Time to Tweet?

With every tweet, provide a takeaway

September 1, 2009

By now you've heard plenty of talk about the free microblogging service Twitter. The way it works is simple: Once you're signed up, you can broadcast short (140 characters or fewer) text messages and links to your "followers" and receive updates from the people you want to include in your network.

The startup launched rather quietly in 2006, but today it seems that just about everyone is tweeting, from the president of the United States to your next-door neighbor. Nielsen News in June reported that Twitter.com was the fastest-growing Web brand, with unique visitors reaching 18.2 million in May, up a whopping 1,448 percent from a year earlier.

Still, many real estate professionals are left wondering what value Twitter has for their business. And what are the rules for doing it right? Who better to ask than Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey?

"Twitter should be about telling people what's catching your attention," Dorsey says. "What do you think would be interesting for others to know about?"

Before launching Twitter, Dorsey worked as a programmer for an ambulance dispatch service, where he saw great potential in the short messages that emergency services sent out. He was among the first of his friends to buy a handheld device, and he used it to send quick e-mail updates about his daily happenings in New York. When texting finally went mainstream, Dorsey decided to turn his idea for Twitter into a prototype, which has evolved into the service that exists today.

Dorsey believes that Twitter's greatest assets are its simplicity and its ability to keep individuals connected with friends, colleagues, and customers. For example, real estate practitioners can share local real estate news, mortgage rates, staging tips, views on a hot industry issue, or an interesting property that's on the market (although some users advise against regularly tweeting about listings because it's overtly promotional).

"You should be exposing trends and sparking interaction," Dorsey says. But use discretion before hitting the "update" button. "If Barack Obama tweets that he's eating oatmeal, it's interesting. If I tweet that I'm eating oatmeal, it's not," Dorsey laughs. Also, there's no spelling checker, so watch for typos.

Another perk of Twitter: You can easily follow industry experts, newspapers, and other sources of information that will make you more knowledgeable about your job. Updates are automatically sent to your mobile device or your Twitter account. REALTOR® magazine's Twitter profile, for example, has more than 5,000 followers who receive links to quizzes, articles, and more.

What you get out of Twitter depends on what you put into it, says Darren Rowse, whose blog TwiTip shares best practices for using Twitter. "Twitter becomes more beneficial to you when you give value to others," Rowse says. "If you're solving a problem or fulfilling a need, you're being useful."

Twitter Hints

  • Stay active. Send tweets regularly—maybe once a day or a few times per week. Frequent posts also increase the likelihood that someone new will find you and become a follower.
  • Be searchable. When you place a hashtag (#) in front of key words (for example, #HVCC), your message can be found through Twitter's public search tool). Otherwise, only your followers will see your updates.
  • Say something worthwhile. Do your followers really need to know that you just fed your cat? Focus on sharing information that will be valuable to people who follow you.
  • Shrink the link. In your tweets, you can and should link to articles and Web sites your followers would enjoy. To keep Web site addresses from eating up your 140 characters, shorten the URL on free sites such as Budurl or TinyURL.
  • Interact. Read what your followers are tweeting about and comment on their posts. It shows you're involved and will help get your name out.
  • Try TweetDeck. This free application provides an easy-to-use interface for managing your Twitter account on your mobile phone or desktop.
  • Share the news. To send someone else's tweet to your followers, place an RT in front of the message to indicate it's a "retweet."

Follow us on Twitter: @REALTORMag.

Katherine Tarbox is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine. Previously, she was editorial director for Washington Life. She is the author of the international bestselling book A Girl’s Life (Dutton, 2000) and has made hundreds of media appearances including The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN.