Twitter 101?

A few months ago, I wrote an article for the CPRS Toronto publication "New Perspectives" about Twitter. It was published last week, and I've included it on my blog, adding links where appropriate. If you want to view a scanned image of the article, click here. If you want to view the article on the CPRS Toronto website you are out of luck (they list their Spring 2008 issue as the current one).

Twitter 101?

By Parker Mason

CNW Group

If you’ve been paying attention to the social media world these days you probably know that Twitter is the hottest thing since Facebook amongst the digerati.

At its most basic level, Twitter exists for you to answer the question “What are you doing right now?” in 140 characters. But what began as a simple way to update your friends (or “followers” in Twitter-speak) has evolved into something much more. It is being used to share everything from ideas and links to information about natural disasters and the scores at sporting events and it is taking over the world of online communications.

Twitter matters because it gives people a way of opting in to receive information while also participating in a dialogue around it. While a blog could be compared to a formal lecture with a comments section as a formal question and answer period, Twitter is more like a cocktail party. There are multiple conversations happening at the same time, and you can easily drift between them and either or participate as you wish.

At the recent mesh Conference held in Toronto, delegates weren’t handing out business cards or email addresses so much as they were their Twitter account names. Throughout the conference (and, it seems, most social media conferences these days), an entire background conversation was taking place on Twitter. Rather than waiting until after a speaker had finished, delegates were debating their points during the session. As one blogger wrote, “you weren’t at the conference if you weren’t involved in the backchannel on Twitter.”

While it may still be early days for Twitter, there are still millions of people using the service and the “backchannel conversations” happening at conferences are already happening with your clients. As with all spaces (online or not) people will be having these conversations whether you’re there or not so you might as well meet them there.

So who is already using Twitter?

Zappos ( is one company that has dove headfirst into the Twittersphere. The CEO of this online shoe-company already has over five thousand followers and is climbing up the popularity charts. Nearly every single employee is on Twitter, and all are encouraged to use the service to respond to questions or comments regarding Zappos. In the name of transparency, the company also has a page set up on their website that collects all mentions of “Zappos” on Twitter.

I’m quite proud of my CNW colleagues for embracing Twitter. When not traveling between Calgary and Vancouver, you can find Doug Lacombe, Vice-President, Western Canada, updating his Twitter feed by publicly fielding questions about the newswire business. At the same time, other members of CNW have used the service to find out more about what is going on at conferences or to simply share links with each other.

CNW Group has recently added a Twitter feed of releases being distributed by us in the Internet Technology category. Journalists and bloggers following the feed will receive a message with the headline of the release and a link to the full version on the CNW website at

How can I start using Twitter?

Like most online tools, the easiest way to start learning is to start using. With Twitter, you’ll have to go to to sign up for an account. It is easy to do, and once you’re there you can make use of all of Twitter’s features right from their homepage. However, using Twitter from their webpage is a little bit cumbersome. A much more elegant solution comes in the form of a program called Twhirl ( Rather than forcing you to refresh your page in order to get updates from your friends, Twhirl automates the process and turns Twitter into an easy-to-use messaging program.

When you’re there, you’ll start seeing how you can integrate your Twitter account with your account at a number of other online places like Facebook.

Parker Mason is the Web Content Specialist at CNW Group, a global leader in news and information distribution services for professional communicators. Follow Parker on Twitter at