Making Sense of Twitter – It’s the Never-ending Cocktail Party

by melissa on August 16, 2010 · 67 comments

Momcomm Monday is my new weekly feature to help you become better writers, better bloggers, better social media geeks. If you missed last week’s, catch up on DIY Tips for a More Professional Blog Design.

If you’ve ever been scared of Twitter, confused about Twitter or annoyed with Twitter, this post is for you. If you’re on Twitter and still don’t get it, this post is for you too.

I plan to talk a lot about Twitter on Momcomm Monday because if you’re a blogger, Twitter is critical to building relationships with your readers as well as other bloggers (many of which are your readers). It’s also the best place to stay “in the know” with what’s going on in the bloggy blog world.

Twitter has often been called a social media cocktail party… and a never-ending one at that. To understand how Twitter works, think of it like that. At a cocktail party, you mix and mingle with people from all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles. Some people you get into really great conversations with, while with others you just break the ice. (The main difference is little birdies carrying a big ass whale don’t crush your conversation if too many people are talking at the same time. Gotta love the fail whale.)

Here are some things to wrap your head around when it comes to Twitter:

You don’t have to “catch up”

Twitter isn’t like reading email. Don’t feel like you have to scroll through hours of tweets to catch up.

That’s like the cocktail party equivalent of… walking into a room of people and walking up to each group going “so, can you tell me what you’ve been talking about since you got here? And what about you? And you over there?”

When you get some time in your busy day to log onto Twitter, read through some tweets to see what’s going on (think of this as listening to others at a cocktail party before you start in with your own stories). Go back as far as you have time for but DO NOT TRY TO READ EVERYTHING. Be in the present and roll with it.

You’ll talk to some people more than others

One thing people new to Twitter often ask is “how do people keep up with following thousands of people?”

The simple answer is, they don’t. Instead, they flow in and out of conversations. Some people they may talk to every day. Others once a month. And others, well, they may not ever strike up a conversation with.

That’s like the cocktail party equivalent of… well, a cocktail party! Think back to the best parties you’ve been to – they were probably ones where you had some really great conversations with a few people and then got introduced to some other people who you hope to get to know more later down the road.

I use Twitter lists to keep up with the different groups of people (I have Carolina twitterers, Outdoor twitterers and a private list of favorites). These are who I interact with most often.

But since the Twitter cocktail party never ends, I’ll make my way around the room eventually right? That’s why I also check my home feed often to chat with people I may not have before.

Twitter isn’t for one way “conversations”

In Twitter people aren’t successful if they just post content, talk about themselves or tweet giveaways all the time. In fact, if they aren’t talking back to their followers, it sends the message that they don’t really care about building relationships with others; they just want to force their message down someone’s throat. Yuck.

That’s like the cocktail party equivalent of… someone walking up to you and trying to sell you something without even introducing themselves.

This actually happened to me at a networking event last year. I walked into this event with a friend. I barely got through the door when this lady walked up to me, soooo invaded my personal space then said, “Here’s $25 off a membership at ___ Gym.” She shoved the coupon in my hand and pretty much walked off while I stood there flabbergasted.

Um, how about a “Hi, I’m Sally from ___ Gym.” and then continuing with some small talk first.

Twitter is not for the hard sell (whether that sell is visiting your blog, pimping out an ebook or selling jewelry). It’s for making connections so that you’re credible. Put it this way- would you visit Jane’s blog from Twitter if all she ever did was post “read my new blog post” over and over? Now what if you guys have talked on Twitter a few times before? You’d be more interested in her blog post because you know her, even if it’s just a little.

It’s okay to jump into a conversation

In addition to regular ole tweets, Twitter is full of conversations among people. If you follow two people and see they have a conversation going that sounds interested, don’t be shy! Just @ them both so they both see what you’re saying.

That’s the cocktail party equivalent of… walking by two people talking about your favorite Mexican restaurant. And then you jump in with a “Excuse me. I overheard you talking about my favorite restaurant. I LOVE that place!”

Of course, someone could be all snotty and not respond back but who cares? It’s worked for me in connecting with people more often than it’s not.

When this tactic would really suck is if they were having a super serious conversation and you’re all “hi guys!” Be smart, people. Be smart. Of course, we could argue deep convos should be taken elsewhere but let’s just not go there.

Speak off the top of your mind (within reason)

Whether it’s an opinion, an observation or just a random thought, tweet it! While no one wants to read EVERY little thought that crosses your mind, I’ve found that I get the most responses when I just let it out.

That’s the cocktail party equivalent of… seeing some of your besties at a party and telling them what’s happenin’.

For example, the other day I tweeted this ridiculousness, “Just realized I forgot to put on deodorant. Thank God I work from home.” One silly (and kinda embarrassing) tweet like that had people responding to me  laughing, saying that happens to them all the time, etc. Why is that important? Because we made a connection and interacted like friends at a party would, even if it was at the expense of my armpits.

Use this tip at your own discretion- you may never ever ever want to divulge information about forgetting deodorant. You may never want to tell your followers that you’re craving pizza or that your cat just peed on the carpet (and if you’re a business, I’d be conservative in tweeting like this). BUT I’ve gotten the most laughs and interaction from the silly stuff.

Final thought

If I could sum it up in fewer words, I’d say this: we are all humans so speak like one. (well, minus having to use the Twitter lingo like RT, @, #, etc.). Think of what you’re tweeting in a real life context. You’ll be the life of the party before you know it.

QUESTION: Have you ever thought of Twitter as a cocktail party before? Has anything made you hesitate to get involved on Twitter?

P.S. If you need a how-to for Twitter, check out their own pages Getting Started and Learn the Lingo. It’s geared towards businesses but the basics are the same.

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1 Theta Mom August 16, 2010 at 9:03 am

I wrote a post ahile back at how Twitter is the #1 social media platform to begin the convo with your readers. 25% of my overall traffic comes directly from Twitter and I have found that I really get to know some peeps there FIRST and then I begin to read their blog. The more I am on Twitter and begin to really get to know other bloggers, it makes reading their blog that much more meaningful.

Awesome post! Great reflection with awesome tips on how to utilize Twitter – I am a big believer in it and EVERY blogger should be active in it if they want to build relationships with their readers!
Theta Mom recently posted..Life BC and Some Much Needed QT

2 melissa August 18, 2010 at 9:17 am

I agree with every single word! I’ve made connections on Twitter that are simply harder to make if blogging is your only platform to connect.

3 Jamee@A New Kind of Normal August 16, 2010 at 9:05 am

Another thumbs up for this week’s momcomm! I love this! I’m starting to get the swing of Twitter but I have never thought of it in this perspective! I’m socially awkward and unfortunately its the same in the Twitter world but this helps me so much! Thanks for another amazing post!
Jamee@A New Kind of Normal recently posted..Monday Medical News- Killing Me Softly

4 Andrea (Lil-Kid-Things) August 16, 2010 at 9:19 am

Love this post! I love the party analogy. I think it’s easy to take Twitter too seriously. It is a means to an end a lot of times, but it is SOCIAL media so people need to remember to use social skills! I love to have fun with it and have met a lot of great people.
Andrea (Lil-Kid-Things) recently posted..How to Make a Tiny Closet Seem Bigger

5 gigi August 16, 2010 at 9:21 am

Fab post! I’m writing a little e-guide for people who don’t know how to Twitter…would you permit me to include a link to this post and your blog in it? This is great!
gigi recently posted..A Mother’s Drivel- Do I Sound Like This

6 melissa August 18, 2010 at 9:28 am

Absolutely! Please let me know when it’s available– I’d love to take a look!

7 Alana Morales August 16, 2010 at 9:37 am

FANTASTIC post! I love how you compare Twitter to a party – that is so true! I think the biggest lesson for me was that it wasn’t like email – you just pop in and out as you can. This works well for my ADD tendencies.

It takes time but the advice you gave is great! Just jump in and join the party! :)

8 melissa August 18, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Yep, it’s nearly impossible to keep up on twitter if you treat it like email! I love that I can move in and out of it all day… good for my ADD too!

9 Lynda August 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

I love your analogy! It’s a fantastic post that’s just oh-so-true. (Though I don’t really frequent cocktail parties; I’d imagine they must be similar to twitter.)

The only other thing I would have included are some example example twitter accounts to look at to see them doing what you’re talking about.
Lynda recently posted..Friday Finds- Signs

10 melissa August 18, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Oh I’m one step ahead, girl! My next Twitter Momcomm post will go into just that. Otherwise, I’d have one novel of a post here (already 1000+ words)!

11 Lynda August 18, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Most of my posts are 1000-3000 words. I forced myself to split a post up into a series of 3 once. I’m no Seth Godin.
Lynda recently posted..Friday Finds- Signs

12 Kim August 16, 2010 at 10:19 am

I love the party analogy too. I also think that the Golden Rule works very well for Twitter. If you want someone to RT what you do, RT them. If you promote others usually they will do it in kind. Being nice gets you far on Twitter.
Kim recently posted..Response cached until Mon 16 @ 16:17 GMT (Refreshes in 60 Minutes)

13 melissa August 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Totally! I find that people really, really appreciate RTs and even just acknowledging a random tweet of theirs.

14 Melisa August 16, 2010 at 10:21 am

Another great post! Thank you for clearing up the point about jumping into conversations. I didn’t know if it would be considered rude or not.
Melisa recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Son of a Pilot

15 Andree August 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

Oh so glad you’ll be writing more about Twitter! It’s a learning curve just to figure out the lingo!

Fun analogy – now that you put it that way, it makes sense. Short quips and easily entertaining, with dashes of shared useful info.

See you at the buffet table!
Andree recently posted..Morning Fog

16 melissa August 18, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Haha- I’ll be the one eating too much!

17 Hilary Mercer August 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm

This is definitely a good way of looking at it. Sometimes I have a hard time explaining to non twitter’rs what the point of it is. This might make it a bit easier.
Hilary Mercer recently posted..April &amp Josh Engaged in San Diego

18 Anne August 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Thanks for the tips. I joined Twitter a month ago and I am still learning the ropes. Great post and the links were helpful.
Anne recently posted..A Snapshot Into Our Lives

19 Alexandria August 16, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Thanks for these tips! I honestly thought I had to catch up on every tweet. That is so exhausting! Now that I interact more on Twitter I like it a lot more!
Alexandria recently posted..So this is what I wore…bronze

20 melissa August 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Oh girl, that IS exhausting to try and catch up on every tweet. Good thing we don’t have to! If only email worked that way (I’m SOOO behind).

21 Rachel {at} Mommy Needs a Vacation August 16, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I love this new Monday series you are doing!! And oh boy! I LOVE Twitter! But you already knew that. You have cleared it all up for me- I love cocktail parties, that is why I love Twitter so much!!
Rachel {at} Mommy Needs a Vacation recently posted..Recipe of the Week- Turkey Pasta Bake

22 Amy August 16, 2010 at 7:26 pm

What a great way to look at Twitter. It causes me less anxiety than a cocktail party does though :) At a cocktail party if you get ignored, it is because they don’t want to talk to you, if you get ignored on twitter, it is possible they missed your tweet or they’ve logged off or it simply didn’t need a response. Plus you can’t see their faces if they are rolling their eyes at whatever you said.

23 melissa August 18, 2010 at 4:54 pm

So true! Plus, you don’t have to get all dressed up to tweet, which is always a good thing!

24 Bekah August 16, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I have totally shied away from Twitter b/c I thought it was just for people with web on their phones, which I don’t have (yes, on purpose)! I will check out your other posts and try to get going on it, as I have heard from everyone how important it is to blogging.

25 Cate August 16, 2010 at 9:06 pm

This is totally awesome!
I remember when I started tweeting – it just felt so awkward – like standing in front of your computer, holding your cocktail (to use your fabu analogy) and not being able to see if anyone was interested in stopping to chat.
Soooo much easier now. You just have to step a bit outside your comfort zone – and say hi, RT folks, reply to things you find funny or relevant.
This is a great post – can’t wait to read the next MomComm!
Cate recently posted..Introducing Zombie Post Mondays!

26 melissa August 18, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I agree- you’ve gotta step outside your comfort zone and just jump into it. I think I tweeted a couple of times and then stayed away from Twitter for a few months before I gave it another shot.

27 MonicaFernaays August 16, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Thank you for this post…although I am still hesitant to dive into Twitter, this post gives me a better understanding of what it is all about… maybe, just maybe one day I will walk in to a cocktail room and say “Hey ladies…I am here for the Par ~ Tay”

FYI – I mentioned your blog today, in a post…I was inspired by your Bucket List for Summer, so I am doing a few! Hope you are ok with that!!

28 suzanne @ pretty*swell August 16, 2010 at 10:25 pm

LOVE this post!

After reading this, I’m going to be braver about joining (interrupting) conversations that interest me.

Also: I totally try to “catch up” on Twitter. Just two or three screen-scrolls usually satisfies my curiosity. :)
suzanne @ pretty*swell recently posted..Blogher ‘10- bravery and cheeseburgers

29 Fadra August 16, 2010 at 10:34 pm

It’s so funny that you used the cocktail party analogy for Twitter. I was visiting my mom last week who still doesn’t quite get Twitter. I pretended that all of us were at a cocktail party and jumped in on the different conversations and moved around the room.

It is very hard to explain it to people that don’t get it and right now, I use it for information sharing (and learning) and building connections.

You took all the words right out of my mouth. You don’t need to catch up. You just jump right in.

Although I will say I stuck my nose in when someone was talking about how something tasted sweet but thin. I felt sort of embarrassed when it turned out to be her own breastmilk :O
Fadra recently posted..The Psychology of Looking at Houses

30 Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) August 17, 2010 at 1:23 am

Thank you Melissa! I really needed this since I’m still navigating my way through twitter. Never thought of it like a cocktail party…I like that! I’m having more fun with it everyday :)
Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) recently posted..Monday Morning Mamas August 16th

31 Danae August 17, 2010 at 8:19 am

Thank you for stopping by! I really appreciated it :)

I used to have Twitter. I don’t know. I don’t mind the internets, but I find that people just spout off, you know? Like manners don’t matter anymore because it’s anonymous.
Danae recently posted..What I Cant Get Out Of My Head

32 Sharon August 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Thanks for an awesome article. I LURVE Twitter, but have lots of friends and colleagues who are resistant. I’m forwarding a link to this! :)

33 melissa August 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Yeah, it’s SO hard to explain it to people who haven’t used it to its full potential. Hope this post helps them wrap their head around it!

34 Heather August 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Funny Read!! I retweeted it. I’m also following. I’m glad to know there is no pressure that I’m never caught up in the twittersphere.

Stop by when you get a chance:
Mommy Only Has Two Hands!
Heather recently posted..When Murpheys Law Didnt Work

35 Jessica August 17, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Excellent information, and thank you again and again for sharing it. I am new to twitter and have to admit I am lost. The way it was originally explained to me was “like facebook, but only status updates”. So I was never really all that into it. Thanks for giving me a different perspective.

36 Hannah August 17, 2010 at 7:58 pm

This was a really interesting post, I haven’t really gotten on board with the whole Twitter thing yet. I liked how you compared it to a cocktail party that really helped make sence of it all for me.
Hannah recently posted..Chocolate Ice Cream

37 HeartBabyHome August 17, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Saw you on Sits/blogfrog. This was a great post–so I stumbled it. I like twitter…but not sure I get it. Your post makes tons of sense. Thanks.
HeartBabyHome recently posted..Top 5 tips to Protect your Marriage when your Child is Hospitalized

38 melissa August 18, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Thanks so much for the stumble! Just followed you on Twitter!

39 Molly Gold August 17, 2010 at 9:55 pm

This is a fantastic post! I treat Twitter as the bar, Facebook as the kitchen, and Linked In my boss’s office and I’m excited to spend time with you on Mondays learning more. You are a great teacher…thank you!

40 Brittany at Mommy Words August 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Ha I even bring my own glass of wine! You have great tips and I just love twitter for all of the randomness that comes from the silly tweets that make me laugh and from the real relationships that have started from just 140 characters. Awesome post!
Brittany at Mommy Words recently posted..Pre-Schoolers Dream of Being Princesses

41 Ramblings of a Woman August 18, 2010 at 12:31 am

Thank you so much for this analogy! I am trying so hard to learn all this as I want to be able to share with my readers, but it is just taking some time. I remember having the same type of questions about facebook and now I use it all the time, so I am sure I will get it soon enough! Will be bookmarking your post to refer to in an upcoming post! ( I could probably post it to delicious or digg, but I have NO IDEA about those yet! Next on the list, along with stumbleupon!)
Ramblings of a Woman recently posted..Life- one step at a time

42 Maureen @ Tatter Scoops August 18, 2010 at 1:51 am

That’s an awesome way to look at it as a cocktail party! This is a really great post and I’m sure will be very helpful. :D I just love twitter and it’s ‘twitter party’ although sometimes I missed out on it due to time differences lol
Maureen @ Tatter Scoops recently posted..I Dream Of These&8230

43 Christina August 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

Thanks for this post! I have been using Twitter for awhile now but haven’t been able to figure out how to use it for my blog. I think I have been going about it all wrong, and I love how you explain it like a cocktail party. I think I have finally been able to wrap my head around it.

So, how do I get started? By following readers and blogs I love and just jumping into the conversation when I can?
Christina recently posted..Pickled Peppers

44 melissa August 19, 2010 at 11:10 am

Exactly like that! I find that in anything we do, if you want to receive you have to give. So, I’d follow the people whose blogs you like. Then, when they say something, respond to them! Like someone says “my little boy is taking swimming lessons!” You could say “It’s a great skill to have. My boy took them last summer and he felt more comfy in the water.” As you show interest in what OTHERS have to say, they’ll show interest in what you have to say.

Also, tweet blog posts or articles you find interesting (not just your own). And take some time each day to RT tweets from people you follow. Nothing is more flattering than a RT!

Hope that helps!

Hope that helps!

45 Christina August 18, 2010 at 10:28 am

Oops! Maybe I should’ve added my twitter name to a post about twitter!
Christina recently posted..Pickled Peppers

46 melissa August 19, 2010 at 11:11 am

haha- following you now. Looking forward to seeing you around Twitter! P.S. I see you don’t have kids– same rules apply though, just excuse my example. Heehee!

47 Natalie August 18, 2010 at 11:25 pm

I think I may be more in love with Twitter than I am with blogging! Fantastic post -and thought Theta Mom’s comment was interesting.
Natalie recently posted..The Tent

48 Megan (Best of Fates) August 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Such a great comparison, I think I’ll probably think about it all the time when I’m on Twitter!

49 Sherri August 19, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Thank you so much for this! I am behind on blog reading, and this was one of the first I went to catch up on….I am NOT on Twitter, but have been considering it. I love Facebook for that personal connection…sending out a random thought on my status and seeing what people respond with. I thought Twitter would be SO hard to keep up with, but now I am understanding it is just a party! I can relate to that. Maybe now I might try it out…thanks!
Sherri recently posted..My Little Girl Turns 12 Today!

50 Laura August 20, 2010 at 9:40 am

Wow this post has really helped me – thank you! I’ve been struggling to get my head around twitter. Thank you for demystifying it for me. I was reading back over old tweets, now I realise it’s not email you just jump right in! I love the way you describe it as a cocktail party – I can relate to this. Also your advice about building relationships rather than just tweeting about posts and giveaways is so true.

51 melissa August 22, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Glad you liked the post! Twitter is sooo different that I think we try to treat it like email or Facebook when it’s really it’s own thing! See you around Twitter!

52 PartlySunny August 28, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I don’t feel like I really “get” twitter, and to be honest, I’ve been hesitant to tweet very much because it kind of feels like I’m being a pest. This was soooo helpful. I’m seeing it in a whole new light. Thanks!

53 Wyletter September 11, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I greatly appreciate this information on using Twitter. I started my blog in July of this year, and I’m still learning how to utilize some of the social media tools in conjunction with my blog. I created my Twitter account a few weeks ago, but I admit that I felt a bit clueless as to how to use it. I was unsure about what to tweet, how often to tweet and how to join conversations. The bottom line is that I have not fully utilized Twitter. But thanks to the tips that you shared, I’m sure that I will be more confident in my tweet skills and better able to utilize Twitter. Thank you.
Wyletter recently posted..A Time To Be Still

54 City Share October 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I’m realizing just how little I know about Twitter. I didn’t know it was possible to have a conversation on Twitter. I just thought it was people making announcements about their lives (or blog posts). I need to do more reading. Thanks for getting me started.
City Share recently posted..Plans for Week 17

55 abbie October 25, 2010 at 10:27 am

Total twitter newbie! This was so helpful. Thanks so much.

56 heidi @ wonder woman wannabe October 25, 2010 at 1:27 pm

this is GREAT! Thanks!

Popp’n over from Life W/out Pink!


57 Jessica January 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Wonderfully helpful post. I am following now & will def be back. Going to do some more Twitter research. Hopefully I will eventually get it figured out :)
Jessica recently posted..As I Lay Me Down to Sleep

58 Carol February 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Great insight into Twitter. Twitter lingo like RT, @, #, etc. is what I really need to get a grasp on. I’m a big fan of retweeting peoples tweets. There’s so much great information out there it’s nice to share.
Carol recently posted..Live Chat With Annie Burnside- MED Author Of Soul To Soul Parenting 2-10-2011

59 melissa February 8, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Thanks Carol for the comment! Yes, retweeting is such a great way to pay it forward!

60 Jana A January 21, 2012 at 10:55 am

I love this analogy. It’s something where you have to just jump in, to me.

61 Kate Cooper June 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Melissa, did I know that you have this blog too? Can’t catch you! I really love the banner.

So, speaking of parties, I have a secret desire to be invited to a twitter party. Are you the person I was chatting about this with a couple of weeks ago?

See – you are right about the cocktail and enjoy the skimming aspect of Twitter. I’m not even going to apologize that I can’t remember. : )

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