As several of our recent posts suggest, Twitter is gaining popularity among legal aid and public interest advocates and organizations. For those who haven't yet experimented with Twitter, or are just getting started, here's a short introduction that provides some background, tools and resources for using Twitter effectively.
To get started using Twitter, go to the Twitter sign-up page and create an account. Even if you're not planning to use Twitter right away, it's a good idea to reserve a user name for your organization. (For example, twitter.com/legalaid has already been taken by a website (legalaid.com) that trades on our community's good name to generate affiliate revenue by sending visitors to commercial websites.) Your user name (or what goes after the twitter.com/ and becomes your profile's landing page) is limited to 15 characters, but should ideally be much shorter than that.
After you have registered, you'll need to make a decision about who to follow. A good starting point is to follow folks already using Twitter in our community, as they are likely to have followers who are interested in what you have to say. It's also worth noting that nothing that you do with your Twitter account is really permanent. You can un-follow as easily as you can follow, and delete any messages that you post (although users that follow you may see them before you can delete them). While the other users that you follow will display on your profile, their messages (or "tweets") will only appear to you. As for your own messages, they must be 140 characters or less.
You can also choose whether you want your account to be public or private. If it's public, anyone can see what you post and you're more likely to attract followers. If it's private, only folks that you approve will be able to see your messages. (For example, @technola and @accesstojustice are public because we want anyone who is interested to be able to follow us, but my own personal profile @mjburnett is private because I want to have control over who sees my messages.) In either case, the messages that you post will be "delivered" to all of your followers as soon as you post them. Indeed, this is what makes Twitter so powerful: it provides real-time content syndication to a group of people that are interested in what you have to say or what your organization is up to. To follow someone, go to their profile and click "follow." Or, if their profile is private, click "send request" and wait for them to approve you.
Before going too much further, you should download one of three popular applications to help manage your Twitter account(s). If you are looking for a light, easy to use application I would suggest Twirl. If you need to manage multiple Twitter accounts, or like the idea of integrating things with Firefox, try Twitterfox (this is what I use most of the time). Finally, if you aspire to be a Twitter power user, download TweetDeck (this is what Kate uses most of the time). If you want to tweet from your iPhone, I like the free version of Twitterrific (for BlackBerry there is TwitterBerry). You can also post and receive tweets via SMS on your cell phone.
Another set of twitter tools relate to posting automatically from a RSS feed, scheduling posts, and Twitter analytics. There are several good tools that do one or two of these things, and a great tool for doing all of them called HootSuite (formally Brightkit). If you have a RSS feed for your website or blog, Twitter is a fast and easy way to start driving qualified traffic to existing content. HootSuite allows you to easily syndicate your RSS feed content to one or more Twitter accounts (you can also use the popular Twitterfeed for this), as well as to control how often items are posted and to append text (i.e. "News:") to your post. It also tracks how many people click on your links and shortens your URLs so that they take up less characters.
If you're not ready for HootSuite or a similar application, you may want to consider the browser toolbar add-on for TinyURL, which will allow you to easily create short links to save precious characters (140 characters is less than you might think). Note also that some applications will automatically shorten long links.
There are a lot of good resources on Twitter out there, including Twitter's FAQ. Here are a few to get you started:
Newbie's guide to Twitter (CNET)
Birds of a Feather Twitter Together (Wall Street Journal)
Beginner's Quick Start Guide and Tutorial to Using Twitter (zappos.com)
Twitter Etiquette (Twitter Fan Wiki)
Tools and Tactics to Tweet Well on Twitter (LTN)
Legal News Feeds on Twitter (JDScoop)
145 Lawyers (and Legal Professionals) to Follow on Twitter (JDScoop)
Twitter Posts on Real Lawyers Have Blogs (Kevin O'Keefe)
The Pros & Cons of Twitter (Lawyer2Lawyer Podcast)
Tweet Sixteen: 16 Ways Lawyers Can Use Twitter (Robert Ambrogi)
Attorneys Flocking to Twitter for Marketing (Lawyers USA) -M