Sep 172010

How we communicate with others has changed drastically in my 37 years. As a little girl, we hand wrote thank you notes to our relatives for their extremely generous gifts. In college, email was starting up, and we emailed professors and fellow students and in my sister’s case even her boyfriend! (You have to realize the internet was just being created at that time, so no Yahoo! Or MySpace or even Google! believe it or not!) Growing up, the phone was THE way to communicate with friends and relatives. And I’m talking landlines here! Cell phones were probably starting up when I was in high school, and then the price was so outrageous and they were so physically large and heavy that only the corporate set owned them. I believe the first truly “mobile phones” were the giant sets installed in cars–literal car phones.

A year ago in May, we celebrated the birth of our daughter Emily. And instead of sending birth announcements, we had a massive email list of close friends and family to notify. So much for postage stamps!

Now, we have MySpace, which I originally got to keep up with a few friends and family members that were college-aged at the time. Now that’s almost obsolete with Facebook being my primary operating method. We even “Facebook” friends to cancel piano lessons, set up play dates, and arrange business meetings! It’s unbelievable–you almost don’t even need a personal email at times anymore!! Now Twitter–to me the best word to describe that is…..TIME CONSUMING! I have no desire to know what you ate for breakfast (unless you’re in some foreign exotic country) and that you’re not feeling well—I get this from Facebook if I feel like looking through my Wall….it’s almost to the point of too much information.

For my birthday the other day however, I woke up to over 50 Facebook wishes–they made my day! We’ve gotten so busy that sending a card or keeping track of so many friends’ birthdays is virtually impossible—so I am loving the fact that Facebook does that for me. I wouldn’t have posted half of the “HB” messages had they not popped up on my reminder scale. So this technology makes us at times even more graceful and thoughtful than we would be without it.

Now one of my very good and locationally-close girlfriends actually took me to lunch! So that was over the top awesome. It just shows that even with technology, the personal touch and time spent is no replacement over technology. I will definitely keep that in mind for paying that forward to the next b-day friend! As one Marine that was transferring to a new duty station once said in his going away speech, “There is no greater gift you can give someone than your time.” Absolutely true!

So with that in mind, line up for lunch, friends, and the next time I need something, maybe I should just pick up the phone and call you (on my landline!).

Ruly Ruth’s Communication Profile:

Most common way to communicate with family?    E-mail
Most common way to communicate with friends?    Facebook and texting–it’s a tie
Most common way to communicate with business contacts?    E-mail
How often do you check Facebook?     Daily–once or twice.

For fun, I also asked Ruth to indicate how she would respond to the following socially challenging Facebook situations:

You Forgot Me!
Someone who publicly complains about friends not inviting them places or complains when they see vacation photos, party photos, etc. from an event they wish they had been invited to.
Example: Great party! Wish I had been there rather than sitting at home watching re-runs on TV. 🙁

Ruly Ruth says:
I personally would ignore. I have no response to this. I think a response could “stir the pot” so to speak! Or would say something simple like “Would love to get together with you soon!” Generic and to the point.

You forgot me . . . online!
Someone who whines that they feel slighted because no one wished them a Happy Birthday/Happy Anniversary, congratulations on a job promotion, pregnancy, etc.
Example: Thanks to everyone who remembered my birthday yesterday . . . not!

Ruly Ruth says:
IMMEDIATELY would post a HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY! message—-better late than never!!

The overly personal post
Trying to pass off deep, intense thoughts, better confessed to a therapist, as a quick Facebook update.
Example: Happy Father’s Day! All alone today while my sleazy ex-husband has the kids.

Ruly Ruth says:
I actually have a friend who does posts like this and can’t stand it. IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE!!

The Awkward Moment
Miscommunications, too much information, conflicts between friends. Like witnessing an accident, you don’t want to look but you can’t look away.
Example: Great to see you the other day. Remind me, when are you due?
Umm….I’m not pregnant.

If you are the person making the dumb comment, is it better to apologize publicly or privately?

Ruly Ruth says:
“OMG! SO SORRY! Thought I’d heard that through the grapevine!”

“sex & the city 10 years after...uws nyc (upper west side new york city) CIMG5578.” Photo by skeddy in NYC. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Turning all discussions into something about your kids or posting overly-cutesy or TMI posts about your children.
Example: Sorry to hear about your dad’s visit to the hospital. Sadie got a terrible cold this weekend and we debated bringing her there too.

Ruly Ruth says:
IGNORE! I wouldn’t even comment.

Do you have a Facebook etiquette question for Ruly Ruth? How would you handle the above situations? Tips to pass on yourself? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on September 17, 2010 Ruly Ruth Tagged with: , ,
Sep 162010

Dale Carnegie. Copyrighted publicity photo from the Wikimedia Commons.

Dale Carnegie is author of one of the best-selling business publications of all time, How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936. In this work, Mr. Carnegie sets forth a variety of principles of human behavior, including “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People,” “Six Ways to Make People Like You,” and “Three Ways to Win People Over to Your Way of Thinking.” Mr. Carnegie was a true rags to riches story himself. He was born the son of a poor Missouri farmer and went on to become a successful salesperson and best-selling author.
Many of Mr. Carnegie’s ideas are extremely simple, common-sense types of tips. The genius in his book, however, is that he makes you stop and reflect on how you are (or are not) using these tips and reminds us that simple principles of human kindness never go out of style.

In today’s post, I ask whether Mr. Carnegie, if alive today, would be able to use his champion techniques to win friends on Facebook? How can we translate Carnegie tips for in-person social interaction to the online world of social networking? Would Mr. Carnegie be a popular Facebook friend? So, inspired by his classic book I give you:

Dale Carnegie’s Six Ways to Make People Like You [on Facebook]

1. Appreciate Your Friends.

“All of us, be we workers in a factory, clerks in an office or even a king upon his throne – all of us like people who admire us. . . . In our interpersonal relations we should never forget that all our associates are human beings and hunger for appreciation. It is the legal tender that all souls enjoy. . . . If we want to make friends, let’s put ourselves out to do things for other people – things that require time, energy, unselfishness and thoughtfulness.”

-Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

Specific Actions:

  • Remember birthdays (I am not so good at this myself but many people treasure a wall full of “Happy Birthday” repetitive messages. Even better if you take a few more seconds to try to personalize it just for that person.)
  • Enthusiastically respond to messages from friends
  • Find ways to help people achieve their own goals while helping yourself.

2. Spread happiness

“Every body in the world is seeking happiness . . [A] smile says, ‘I like you, You make me happy. I am glad to see you.’ . . . Your smile is a messenger of your good will. Your smile brightens the lives of all who see it. To someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl or turn their faces away, your smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds. Especially when that someone is under pressure from his bosses, his customers, his teachers or parents or children, a smile can help him realize that all is not hopeless – that there is joy in the world.”

-Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

Specific Actions:

  • Smile while you are typing.
  • Post more positive than negative news.
  • Be funny. If you have an excellent sense of humor, be generous with your funny comments, links and videos. Make other people laugh.

3. Use people’s names.

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

-Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

Specific actions:

  • Personalize your messages. Send a direct message to one person rather than a status update to everyone. Write on a specific person’s wall.
  • Be generous in your public shout-outs to your friends and call attention to their positive qualities. “Craving Sue’s delicious cheesecake.” “Admiring Steve’s green lawn.”

4. Read other people’s posts and engage them in conversation.

“[B]e an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.”

-Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

Specific Actions:

  • Show you are listening. If someone posts major news or a request for attention, don’t ignore it. Comment back or click the “like” button.

5. Talk About Your Friends’ Interests More Than Your Own.

“Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems. A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people. A boil on one’s neck interests one more than forty earthquakes in Africa. Think of that the next time you start a conversation. . . [T]he royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”

-Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

Specific Actions:

  • Post more comments on other people’s posts than status updates of your own.
  • In all your posts, try to tie in your friends. Always let them know you are thinking of them, wishing them well, etc.

6. Respect Your Friends’ Authority and Power.

“There is one all-important law of human conduct. If we obey that law, we shall almost never get into trouble. In fact, that law, if obeyed, will bring us countless friends and constant happiness. But the very instant we break the law, we shall get into endless trouble. The law is this: Always make the other person feel important. . . . The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.”

-Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Specific Actions:

  • Less narcissism more flattery.  Of all of Carnegie’s maxims, this is the one I see most frequently violated on Facebook (and probably have violated myself). How infrequently are we posting things that help someone else out or saying things to raise their profiles like, “You are the best ____ I have ever met!” Facebook is more frequently a public narcissism competition to flaunt one’s own swellness.
  • Remember your manners. Use please and thank you. (I would especially like to see this for fundraising requests. Too often these are structured as guilt trips rather than polite requests.)

So, imagine for a moment that Dale Carnegie is on Facebook and is your friend. How much would you enjoy reading the following exchanges:

Dale Carnegie [private message]: [name], thanks for the friend request! How are you doing? It’s been too long since we last caught up.

Dale Carnegie: [name], the whole family had a blast at ______. I haven’t laughed that hard in ages. Thanks for a perfect weekend!

Dale Carnegie: Happy Birthday, [name]! You look so young and beautiful. No one would believe we have been friends for 10 years and counting!

Dale Carnegie: [name], I am in awe of your ____ skills. You are the best ____ around!

Dale Carnegie: [name], your toothache sounds horrendous! My sympathies. Could I send you a sample of my new homeopathic remedy to aid in your recovery?

Dale Carnegie: [name], I agree more should be done in the pursuit of greening the earth. What do you think of carbon credits?

But would the Dale Carnegie of 1936 become a little more jaded in 2010 and succumb to the narcissistic and lurking tendencies of Facebook? Would his posts instead read:

[Name] and Dale Carnegie are now friends.

Dale Carnegie: Hangin’ with the fam’ in Cabo San Lucas! [insert jealousy-inducing beach picture]

[No other messages]

Do you apply Dale Carnegie’s principles in your Facebook messages or other communications? What other tips would you add? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on September 16, 2010 General Tagged with: , ,
Sep 132010

This weekend we spent a lot of time in our garden. It was not exactly planned but the bare root plants I ordered last spring suddenly arrived and had to be put in the ground within 2 days. So, we reordered our plans and cleaned up the back garden. I wanted to share with you some of the experience.

Today’s post will have only a tenuous connection to this month’s theme of communications but an interesting one. Manual labor has a funny way of giving you time to think. As I was pulling weeds, scooping compost and planting, I was thinking about how a large number of the best gardeners in the world likely don’t use the Internet at all. Since gardening is part art and part science and rewards experience, many excellent gardeners are older and may have no interest learning the Internet. Other gardeners may be younger but due to the physical labor and literal dirt involved in their day-to-day activities, accessing a smart phone to check email, Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis is mostly impossible.

Many sources of gardening information typically offer a paper/mailed version in addition to electronic versions. Catalogs, magazines, newspapers and newsletters are still staples in the gardening world. There is a lot of fantastic gardening information on the Internet, however, and if you like to buy exotic plants, the Internet is a shopping goldmine. For my gardening project, I got a lot of great information from gardening websites and instructional YouTube videos.

Fall is the time to pay it forward in your yard and garden. If you want green grass in the spring, fall is the time to aerate, fertilize and overseed according to this article from Joel Lerner in The Washington Post.  Similarly, now is the time to plant bulbs and seeds for spring growth . . . or, in my case, bare root plants.

After reading/writing the Ruly posts this spring from Washington Gardener editor Kathy Jentz on zero lawn landscaping and James Wong’s Grow Your Own Drugs, I was inspired to seek out more native plants for my own garden. I joined the Virginia Native Plant Society to learn more about Virginia plants–most of which you will never see in a local garden center. (Interestingly, the Virginia Native Plant Society does all communications by postal mail, although they do have a website.)

After some research, I found an online seller of plants native to Virginia. Although it is a bit odd that my “native” plants come to me by way of Vermont, I understand that some native plants have a broad geographic range. The plants were only available in bare root form.

The roots arrived in the mail last weekend with few instructions or information. The roots were packed in little plastic sacks along with some shredded moistened newspaper. The Internet was a huge help here. I researched each plant and found great information about each one. I also found some information (but not a lot) about working with bare root plants.

One site recommended taking the roots out of the sacks and putting them in room temperature water for 2 hours before planting. This made a lot of sense to me since the plants had been in the mail for a week and were probably a bit parched.

While the roots soaked, we prepared the garden beds. Without constant attention, the natural woods take over our back garden. It was getting to be quite a jungle and I pulled out tons of weeds and pruned overgrown trees and bushes. We dug out “the vine that ate Fredericksburg” that literally was sending out 30-40 foot stems in every direction, was wrapping around my lawn furniture and generally taking over.

After clearing the beds, I started to dig a hole for the first set of roots and found the clay soil incredibly hard (as usual). With the number of plants we had to put in, I realized there was no way to chip out enough holes to finish in a day. The Internet to the rescue, I found a great video featuring a man tilling soil on his farm with a machine. “That’s what I need!” I thought. “Do they make one small enough for gardens?” After some more research, we learned the answer is yes! Small garden tillers are called “cultivators” and one of the most popular brands is Mantis.

The cultivator in action.

These machines basically have numerous spiked blades that cut through the soil and chop it up into little pieces. You can then mix in compost or soil conditioner and till it all together to make a nice light soil that is easy to dig. It took quite a few phone calls but we finally found a local store to rent a cultivator from for the day.

The cultivator was relatively lightweight and easy to operate but it did take quite a bit of body strength to maneuver. I did a little bit but then turned the task over to my husband. What a difference the cultivator made! Planting is actually pleasant when the soil is easy to dig! We both wondered why we had never thought of this before.

Planting was fun but not altogether easy. With bare root plants the big challenge for the novice gardener is “Which end is up?” Some of the roots came with greenery attached making this decision much easier but some were just roots. If it was too hard to tell up from down, the root went into the ground sideways.

What did I plant? Some really fun things! Native plants have some great stories to go along with them and are far more interesting than the standard garden center fare.

"Great Spangled Fritillary on Turk's Cap Lilly." Photo by homeredwardprice. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Bare root for Turk's Cap Lilly.

The Turk’s Cap Lilly, Lilium superbum, is a beautiful orange speckled flower that blooms in summer and is distinctive for petals that fold backwards into a turban-like shape. The bare root for this plant was a bit hard to decipher up from down so I put it in the ground sideways.

Creeping Wintergreen "Bare Root."

Creeping wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, is another native plant. It gets bright red berries in summer and the leaves can be used to distill essential flavoring oils, similar to those used in chewing gum and medicines like Pepto Bismol.

Cardinal Flower bare root plant.

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis, apparently has such beautiful bright red blooms it is frequently picked and rare to find in the wild. These plants like to be constantly wet so I put them in a large container that we can drown with water whenever necessary.

Black cohosh bare root.

Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa, also known as “Bugbane” is supposedly a natural insect repellant–although many people have commented that bees like the flowers. It apparently has a strong smell that some people find unpleasant. I hope we don’t have to pull out a bunch of stinky plants next year but if it can reduce our insects by even a fraction the smell would be worth it! Black cohosh apparently has natural estrogen-like properties and was used by Native Americans in various healing remedies for women. Black cohosh tea is being investigated as a possible treatment for the symptoms of menopause.

Spiderwort bare root.

Spiderwort, Tradescantia subaspera, is an interesting small purple flower that was once used to cure spider bites. Today, it is used as a natural environmental sensor. When exposed to severe pollutants or radiation, the flowers change color from blue to pink.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) at The Morton Arboretum. Photo by Jason Sturner. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Root of Bloodroot, true to its name.

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is a fascinating and dangerous plant! It’s name comes from the red “blood-like” color of the root of the plant and some say that when you cut the plant it “bleeds.” It is one of the first flowers in the spring. It is also extremely poisonous! The plants contain sanguinarine which kills animal cells. Some natural healers make a potion called “black salve” from bloodroot which is supposed to burn off skin cancers or cure gangrene. Due to its poisonous nature, it is a deer-proof plant. Fortunately, I researched the poisonous nature of the plant before I handled it. I wore gloves and washed my hands after planting.

My drinking straw garden.

The downside of bare root gardening is that you don’t have much to show for your efforts afterward. Since I couldn’t even see where I had planted, I marked each root location with a plastic drinking straw (until I can think of something more appropriate). It makes it easier to ensure that I have watered each plant and will help me decipher whether something is a weed or growth from the root I planted.

I won’t know until spring whether the roots will take or if I will have just a graveyard of drinking straws to contend with. Until then, we are watering regularly and hoping for the best.

Are you working in your garden this month? What projects do you have planned? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on September 13, 2010 General Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 102010

E-mail is one of the most useful communication tools we have. In the last few years, more and more communications are coming to our electronic mailboxes. What used to be just notes from friends is now a repository for marketing materials, newsletters, bills, receipts, fundraising appeals, travel plans and just about any kind of communication.

In my world, anything that is in writing and REALLY important comes by e-mail. Critical business correspondence or intensely personal notes from friends and family all arrive by e-mail. One day these communications might come by Facebook or Twitter but there is something about e-mail that feels a little more reliable, private, safe and familiar than the slick interface of social networking sites.

The other key feature of e-mail is that it generally requires a response. If someone takes the time to e-mail you, you generally are expected to write a thoughtful note back or feel a twinge of guilt until you do. If you are a routine user of Facebook or Twitter, you may have gotten used to just absorbing information from people without needing to respond or just clicking a “like” button to say essentially, “I read this.” Some people who want to cut down on their responding obligations have gone so far as to say, “Please don’t e-mail me.”

The downside of e-mail of course is that we all think we get too much of it! Many organization sites I read all deal routinely with the question of “How do I organize my e-mail?”

I don’t have the magic answer for you as I am still working on my own e-mail issues but I do have a few things to try to cut that e-mail inbox down to a manageable size. I currently manage 3 different e-mail inboxes for personal and business reasons, each using a different e-mail technology.  Below are some tips that have really helped me.

1. Have good folders ready.

Just like paper files, e-mail messages need to be filed periodically into e-mail folders. It is much easier to keep on top of this if you file as you go but inevitably we all get behind and have to catch up. Your goal is to keep the Inbox folder only for messages/projects you are currently working on. The kinds of e-mail folders vary by person and industry but here are a few that I have found very helpful:

Personal E-mail Folders

  • Shopping – Any time you purchase anything online put the purchase receipt and shipment notifications in this folder. Don’t think about it, just toss it in there to get it out of your inbox. If you need to check up on a shipment, etc. put a note in your calendar on a specific day to confirm whether the product has arrived.
  • Travel -Make a separate folder for travel receipts. It is easy to look up where you stayed, when you traveled, how much it cost, etc.
  • Social Group Folders – If you are a member of a club, class, religion, playgroup, etc., make a separate folder for each group and store all the communications from that group in that folder for easy reference.
  • Job Hunt – Anyone who is of employment age should have a folder to store messages relating to resumes, employment leads, job contacts, news articles relevant to employment prospects in your industry, job inquiries or business announcements from friends, etc. Even if you are currently happily employed, this is a great folder to revisit when you are voluntarily or involuntarily looking for another job.
  • Finances – This is a great folder to put really important information you might need for your financial life. Insurance, investing advice, electronic bills, notices from your utilities providers about ebilling, etc. can all be jumbled together here.
  • Hobbies – If you have a specific hobby and receive a lot of messages related to that hobby, create a folder with the name of that hobby, “Gardening,” “Sewing,” “Camping,” etc.
  • To Read – This is one I need to implement. My inbox gets backed up with news articles that I want to read “sometime” but not right now.
  • To Respond – This is another one I need to implement. Sometimes you want to respond to someone but not right now. If you just leave the message in the inbox, it will get buried and forgotten. Instead of feeling guilt about not responding, drop it in the To Respond box and get to it when you have the time.

Business E-mail Folders

  • Administration – If you work in a large company where you routinely get notes about the company in general, such as office policies, promotions, new locations, marketing promotions, etc. you can lump them all in this folder.
  • Social Events – Office parties, holiday socials, baby showers, retirement parties, etc. Anything of a social nature goes here.
  • Project Folders – If you have a huge workload, this is difficult to organize but generally you can start by creating folders for specific projects you are working on. For example: “New Employee Training Program,” “September Audit,” “Q3 Sales Leads.” Once you get a ton of project folders, you will have to do some more advanced filing to group them in a larger hierarchy structure. When you get to this point, it is a great time to hire an organizational consultant. ☺
  • Personal – If you get personal notes in your business e-mail, it is a good idea to store those in a separate folder. This is also a good spot to save copies of any personal praise or congratulations, documentation of your raise or promotion, etc.
  • You might need To Read and To Respond folders in your business e-mail too.

You don’t have to go crazy with e-mail folders because of the built-in electronic sorting available in e-mail. For example, it is not necessary to create a file for each of your financial providers in the “Finances” folder because you can always sort them by sender or subject or do a keyword search. Some people never file and just let all the e-mail pile up in the inbox. I have never seen this system work effectively for message retrieval. There are usually too many search results to get through.

2. Reduce unwanted e-mail by unsubscribing.

I get a ton of automated e-mail every day from legitimate stores, news sources, charities, etc. I have patronized in the past. A few months back, the amount of automated e-mail was overwhelming! I decided that it just had to be cut down and took the time to manually unsubscribe from all those lists and it has helped tremendously. Sometimes it was a burdensome multi-step process to get off a list by clicking on a confirmation e-mail. If you are routinely deleting without reading commercial e-mails, do yourself a favor and get off the list. If you really like the store or product, and are worried you will forget about them if you are not on the list, you try: 1) creating a special e-mail folder called “Stores-Favorites” to store one example message in; 2) Bookmark their site in your web browser; 3) create a paper or electronic list with the store or product name and their website and why you want to remember it.

Exception: If you get a lot of spam (i.e. junk e-mails typically for pharmaceuticals, adult entertainment, or discount shopping, from companies you have no prior relationship with) don’t manually unsubscribe or contact these companies in any way. Instead report them to your e-mail provider.

3. Be open to learning new e-mail technologies.

Because I work with 3 different e-mail inboxes (each on a different e-mail system), I have to organize each inbox differently based on the technology limitations. I have been particularly impressed with Gmail’s “tagging” system. Tagging is a lot like folders in that you assign a tag to each message but there are 2 things about tagging that have saved me hours of time over regular folders:

  1. If you tag a message once, all replies to that message are automatically tagged! This is an incredible timesaver. If you work with a lot of people who reply to e-mails with simple and relatively uninformative responses like, “Thanks.” or “OK” it is an incredible pain to take the time to file each of those responses in a folder. With the tag system, they are already marked. When you have read the new response, just check the message and hit the “Archive” message and it goes out of your inbox into the correct tag “folder.”
  2. If you want to save a message in more than one folder, just tag it with two different tags. It takes no time at all and you don’t need to copy the message into two different folders. Also, if you are a company worried about the expense of e-mail storage, I understand that this technology helps to save a lot of server space.

Google has just implemented a new feature in Gmail called Priority Inbox that prioritizes your e-mail for you based on e-mails you have responded to in the past and other criteria you specify. The cute animated video below gives more information. (Is it just me or is this video a bit Ruly-esque? I could just see Angie Jordan’s caricatures here.)

If you work in an office that uses Microsoft Exchange, you can take comfort in the fact that Microsoft is not sitting still while Google implements these mailbox improvements. Microsoft Exchange 2010 has improvements to add of its own, including conversation view, ignoring irrelevant e-mail threads and mailing text versions of voice-mails. The video below (also employing caricature drawing!) explains some of these features.

What are your biggest frustrations with e-mail? Have an e-mail organizing tip to share? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on September 10, 2010 General Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 082010

If you are over the age of 25, Twitter is most likely a complete mystery. You may have heard bits and pieces about Twitter and figure that it has something to do with sending messages with lots of acronyms and juvenile abbreviations like:

r u organized? Find gr8 tips 2 help u @

I have to admit that I had no interest in using Twitter and figured it just wasn’t a medium that fit my strengths well. Then I read an article in a business publication recommending that a good way to gauge a prospective business partner is to read the last couple of tweets the person wrote, since the content is both brief and freshly produced. Reluctantly, I set up a Twitter account.

What on earth is Twitter? How do you use it and not look ridiculous? Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein have written a concise but thought-provoking book, called simply, The Twitter Book, to help the Twitter novice understand the Twitter universe. The book is written much the way Twitter functions with short paragraphs of text on the right-hand pages combined with example Tweets on the left-hand pages. The book doesn’t go into great detail on any one topic but rather gives you a quick reference on a variety of ways to use Twitter.

I really wish I would have read The Twitter Book before I set up my own Twitter account as I am now painfully aware of numerous mistakes I have made (and see other Twitterers making as well).

Backing up for just a minute, though. If you still have no idea what Twitter is, allow me to give a very brief Twitter-like explanation:

What are you doing? 140 characters. 5 minutes of fame.

Twitter is a social network where people joining the network communicate using only 140 characters or less (a limit imposed by cell phone text messaging systems). The messages are stream of consciousness writing answering the question “What are you doing/thinking?” Your answer to the question may change minute by minute and your answer doesn’t have to respond to anything anyone else has already said. This is the part of Twitter that was really hard for me to grasp. There is no situation in real world social life that is similar. It would be kind of like everyone driving down the highway opening their windows and yelling out random things. You might hear a lot of useless noise or you might hear something helpful and interesting depending on who you are listening to.

Twitter messages can be viewed on cell phones or on the computer. You can also post links, including links to photos. Anyone can read your messages and you can subscribe to other people’s Twitter posts by “following” them or just looking at their Twitter web page. You can spread someone else’s message by “retweeting” it yourself or have a public or private conversation with individual users. The @ sign to refer publicly to an individual person is a Twitter invention, which some people use in other contexts. For example, someone could Twitter:

@rulyllc Great tip! Thanks!

According to The Twitter Book, the average Twitter message has a lifespan of about 5 minutes. Generally, if your tweet is considered interesting, it will be retweeted or shared by others within 5 minutes of your posting. After 5 minutes, the chance anyone will even notice it starts dropping quickly to zero.

The Twitter Book gives a little background on these basic fundamentals and then gives examples of different contexts where you might use Twitter, either as a user or a researcher. Below I will share just a few of the gems in this book:

Twitter Research

Even if you have no desire to create a Twitter account, Twitter can be a great way to monitor mentions about your business. O’Reilly and Milstein give several great ideas here including the following:

  1. Track Twitter mentions of your company’s name. Go to and you can see who is talking about your company and what they are saying.  If you want to continually monitor any tweets about your company, you can pull the RSS feed or use a service like TweetBeep to receive emails when your keywords are mentioned.
  2. Track Twittered links to your website. Wondering if anyone is Twittering a link to your website? Go to, type in your company’s website to see a list. You can even be alerted by email when a link to your website is tweeted.

Tweeting Tips

Some of the most valuable parts of The Twitter Book are the quick etiquette tips about the Twitter community. For example:

  1. Reply to all of your @ messages where you are addressed directly (unless you think it may be spam).
  2. Don’t use up all 140 characters to allow space for people to retweet your posts. The magic formula for your own character limit is 140 minus 4 characters (for RT a space and the @ sign) minus the number of characters in your Twitter username. In my case, that number is 129 characters.
  3. If you retweet someone else’s post, make sure they are credited with the @ sign (including all people in the message chain where possible, or if not possible due to the character limit, just the first and last person) and maintain their shortened links as they have posted them.
  4. If you quote someone who is not on Twitter, use the word “via” to reference where you got the information from.
  5. It’s considered lame to reply to followers with a “Thanks for the follow.” routine message. It is far better to find something interesting they have said and retweet it or call them out with a personalized @ message.

Twitter Visibility

Businesses will especially appreciate the tips in The Twitter Book on attracting followers and visibility. Some of the tips will require time and effort (such as following interesting people and retweeting interesting tweets) but some are pretty simple. For example:

  1. To get your Tweets more visibility, learn the Twitter filing system: “hashtags.” Hashtags are keywords with a pound or hash sign in front of them. For example, the hashtag for The Twitter Book is #TwitterBook. If you add a hashtag to your tweets, they will be added to the group of tweets with that same hashtag. To find a list of hashtags, visit
  2. If you are using a Twitter account for your business, put your business name in the “Name” field in your profile rather than the actual name of the person Twittering to make it easier for people to search and find your business.
  3. Follow journalists who are looking to write stories in your industry. For example, “Help a Reporter Out” or HARO is Twitter user @petershankman who routinely posts requests for sources from reporters.

If you find the above tips helpful, you will find so many more in The Twitter Book. It is a really quick read in addition to being a solid reference book.

I’m still thinking through the concept of Twitter and how I could use it better. Would readers really want to know my spur-of-the-moment thoughts as I unclutter something or photos of new organizing tools the moment I discover them? Am I comfortable sharing those unpolished thoughts? There are definitely some pitfalls to Twitter but there is no denying it is a powerful communications tool for those who know how to use it.

Do you use Twitter? Have a Twitter tip or a Twitter question? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on September 8, 2010 Ruly Bookshelf Tagged with: ,