Twitter has become ubiquitous, both as a word and a logo. The little blue bird appears on most websites – even on the packaging of food and household items – and “to tweet” is a verb now used more often in relation to social networking than to the chirping of birds. Yet many still question the benefits of being on Twitter, and despite it being pervasive, it would be inaccurate to say that everyone uses it. This article speaks to those who are still reluctant – or downright frightened – to explore Twitter, and aims to consider how practitioners of talking and holistic therapies can use it today in a worthwhile manner.
Twitter was originally created in 2006 by a podcasting company as a social utility allowing people to broadcast status updates in 140 characters or less. It was designed to be a simple tool allowing a person to share a short message to a group of people and to receive the messages they were interested in. But the founders didn’t anticipate the numerous functions that would evolve from this simple system and eventually found that users would hammer and reshape their concept.
One of the most significant uses of Twitter – the broadcasting of real-time events in emergency situations – emerged during the San Diego wildfires of 2007, when people started using it spontaneously to post useful information about neighbourhood evacuations and road closures. This emergency event also saw the start of the “hashtag” revolution, thanks to a few individuals who got it going. A hashtag is a shorthand means of labelling information. After the first few tweets, the San Diego fire brigade, Red Cross, and major media organisations all followed suit by copying “#sandiegofire” into their own tweets. The other event that consolidated the use of hashtags internationally as a practice of Twitter writing style was the 2009-2010 Iran elections, during which they were used across the globe connecting protesters inside and outside Iran.
Also unanticipated was the transformation of Twitter into a powerful source of information. Users of Twitter in the early days will remember that “Search” was not a feature of Twitter. Many of today’s functionalities didn’t in fact exist and many companies started writing software to fill this void. Summize was one of them, offering Twitter users a means of searching through the history of tweets. This functionality was recognized as so useful that Twitter soon bought it and quickly incorporated the search facility into its service. And soon after that, Twitter increased the effectiveness of its search facility by hyperlinking all hashtags in tweets to Twitter search results for the hashtagged word, thus giving users a powerful means of making their tweets immediately searchable.
Why would I want to use Twitter?
The number one benefit of using Twitter is to connect in real-time with people or organisations that share your interests. After signing up to Twitter, you can decide on what information would be of specific interest to you. You then have the option to “follow” other Twitter users through the network’s suggestions, and these will depend on your stated interests. For example, if you are a psychotherapist, you will probably want to follow mental health organisations and receive news about research or events in a particular subspecialty, or workshops that could be of interest and help to your clients. By using Twitter’s search engine you’ll discover other people and organisations active in this field, and may then decide to follow them. You may later find it useful to share regular updates about your respective areas of work or study, or to post information about workshops and courses you are holding, or articles you are writing. This may be just the kind of information your followers are looking for, and they may spread the word even further.
Or you may wish to start quietly, as a listener; being a Twitter user doesn’t mean you necessarily have to post anything, and you don’t have to tweet at all if you don’t want to. With a bit of time you’ll be able to discern which people post the most relevant tweets and weed out the rest. For example, a therapist in complementary medicine may be interested to know about the latest clinical trials on the effectiveness of their kind of therapy, about its integration in hospital and hospice care, or about CPD workshops. Twitter is a very effective means of reaching beyond your usual horizons, of finding out what is happening both round the corner and across the globe, and of making new and – most importantly – relevant connections. How you engage with your new connections, and how far you reach out, is then entirely up to you.
Twitter’s search facility is another immediate benefit of signing up. Just by typing in a specific topic/issue or event, you’ll be able to read all the latest tweets relating to your chosen subject of enquiry. As opposed to what you’d get through Google, you’ll be looking through quite a different lens, where people will be actively conversing about certain topics and issues of debate, while events unfold around them. What’s being shared now – right now as you read this article – is the very essence of Twitter. It allows you to receive timely information so you’re the first to know about relevant events. Twitter also allows you to take the pulse, as it were, of a given issue, concern or situation and to tap into the collective consciousness regarding any given topic. And you’ll be receiving a variety of different perspectives continually refreshing your own.
2. To Develop a professional online presence:
Twitter is a powerful way of developing an online presence, whether locally or further afield. There are ways of doing this, but in order to do it effectively it is crucial to ask yourself whom you wish to connect with and what you wish to accomplish by using Twitter. The following are two examples: the first is aimed at developing visibility locally and the second is about developing an online professional presence amongst one’s peers.
At a local level
Many practitioners of holistic therapies rely in particular on word-of-mouth recommendations in order to develop their businesses and underestimate what social media can do for them. Twitter is actually a great way of connecting virtually with your local community and increasing people’s awareness of your services. By following other local businesses, you’ll get to know your local community better and be able to engage with it in a mutually supportive way. In fact, used effectively Twitter shouldn’t just be about posting your own news, events and offers, but also a means of supporting other local businesses by “retweeting” – i.e. forwarding – their news. They’d not only appreciate this, but they’d remember you for it and would be happy to return the favour. A mutually supportive online relationship can go a long way and could lead, in the end, to word-of-mouth recommendations.
Within your professional community
However, depending on the nature of your practice, you may not feel comfortable with being “out there” and with the potential blurring of social boundaries. Most psychotherapists steer clear of social media for fear of entering into dual or multiple relationships that could adversely impact their clients and go against their code of conduct. Few psychotherapists actively use Twitter as a means of advertising their services and reaching their clientele, mainly for the reason mentioned earlier, but also because they feel there are other safer ways of having a web presence addressing their target market. However, having a Twitter account does not necessarily infringe such rules. Your Twitter account can be a specifically professional space to communicate with your peers, share news about your subspecialty or field of interest, and/or respond to others who are talking about such matters. This way, you would make certain that people would immediately associate your name with the professional identity you have developed within your community of peers, and the subjects that matter to you. Your interaction would be public, but limited to concerns, interests and events of professional relevance; just as you would take great responsibility for what you said at a conference, the same would apply online.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that to develop an online Twitter presence that can serve you, you need to be selective in your choice of people to follow. This should be determined by whom you wish to reach and by the issues, causes and topics that you are interested in and want to be seen to be interested in. The more you fine-tune the list of Twitter users you follow, the more precisely you’ll attract the kind of followers you wish to converse with. Taking the time to build your online community can bring great rewards in the form of fruitful conversations and, in the best-case scenario, of collaborative projects. Whether at a local, national or international level, you’ll be able to build dialogues with other professionals far and wide, enriching your own work with their perspectives and the possibility of mutual support.
Boundaries within Twitter
A key distinction between Twitter and the other equally ubiquitous social network Facebook is that, as opposed to Facebook, connections are not necessarily mutual. You can follow and be followed by any other Twitter user, regardless of whether you have ever met, and this does not have to be reciprocal. Furthermore, if you wish to create boundaries with certain individuals who choose to follow you, you can put a private lock on your account by opting to “protect your tweets”. This means that only those you approve would receive your tweets and that any future tweets would not be available publicly. If you are worried about keeping solid boundaries between yourself and your clients, you may find this option appealing. However, be aware that this would also limit your reach, particularly if you were hoping to use Twitter as a professional means of promoting your work, activities in the local community, publications and the causes you wish to champion. Keeping tweets private is an option, but a generally less popular one, as most Twitter users tweet for greater professional visibility and reach.
Ready, steady, tweet!
A few little tips before you begin
Start by listening: If you don’t feel ready to jump into Twitter’s virtual conversations, you can simply start by listening. Most people on Twitter use it because they wish to communicate, but there are also many out there who limit their activity to listening. You can remain a passive user and enjoy receiving information about the things that matter to you. This would give you time, too, to familiarise with the system and to fine-tune whose tweets you need to be listening to, depending on your aims and type of practice.
Your profile – People don’t study a profile, but spend a few seconds looking at it before making a snap decision, so it is crucial to get it right! Your profile is a combination of your username (or “handle”), photograph (or “avatar”), cover photo/image (or “header”), and text description. The best example I could find was Bill Gates’ twitter account: @BillGates
- Your handle (or username): choose a simple and logical username to make it easy for people to find you and remember you.
- Your avatar: this is a small square picture of you. Don’t use graphic design or a logo unless the avatar is for an organisation. Your picture is your social media logo, so use the same one everywhere. This will help people recognise you on different social media platforms.
- Your text description /biographical text: You only have 160 characters to work with for your text description, so make sure it reflects what you wish to project and the interests you wish to highlight. It will immediately impact who follows you, so take the time to get it right.
- Your header: This is a larger photo that acts like a cover. Use it to communicate information about what is important to you. You can display more creativity with your header than with you avatar, and you can change it regularly if you like. It can reflect new experiences and developments taking place in your life.
The 140 characters: Think of your tweets as headlines. If people have chosen to follow you, it is for a reason, so aim for precision and relevance.
Hashtags: If you’d like your tweet to be immediately searchable, put a hashtag on it. Search for the most relevant hashtag in order to reach the right audience.
Increasing your followers: If you’d like to increase your reach, follow more people, but make sure they’re the right people.
It’s not just about you: A “retweet” can go a long way. Retweeting is a great way to get the attention of important people in the space. Show them you appreciate what they have to say, and they may well follow you back or return the favour.
Multimedia inserts: Twitter allows you to insert videos, photos and podcasts among other attachments, which, used appropriately, can be an effective way of attracting your followers’ attention.
About Nadia Sajadi-Rosen