The following is a reprint from the STC LSC Technically Write newsletter on 4 February 2010.
So you've heard of Twitter--who hasn't? Perhaps you signed up for an account out of curiosity. But then what? Why should you bother tweeting your hobbies or following the doings of someone's cat?
The short answer is you shouldn't. You should not think of Twitter in its older sense of "What am I doing now." As a professional, it's not really useful and it definitely won't score any points with your current or future employer. So then what is Twitter good for?
First and foremost, it's a way of networking. Although there are numerous social networking sites and several of them professional, as a Technical Communicator you'll find Twitter useful in several ways.
To begin with, setting up a profile on Twitter is not nearly as involved as other social networking sites. It's great to have your life story on Facebook or work history on LinkedIn, but for Twitter all you need is a short blurb, a photo, and a link to your Web site (personal, professional, employer, or whatever).
Then, connect with other professionals. You can search for them by name, key words, or hash tags. What's a hash tag, you ask? It's a designated topic that stands out because it's preceded by a hash mark (also known as a pound or number sign): #. This convention makes searching for #techcomm or #stcorg tweets quick and easy.
A new addition to Twitter that makes finding professionals easier is the lists feature. For example, I've created a list called TechComm (twitter.com/Arroxane/techcomm). By following this list, you automatically receive updates from the technical communicators I've added to the list. Many others have created lists of technical communications (TC) professionals as well.
Now that you have a few TC pros to follow (and many will follow you back), what do you do? You monitor your stream and see what they have to say. You can do this from the Web interface at Twitter.com, with your mobile device, or through a number of desktop applications. Despite the reputation of Twitter being about what someone's cat had for breakfast or how the latest celebrity is having issues (again), you can get good information from Twitter by following the right people (like STC members: twitter.com/rjhoughton/stc). [Editor’s note: Rachel Houghton is an LSC member as well as a Willamette Valley (Oregon) member.]
Over just a few days, you should see some interesting tweets. These may include topics such as blogs, articles, studies, trends, jobs, meetings, conferences, workshops, presentations, webinars, discounts, sales, freebies, advice, infographics, news, and much more. That's a lot of information in one place! Moreover, it's literally up-to-the minute--something no Web site, RSS feed, or broadcast can do. This means you can find out about a job posting before it's on the company's Web site. Or you might hear about a 24-hour sale on software in time to get your copy.
Now you've got news and info coming in regularly and notice that some of your "tweeple" aren't following a certain person or list, but you'd like to pass along an interesting tweet. So you retweet the post. The new-fangled retweet from the Web interface simply reposts the original with a tiny note at the bottom indicating that you had retweeted it. The old-fashioned (and preferred by many) method is to precede the copy-and-pasted text with "RT @Username". Either method will do the trick, passing along a good tidbit to those who follow you.

But Twitter isn't just about getting instantaneous news and updates. It's an interactive network. So network! Reply when you find something useful. Tell the poster, "Thanks, that was a really handy tip!" The more you interact, the more likely you are to get your own posts retweeted. This means everyone following that person will see your post and some of those followers may start following you. Voila, new professionals to connect with! You may find Twitter one of the easiest ways to network.
But, isn't Twitter a time-waster? Like anything else on the Web—from YouTube to the New York Times Online--it takes as much time as you let it. If you only have a chance to read and update once a day while snarfing down lunch, so be it. But if, like some of us, you find Twitter really useful, you may want to tweet your own blog posts, news articles, events, and more. These unique additions will catch on and be retweeted around the world. Don't be surprised if suddenly you have people following you in Europe, Israel, and India.
Of course, it's not a competition. The number of followers you have isn't really the point. The return on investment (ROI) from Twitter is measured in the quality of tweets read and retweeted, not the quantity.
For more information on using Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/help/start or tweet me at twitter.com/Arroxane.
 

Recently, Ann Handley posted "Everything I Need to Know About Twitter I Learned in J School" which is a very useful discussion of using Twitter from the Journalism perspective. Although I do not disagree with her comments,  I'd like to offer the Technical Communication perspective:
1. Be concise.
You only have 140 characters, so real estate is limited. Make the best use of it by using the right words. Most technical communicators feel they've grasped the art of brevity, but Twitter puts it to the test.
2. KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid
Simplicity is refining your thoughts to the barest essentials. Mentioning two or more unrelated thoughts in a Tweet is likely to confuse your followers. Confused followers tend to leave. And what's the point of tweeting if no one is listening?
3. Context is king.
Make good use of # hashmarks to indicate the subject. Even though you're limited to 140 characters, you can provide access to external sources which elaborate on the context. Link to articles, blogs, or tweets for further elaboration.
4. Focus on the task.
What do you want your followers to do? Think? Respond? Follow a hyperlink? Consider the ultimate purpose of the tweet and how you can best help your followers achieve that goal.
5. Use active verbs.
Active verbs are shorter and easier to follow than passive verbs or verbal nouns. This may mean breaking grammar rules, but those are more flexible than the 140 character limit.
6. Use relevant graphics.
If you link to a picture, make sure the picture is either the focus of your tweet or somehow elaborates on what you are telling your followers. Leave it out if the relevance is not obvious.
7. Cite sources.
Retweeting is polite and helps your followers know where you got the information. There may be more to it than just a lone tweet and followers can follow-up or just follow the original tweeter. Moreover, the person you retweet will RT you back and you may gain followers from their pool.
8. Know your audience.
The most important part of any communication including Twitter is to know what your followers want to hear. If you can humorously tell them how you ate mashed oats for breakfast and they'll appreciate it, then do so. But if they're following you to hear about politics, news, or fashion, you can leave out the oatmeal tweet.