Q: Is Twitter Something That I Might Be Interested In?

A: In my experience, a lot of seniors haven’t embraced technology, but nevertheless they’ve resigned themselves to receiving and sending text messages. They realize that their children and other family members find it convenient and non-disruptive, unlike a phone call while one is driving in traffic. It’s a short quick way to keep in touch or pass on information, without having to log into email or retrieve voicemails, and always handy since texts appear on one’s mobile phone.

I think of Twitter as the global text messaging system of social media. Twitter has been a publicly traded company since late 2013. You’ve probably seen their brand logo with the cute blue bird. There are currently 280 million Twitter users, sending 500 million ‘Tweet’ messages worldwide daily. Each tweet is limited to 140 characters, so messages are brief.

You can read public tweets on the Twitter website, but in order to send tweets, you’ll need to create an account and choose a username which will be preceded by the @ symbol (for example, @johndoe). During the setup process, you’ll also install the Twitter app on your mobile device, from which you can send/receive/view tweets.  

Like Facebook, you will decide which individuals and organizations you wish to ‘follow’, and after a while, other people will become your ‘followers’. You will see the tweets of the people you follow in your Twitter Timeline (similar to the Facebook News Feed), and when you send tweets, your followers will see them. You can also ‘retweet’ public tweets that you find interesting (like Facebook’s sharing) or ‘favorite’ (aka like) tweets, and you can send ‘directed tweets’ to specific Twitter users.

Now, why would you want to become involved with messages to and from total strangers? Well, in the case of celebrities, following one is like choosing to be part of his or her audience. Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates seem to be prolific daily tweeters, Apple’s Tim Cook not so much (only 105 tweets in a year). 

Some of these celebrities respond to directed tweets. If your favorite politician, scientist, journalist, you name it, are active Twitter users, wouldn’t it be interesting to be in the pipeline for their thoughts and comments?

As expected, companies use their Twitter accounts for marketing and making product announcements. However, businesses also ‘listen’ to the Twitterverse (aka Twittersphere). There have been cases of Twitter users complaining about a product or service on Twitter, and then being contacted by the retailer to resolve their issue, because corporations care about what is being said in the Twitter public forum.

Lastly, I use the Twitter Timeline for ‘breaking news’. Because tweets are short bursts and readily sent through a variety of platforms, they’re hard to suppress, even by governments. Thus, in countries where conventional news outlets can’t broadcast, tweets become an informal commentary on current events. Locally, we’ve viewed tweets providing hurricane news, or bad traffic conditions, in real time.

Despite the 140 character limitation, when users have a longer message to deliver, it can be easily done by including a shortened URL link. For example, when Bill Clinton comments on an event organized by his foundation, a link is included to an article on that activity, which you can further view for the ‘full story’ beyond the short tweet message. Photos can also be shown in your tweet. Note, however, that the link to a website or your photo file will ‘use up’ some of your 140 character allowance per tweet.

You can make your tweet’s topic searchable with ‘hashtags’, which are a phrase preceded by the # symbol. Anyone can then search for the #phrase and see many tweets about that particular topic. When one is in the mood for some light reading, you can also browse the ‘Trending Now’ topics.

Are you now curious enough about Twitter to try it?