As Twitter has grown in popularity, a number of guides have appeared on bookstore shelves promising to help ordinary people understand and make efficient use of its features. One of the earliest of these volumes is still the best: All a Twitter: A Personal and Professional Guide to Social Networking with Twitter by Tee Morris.
While the book’s consideration of Twitter clients has dated somewhat, the advice Morris gives for using Twitter is just as applicable now as when the book was first published.
Tee Morris covers the basics of using Twitter and how it’s different from Facebook or IM programs
Tee Morris is the rare author who is equally skilled at writing technical guides and fiction (he specializes in detective novels and steampunk fantasy), and his personal voice gives All a Twitter much of its appeal.
Though he does work regularly with technology, creating and producing podcasts in particular, he approaches Twitter from the perspective of an ordinary user. This makes All a Twitter far more useful to the average person than the many online articles about learning how to use Twitter, as the latter tend to focus more on a business audience.
The early chapters of All a Twitter cover the basics of Twitter usage. One of the most useful points Morris makes here is that Twitter is distinct not only from other social networks such as Facebook, but also from IM programs, and that trying to use Twitter to converse in the same way as with an IM program is a bad idea.
Yes, Twitter is about conversation and engagement, but it’s a different sort of conversation, and Morris gives good advice as far as differentiating the kinds of conversations that should be private as opposed to public.
Morris provides useful advice for getting started on Twitter and editing tweets for conciseness
From there, the book tackles the basics of setting up an account. While tech-savvy types will already know how to do the things Morris discusses in these chapters, the level of detail he provides is perfectly suited to new users.
He walks the user through each step of the process, from registration and login to writing a good Twitter profile bio and choosing appropriate display pictures. In particular, he discusses how it’s best for individuals to use images of themselves while logos should be used only for corporate accounts using Twitter for business purposes. This is advice is in keeping with Morris’ overall focus on personalizing the Twitter experience.
Naturally, this advice extends to actually writing tweets, and as a professional writer, Morris is in the perfect position to discuss how to edit and consolidate thoughts to create the perfect, compelling tweet. In a medium that limits the user to 140 characters, concise expression is key, and Morris gives step-by-step examples of whittling away at a sentence until only the essentials that fit within the limit remain.
(He also makes no secret of his disdain for services that allow users to write longer tweets, something that defeats the whole purpose of the character limit.)
The book’s discussion of Twitter’s signal-to-noise ratio is one of its most effective sections
Morris also focuses on the notion of the signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter, meaning how to strengthen the flow of useful information while filtering out useless or negative ideas. In explaining this idea, he goes against the conventional wisdom of many self-appointed Twitter gurus (Guy Kawasaki in particular) by stating that it isn’t always a good idea to follow back everyone that follows you.
His reasons for this make perfect sense for individual users: why follow back spammers and bots who will only contribute noise to your Twitter feed? Instead, it’s best to find the accounts that will contribute the most to the signal and follow them, whether they follow you or not. It’s nice to see some common sense applied to this question, rather than a regurgitation of received ideas.
A large portion of the book covers individual Twitter clients, with chapters focusing on desktop programs, iPhone apps, and clients for other smartphones. (Morris admits he has little experience with the BlackBerry and relies on other contributors- fully credited in a highly personable fashion- to flesh out this section.)
Naturally, this part of the book is the most dated, though one conclusion remains the same- TweetDeck is still the dominant desktop Twitter client. But since Morris regularly reviews new clients and new versions of older programs on his Bird House Rules podcast, there’s plenty of supplementary material available to make up for these chapters being out of date.
The book also skillfully deals with Twitter’s negative side
Morris also covers some of the less positive aspects of Twitter: dealing with spammers and bots, how to avoid alienating followers with excessive personal information, and how to avoid becoming too addicted to Twitter. He discusses going on a “Twitter fast” for a week to decompress and engage with the real world, and it’s a worthwhile suggestion for avoiding overimmersion in social media.
On the whole, All a Twitter remains the best book published on the subject of getting the most out of Twitter. Tee Morris has an engaging personal style that makes the book highly enjoyable, it’s structured in a cohesive way so as to first introduce new users to the basics and then to the more complex tools available to power users, and it doesn’t shy away from the less positive aspects of Twitter and social media as a whole. It’s a great starting point for anyone new to tweeting, and a good refresher for veterans of social media.