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The Tao Of Twitter: Power Tips For Networking

Twitter's secret is that it is not intuitive, but it can be a powerful business networking tool once you learn to use it properly, says author Mark Schaefer.

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Now an authority on the business use of Twitter, Mark Schaefer admits he was puzzled at first, almost to the point of giving up, when he ventured onto the social networking service known for its concise message format. As he got to know Twitter better, he heard from plenty of people who were equally mystified by what to do when faced with that 140-character message box, Schaefer said in an interview. "The number one question I got asked was, 'Can you help me understand Twitter?' Twitter on its surface seems very easy to use. Yet it's not intuitive like Facebook or even YouTube. On those services, you post something, maybe you comment on it, maybe you share it--that's about as complicated as it gets. But it took me months to really figure out the rhythm and the value of Twitter."

Schaefer stuck with it, however, and he shared what he learned in his book, "The Tao of Twitter". Originally self-published, the book was rereleased in July by McGraw-Hill in an edition with about 50 percent new material. At this writing, the book enjoys a rating of 9.7 stars out of 10 on Amazon. Schaefer is also the author of "The Return on Influence", about building influence online and off, and he writes the {grow} blog associated with his consulting practice.

Twitter can be useful to any business that would benefit from offline networking--say, at a trade show or a chamber of commerce event, Schaefer said. However, its telegraphic nature, which is almost a command-line social media interface, does pose challenges.

"The language of Twitter is quirky," Schaefer said. "When you post a message, you use a lot of abbreviations to get it into 140 characters, and there's the whole hashtag genre, which is difficult for people to understand. I think that is a huge obstacle to adoption."

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With "The Tao of Twitter," Schaefer's approach was to provide the missing manual for this social network designed for power users. It's as if everyone gets the quick-start guide to Twitter--like the computer manual that says how to plug in the keyboard and the mouse --without also getting the manual that explains how to make the product useful. He writes in the introduction, "Studies show that about 60 percent of the people who try Twitter quit after the first week, and I'm convinced it's because they never get past the first set of simple instructions: Set up a profile, follow a few celebrities, tweet about 'what you're doing now' and see what happens."

Many businesses are equally clueless, blasting out an endless stream of press release links without building any real relationships, Schaefer said. "The thing that most people miss and most businesses miss is that it isn't the technology, it's not the tools and the tricks--it's the mindset. They approach Twitter like another broadcast channel, and they fail. One young marketing guy came to me and said 'I don't understand Twitter! I'm marketing as hard as I can and I'm getting nowhere!' "

The trouble with that approach is that self-promotion is monotonous and is actually the worst way to market yourself online, whereas it's often the more casual messages that spark what turns out to be a valuable business connection, he said.

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