February 9, 2012

Twitter Basics

I've just finished speed-reading a book by Elizabeth Drescher, Tweet if you (Heart) Jesus. She argues that Twitter is a way to engage in conversation and build relationships. It doesn't have to be about what you had for lunch today.

How it works
Twitter is like your smartphone's text messaging except that it goes beyond your phone contacts. You can follow, get followed, retweet, reply, and direct message. Add a "hashtag" (#) with a specific name on to the end of your message (tweet) to let others search Twitter for that name, use an @ before a user's name when you reply or mention them, use "RT" for a retweet.

Go to twitter.com to open an account; it's free. Get it for your mobile devices, too so you can post from anywhere. twitter.com has FAQ and Help sections that cover the basics (link here to FAQ page).

How it's used
Drescher and others are big on reminding people of the importance of replying, retweeting, and engaging others in the online community. She wrote that Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas uses Twitter to pose thoughtful questions to his followers for discussion and Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona uses it for social witness and a call to action. 

I've read that lots of people sign up, can't figure how or why to use it, and drop it. I would love to use it better than I do now. I include Twitter in the media mix when I have important news to get out quickly and widely; I've live-tweeted events (including the election of Bishop Douglas, which he told me later that he followed); I've followed other events, organizations, groups, and people. I'm in awe of how Twitter is being used for social action and grassroots mobilization.

As you start imagining how cool this would be for your congregation (or diocese), remember you'll have to convince others to sign up.

Twitter resources

  1. Tweet if you (heart) Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation, by Elizabeth Drescher, paperback and Kindle. The book is about how Twitter can be used in the church to build community. It's not a how-to practical guide. Published May 2011 by Morehouse. 
  2. Tweetdeck: TweetDeck is an application for Twitter that lets you compose and send messages and see your content in columns you set up. You can see your tweets, what's being sent to you by those you have chosen to follow, who mentions your tweets or retweets them ("RT"); you can follow topics by searching for the hashtag (#) phrase. You can also import your Facebook feed. Tools let you compose, reply, retweet, or send a direct message. Mobile app available. Free.
  3. HootSuite: HootSuite is another social media "dashboard" like Tweetdeck.This one lets you schedule your tweets for another time, for example if you want to set up content to be sent weekly during Lent. It lets you assign team members to the account and get analytics. Like TweetDeck, HootSuite lets you view your social media accounts in columns and has tools on board to reply, retweet, and send direct messages. Mobile app available. Basic is free; there is a paid account with more features.
  4. Constant Contact "Simple Share:" If you use Constant Contact to create eNewsletters and have a Twitter account, you can have your newsletter go into your Twitter stream through their "Simple Share" option, shown when scheduling the newsletter. (It can post to your Facebook page through that option, too.) Simple Share provides standard content for the tweet with the email link, though you can edit that content.
This blog originally appeared in the February 8, 2012 issue of The Diocese of Connecticut's Parish communicators eNewsletter and is reprinted with permission.