Okay, here are some of the economics people I like:

posted by triggerfinger at 9:38 PM on March 3, 2016

Talking to strangers 140 characters at a time sounds like such a headache.

Its cultural. Its how I've made friends, gotten a superlative work project ongoing now, and its all focused on Africa.

Share content of interest to you and you'll gather like minded people around you.

I wrote a post on my experience that I will memail you the link
posted by infini at 10:30 AM on March 4, 2016

I found it useful during the Boston bomber trial as several reporters were live tweeting and it was useful to know what right away when the court was letting out. But I mostly used search terms.

A young tech blog writer mentioned his strategy was to keep many windows live updating constantly. I assume he had a bunch of "people" to scan watching for that hint for a scoop.

I'm not on it steady, my follows are eclectic but I don't particularly want to spend the time "curating" for a particular topic. So when it's there's a topical issue I just run a few search terms and refresh.

I was followed by a brazilian model, at first I assumed porn-spam or phishing but it was a legitimate error (my name was close to someone) and I could have unfollowed but the occasional tweet I catch it just too "oh my, really??" that's pretty amusing.
posted by sammyo at 9:58 PM on March 6, 2016

baking techniques, Game of Thrones, Stephen Sondheim

Perhaps start a joke account like say @SondheimCookingWithGiantKnives and let the world you're interested in follow you?
posted by sammyo at 10:01 PM on March 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use Twitter for three things:

Connecting at largish conferences & events. The planners promulgate an event-specific hashtag, (sometimes panel-specific as well) and tweeters offer you insight into the panels (or even whole events) you can't attend. I've discovered speakers I wouldn't have known, arranged for dinner with strangers who share my interests (as well as coordinate with friends) and networked for fun & profit.

Offering easy contact for new acquaintances. I toggle "send any direct msgs to my phone." I share my Twitter handle & keep my cell number private.

Getting answers to quick random questions "who serves chopped chicken liver in #MyTown?" "Hey @buddy1 and @buddy2 should I buy this dress [link]”
posted by Jesse the K at 9:18 AM on March 27, 2016

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