The Power of Being a Regular Guy
Over the last 12 hours I have had an interesting exchange with one of the largest companies in the world. A few weeks ago, I talked to a billionaire via direct message. I've exchanged messages with authors of books that I've been reading and also hundreds of people like me with no Ivy League degrees on the wall, special credentials or spectacular talents that put us in the limelight of the national or even world stage. I'm not Tila Tequila, and neither are you. And that is okay. (Truth be told, its probably something to thank God in Heaven for)
I'm a regular guy. I make an average salary, have an average family, and have an average education. A few years ago this would have guaranteed that my circle of influence would be limited roughly to people that fell within physical, financial, & educational social circles. But that was before "Web 2.0" became the millionth word in the English language and the explosion of social media. According to Marta Kargan1 75% of Americans consume social media. The bulk of that 75% is people who share my title of "Regular Guy". People who, as George Bailey pointed out2, do most of the living and dying. We also read most of the books, go on most of the vacations, buy the most pizzas, mow the most lawns and move most of the money, or, at least, our kids do.
It used to take staffing a call center with employees, setting up huge PBX systems to handle the phone traffic and buying hundreds of those headsets from the old AT&T commercials for a company to even be able to hear back from their customers in any meaningful way than over a cash register. There were a few effective ways to talk to the customers, but no real methods of holding a conversation. Now instead of a pulpit, companies, authors and billionaires alike pull up a bar stool next to the regular guy and have a chance to listen as well.
And the smart ones do.
Its an exercise in egalitarianism.
So How Do I Start?
There are literally hundreds of platforms that can connect you into this ubiquitous beast that is "Social Media" so the question of where to start is a good one. You can Plurk, Twit, Facebook, Digg, and Stumble to your hearts content. Really, unless you are getting paid by Doritos to maintain their online presence--which no longer means to just build them a website and fix bugs--you aren't going to be using a dozen platforms to engage the world. I use three. There is my blog, Yellow Blog Journalism, my facebook page and most importantly (to me) my twitter account, @TMason47.
If you want to make a good beginning, pick two or three platforms and devote yourself to them. Twitter is simple easy and has very few barriers to entry. Each "tweet" (the individual messages that you send through twitter) is only 140 characters at most, so you don't have to invest much time crafting your entries. It reminds me of Father Patrick's 3 B's; Be Bold, Be Brilliant, Be Gone.
The set up for twitter is easy, fast, and best of all, free. So lets get started. The first thing you are going to need is an email address and an account in that order. Usernames should be easy to remember and nothing that you wouldn't want a future employer/spouse/child to see, because people will find you. Stay away from @BeefCake97 or @LegalizeDrugzNow. Trust me. My personal Username is my first initial, last name and soccer number. @TMason47. Usernames on Twitter are identifiable because they are led by an @sign, for example @Beefcake97.
Next, go to Settings. Here you can put in some basic values about yourself. Name, website, time zone and whether or not you like meatloaf (@loswhit / @whittakerwoman). At the top of this page are a series of tabs. The next tab lets you set and reset your password. The devices tab connects your twitter account to the text messaging function on your cellphone. This is useful, especially later when you get a few followers, friends and compatriots that you can interact with. Notices controls hat messages get sent to your email account and when. Picture sets your personal icon, mine is the Penny_Arcade version of Mega Man. Make this one classy, because people will usually recognize your picture before your username. Design lets you change your background theme or lets you upload your own. Finally the Connections tab lets you connect with other applications such as Twibes and Tweetbar for your browser. We'll hit this in a future article. Its outside the scope of this article.
Now you are ready to tweet. Hit the home link at the top of the page, and look for the box that asks "What are you doing?". You have 140 characters to tell the world anything and everything about yourself. And some do tell anything and everything. Don't be that guy. Be honest, be witty and be discrete. Hit send and you have just joined the 75% of America (or 66% of the global population if you want to think big) that participates in social media.
Is That Really All There Is To It?
No. Truth be told there is alot more to it than just signing up, signing in and telling us about your dog. Every community--and make no mistake about it, twitter is a community--has its own language, customs and traditions.
Can I use Abbreviations?
Because of the brevity required, txt speak is more widely accepted than it would be on a traditional blogging platform. "U R" instead of "You are" is usually the domain of high schoolers and college freshmen, but on twitter, it is often a necessity. Just don't abuse it.
What does RT mean?
If you see RT in front of a tweet, it is called a Re-Tweet. This is a way to give credit and attention to good points and popular tweets.
How do I message people?
There are two ways to message other users, one public, the other private. To talk to them publicly simply type in their user name (@Beefcake97) and your message. "@BeefCake97 Did you really pick that username or did you lose a bet?" or if you want to do this privately, you can direct message by using DM Username Message. However when using the Direct Message feature, be sure to leave off the @ sign. Remember that anything that you type in the box counts against the 140 character limit.
How can I see who messaged me?
On the sidebar, under the Home link you will see your username as a link: @Beefcake97. Click on that link and you can see all the people who messaged you publicly. This shows up in their timeline as a tweet. The next line down is the link for direct messages. Like we said before, these are private and will not show up in anyones timeline.
What are all these TinyURL and BitLy links that I see?
Because of the 140 character limit, it pays to use a URL shortener to cut down the size of all those web addresses. Check out http://TinyURL.com.
What is the meaning of it all?
You find out once you hit 42 tweets.