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Posted: April 03, 2009

Never be boring: How to survive and thrive on Twitter

Tips from a recent DaVinci Institute Twitter Boot Camp

Mary Butler

"All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."
-Chuck Palahniuk, "Invisible Monsters."

On his Facebook page, my 21-year-old nephew Eric offers this Chuck Palahniuk quote for his "religious views." This life philosophy   originally campy fictional dialogue in the pre-Facebook world of 1999   makes perfect sense for a digital native like Eric, according to what I learned at Twitter Boot Camp, staged on April 1 by the nonprofit futurist think tank DaVinci Institute.

"If you want followers, be interesting," advised Deb Frey, the DaVinci Institute's vice president and Twitter Boot Camp leader, whose Twitter handle is @DaVinciDeb. She should know. Frey has 5,989 "followers," who receive her regular Twitter updates, known as "tweets," in 140 characters or less. For most people, having 100 followers is an extraordinary feat.

Frey updates her followers on upcoming DaVinci Institute events and news. But that's not all. She infuses her regular posts with information about her day  including how she's feeling, thoughts on movies she's seen or restaurants she's eaten at, and it isn't unusual for Frey to solicit advice from her followers, "Has anyone tried Twittersafe.com as a backup for your Twitter followers?," she recently asked.

Launched in October 2006, Twitter is among the latest in Web social media sensations, now with more than 3 million members. Unlike Facebook or MySpace, which virtually bring together friends, family and, in the case of celebrities and entertainers, fan bases, Twitter largely connects strangers with one deceptively simple question, "What are you doing?" Its search functions allow you to find  and follow  others with common interests, making it a remarkable tool for you to share and receive information about everything under the sun and easily grow your sphere of influence.

Tech industry guru Dave Taylor, of AskDaveTaylor.com, said he first hooked into Twitter at a conference about a year and a half ago. Using Twitter, Taylor said he was able to quickly solicit advice about where to grab a good bite to eat  and ask other questions of the group. Twitter is an "extraordinarily effective" way to communicate with a number of people at once, said Taylor, who was among the Twitter Boot Camp attendees.

As a result, Twitter provides an instant talent pool; its followers give you quick feedback; and you can easily connect with likeminded people. You can also get a close-up-and-personal glimpse into the lives of celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, who joined March 10 and already has 576,218 followers, the sixth-most, ranking just below the likes of Barack Obama, Britney Spears and Ashton Kutcher.

While Twitter is easy to use, making effective use of its power can be tricky. For instance, Frey said, "Be careful about what you say," when posting on Twitter. "The Internet is very unforgiving," she said. Indeed, most everyone has made or experienced a regretful comment that sounded far harsher in the virtual world than it would have if made in person, where tone of voice and body language can make all the difference. You've got to be interesting, but also nice. Easy, right? Thankfully, there are a growing pool of social media experts to help guide newbies through the basics and beyond. 

Here's a look at Frey's cardinal rules for successful tweeting:

Twitter's 10 Commandments

1. Thou shall not be boring.

2. Thou shall not spam thy neighbor, nor his wife, nor his cattle, nor his cattle’s wife. I don’t think, therefore I spam.

3. Thou shall not curse, swear or use four-letter words.

4. Thou shall not have a bio that bears false witness or is void of your personal worth.

5. Thou shall not use the Twitter default avatar.

6. Thou shall not use the default Twitter background.

7. Thou shall not use long URLs without first converting them to Tiny URLs or Snurls.

8. Thou shall not tweet while driving (waiting at stoplights is fine).

9. Thou shall not indiscriminately block others.

10. Thou shall not use acronyms, SMS, abbreviations or anything not understandable to thy neighbor’s good looking but slightly technically challenged wife.

And for a full Twitter primer, consider attending the DaVinci Institute's next Twitter Boot Camp, scheduled for May 9 in Boulder.

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Mary Butler is ColoradoBiz's online editor.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

I need serious help with twitter? I can use a computer, use my cell phone, I can Text message and recently, Mary, I am starting to use Skype, but Twitter I gotta work on. PS: I enjoyed the article. By Gretchen on 2009 07 01
You can actually make friends in the Twitter community. Some just view Twitter as a tool, and forget to personally connect. I've managed to have fun and intelligent conversations with CEOs, radio and t.v. personalities whose receptionists I may have never passed in the Twitterfree world. By Kira Riedel on 2009 04 16
I have been an active "twitterer" for the last year. It is a fantastic marketing tool that plugs you right into the social pipeline (think facebook melded with LinkedIn). If you do decide to start tweets of your own, I would recommend checking out the different applications that can help you track your twitter network. An example of this is Tweetdeck, a program that lets you see all the updates of those you're following. Mike Mitchell Personal Injury Lawyer <A HREF="http://www.avvo.com/free-legal-advice/">free legal advice</A> By Mike Mitchell on 2009 04 09
Mary, these are great! My favorites are 2 and 10. Thanks for the smile to launch my day. This ColoradoBiz site is really, really good! At first it felt like yet another sales-pitch link, but it never fails to engage, inform and entertain me. Please keep doing what you do so well. By Janet Lane on 2009 04 09
Good question, Sarah: @ColoradoBizMag or @MaryButler4Real. See you on Twitter. By Mary Butler on 2009 04 09
So what's your Twitter handle, Mary? http://www.cobizmag.com/images/smileys/smile.gif - Sarah By Sarah Rasmussen on 2009 04 08

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