The Who, What and How Guide to Twitter

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Since there are more tasks to complete in a day than there are minutes, making the most of the time you do have becomes increasingly important. Multi-tasking has become so commonplace in the office, so why shouldn't social media do more as well?

Whether your tweets reach thousands of followers or you just signed up for an @ user name, use these suggestions to guide your Twitter time.

Who: Using the List Feature

Watching Twitter conversations rapidly scroll by is enough to make anyone's eyes glaze over. But thanks to the Lists feature of Twitter, you can tailor and filter the users you follow to keep tabs on those most meaningful to you.

Never used the List feature? Here's how:

On your Twitter profile page, scroll down to 'Lists' and click to open. On the right side, click on the blue link that says 'New List'. Add a title, make it private or public, and start adding folks you want to follow. To add users to your lists, click on the 'settings' icon on each user's profile, scroll down to 'add or remove from lists' and add the user to the appropriate list.

Next time you log on, click on the list you want to check in with. The only tweets you'll see are those from your list members.

Suggested groups of users to follow, based on your needs:

industry leaders

camp staff members

members of your organization

professionals from areas related to yours or of interest to you

marketing gurus

relevant bloggers

thought leaders

camp professionals

business professionals

personal connections

What: Determining a Purpose for Your Twitter Time

The time suck of social media cannot be overstated. It's simplistic to think you'll scroll through Tweets for ten minutes and be done, yet an hour later, you're in the same spot. The speed, immediacy and variety of input from such a large community makes it easy to get caught up. That's why it's so important to approach your Twitter time with one of two purposes in mind: communication or learning.

Do you have industry news to share? New thoughts on an common topic? An insight you know will help your circle of professionals? Twitter was built on the premise of communicating in a quick, efficient manner. The key to success is to make your Tweets are either informational or entertaining. The drop of a single tweet in the ocean of Twitter needs some type of hook to compel followers to share with their own circles. Be careful not to just regurgitate information. Put your personal spin, angle and voice into the tweets to  make more authentic connections.

With all this communicating taking place, signing on to Twitter in the role of learner can increase your knowledge base and network in an enjoyable way. What issues are trending? Whose ideas are being retweeted most? What suggestions and links have the most value to your network? Be sure you retweet or reply a thank you to users who share valuable thoughts or resources that extend your learning--simple acknowledgements of others' tweets are the best way to build personal relationships.

How: Hashtags

Hashtags (#) are the lifeblood of Twitter when you want to follow topics and conversations without reading everything. Users hashtag words and phrases that enable the tweets to be pulled together in a conversational-type list to keep all the tweets on that topic manageable.

Hashtags are similar to lists, but instead of following people, you're centering on the dialogue. Here's how: in the search box at the top of your page, type in the hashtag followed by the topic or discussion you're interested in and 'search'. You'll be taken to a results page. You can choose to stay here to read the top tweets on your topic, or click on 'all' for an ongoing, real-time list of users involved in that hashtag conversation.

You can begin investigating by typing in a specific name or phrase related to the list feature suggestions above, or any combination of words and phrases related to your area of interest, your company, topics you enjoy or want to keep abreast of, or elements of business.

The best way to become better at anything is through practice, and spending time getting to know Twitter is worth the investment. By following the right people and conversations with a purpose in mind, tweets become an extension of your personal and professional selves, not just another way to waste precious time.

Beth Morrow is a freelancer, summer camp program director and middle school educator who loves to tweet. Connect with her on Twitter: @BethFMorrow, or via her education blog at www.CanWeJustRead.com