Hacking Twitter for Fun and Profit

Updated: March 29, 2007

Twitter was a big hit at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) tech/entertainment conference in March. Some found it useful as a sort of short-attention-span blog or a way to coordinate plans. Others have decided it's the latest online waste of time (who cares what other people are doing?). But a lot useful technologies hit the scene before everyone knows how to make the most of them. Here are a few ideas for making the most of Twitter:

1. Run for president (or sell any other campaign)

Democratic candidate John Edwards' staff posts updates about his travel and 60 Minutes appearances. Yes, they are making his itinerary seem trendy. But you don't need to be running for office to do it. Got a campaign of any kind - a product launch, a band tour - that you want people to follow? This is a good place to be.

2. Research your market (or your café)

The golden question hidden within "what are you doing?" is: "what are you doing [at/with/on] a particular [store/product/ Web site]?" Many public Twitter entries reveal how people are using and doing things that you may care about. Are people listening to your band? Checking out your site? Drinking coffee at your café? Twitter doesn't have search function as of this writing. But type any word into the Twitter search engine that marketing guru Steve Rubel developed using Google Co-Op tools. The code for either tool also can be pasted into your own Web site or blog.

3. Twitcast a live event

Twitter's support for mobile phone messaging allows you to post live updates from nearly anywhere. The crictimes Twitter thread posted continuous updates, like a ticker, from the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup in the West Indies. Who would have dreamed that someday we'd all be following cricket matches on our cell phones? I mean, if we actually were.

4. Twitter yourself

The truth is, everybody in the world doesn't need to know what you are up to all the time. But it's always a good idea to keep track of yourself. Twitter can function as a mobile To Do list and memory aid. You're out on the town and remember that you need to call that guy about that thing when you get back to the office. Send yourself and update from your cell phone.

5. Loosely monitor a group project

OK everybody. You all have your assignments. Let's all get out there and get busy, and meet back here tomorrow morning at 10. Oh - and every hour, send an update to Twitter to let everyone else know where you're at, workwise.

6. Compose classic Twiterature

Become the first person to write a thrilling work of fiction using just Twitter entries (or at least write it in the first person). Storytelling using forms of correspondence used to be called "epistolary," back in the days when vocabulary was king.

7. Change plans

"On the last day of SXSW Interactive 2007," writes Laughing Squid Web site honcho Scott Beale on his own full-blown blog. "I was having lunch with a bunch of people….we knew that the closing party would probably be crowded…so Mike and I decided to organize our own little Drinkup at Ginger Man… I sent out a single Twitter post and let it grow from there. Word spread via Twitter and offline and by the end of the night, our last minute event was packed with our friends. We had our own little Twittermob going on."

8. Get some answers

What's a good Mexican restaurant in Houston? What kind of baby stroller is best? Anchorman or 40 Year Old Virgin? Post your question to friends or to the public via Twitter and watch the opinions flow.

9. Be a very-mini-blogger

You know, like the guy who has his own teeny newsletter of sorts, posting links to his favorite New York Times articles on Twitter. Especially useful for this kind of thing is the URL-shortening service TinyUrl.com.

10. Connect with loyal customers

Maybe your sandwich shop or comic book store doesn't need its own Web site or blog, but you'd like to keep customers posted about the specials of the day or the newest arrivals from Marvel and Dark Horse. A quickie daily post to Twitter can get the job done.

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