The continuing etymology of the word “spam” is of interest to people with an interest in how words can develop, change meanings and take on additional, new ones. Originally used as a brand name for a tinned, processed meat, it was picked up and used in a Monty Python sketch and from there was adopted to refer to e-mail which was unsolicited, unwelcome and used to aggressively drive a message (usually commercial) regardless of audience. As time has passed, it has come to be used in terms of any unwelcome proliferation of information or advice.
Spamming on Twitter does not only refer to commercial promotion, but still includes it. More than that, though, it has come to refer to anyone posting persistently with information that is either incorrect, irrelevant or just plain annoying. If you are accused – justifiably or otherwise – of spamming will inevitably result in you losing followers. For such reasons it is essential that you consider seriously what you are going to post before you post it. If you strongly feel that it is relevant to your followers, then tweet it. If you are not concerned by the prospect of losing followers, then posting things that may be considered irrelevant should not concern you.
Bear in mind too that when it comes to relevance, telling people what they already know constitutes irrelevance. If you constantly posted that grass tends to be green, you would be spamming, and if you post well-worn political arguments in a feed mostly read by political experts, they may well accuse you of doing the same.
The marketing industry is one which depends so greatly on having its finger on the pulse, it came as no surprise when people recognised the benefit of using Twitter as a marketing tool. If you think about it for a moment, the presence on the Internet of a site that allows you to speak to a wide range of people for free and place a link in the text has obvious and extensive marketing benefits. Not least of these is the fact that it cuts your marketing spend right back if used properly.
When it comes to marketing effectively, one of the phrases used most frequently is “we need to speak to the customer”. Although this is in many ways just a metaphor – you really need to catch the customers’ attention as broadly as possible – Twitter does allow you to speak directly to each customer if you have the time to do so. By means of @replies, you can answer a customer’s question. By using the search facility it is possible to see who is talking about the niche in which you are marketing – and whether they might be a qualified lead you can sell to.
Of course, Twitter is not a foolproof marketing tool. This is the Web 2.0 generation, and if you thought Generation X was cynical then you’re in for a surprise. People who feel they are being sold to are likely to react with resistance. Talking like a faceless marketing robot will have disastrous results, and cost you more sales than it will provide. This is why you need to be “web-savvy”.
As Twitter gains popularity, it has also driven the popularity of another recent internet phenomenon, that of the desktop “client”. Not a website, but still connected to the web, a client is a program that draws information from and distributes it to a website without the user needing to visit that site themselves. While this is not always a necessity, it does increase the convenience of the service. One particular reason for using a client is that you may be surfing another site and want to keep as few tabs open as possible – so instead of going back and forth between Twitter and another site, you can use your client to tweet and to read tweets.
Additionally, and this may not be utterly advisable if you are determined to keep your job, a client can be a way of bypassing site-blocking software which prevents you visiting Twitter in the workplace. It also allows you to use Twitter in a much smaller area of the screen, so if you don’t want people to know you are using the web or the site, you can still use Twitter by means of a client.
Another advantage of using a client is that, as the software gets better, they make the use of Twitter’s other features simpler than using the site itself. Buttons exist to re-tweet something without needing to type out the RT prefix and the user’s name, and also to shorten a URL without needing to visit a specific site. For all the features it is still useful to go to the Twitter site, but having a client downloaded does make things easier.
One thing that has emerged over the course of the last decade is a common aversion towards text speak, or a phenomenon to which people have begun to refer as “txt spk”. This is particularly prevalent among people who feel that language should be respected by those who use it and that if you are going to use a word, you should use the full word. While character limits (first identified as a barrier to clear communication with the advent of text messaging) do confer a certain urgency upon not wasting a word or a letter, it is possible to tweet or to text with clarity.
While text messaging may be driven towards “txt spk” by the fact that you pay by the message and you don’t want to waste money, you pay nothing for a tweet and you can easily continue your message in a second post. Although many people are conscious that multiple tweets in a short space of time can look like spamming, when faced with a choice between this and being viewed as a dimwit they tend to accept the spamming charge. It is not exactly a fair charge anyway, when it is simply a run-on tweet.
One outcome of the Twitter character limit has been the increase in sites providing shorter link URLs. If you have tweeted about a news story or with a link to a site, a long URL can take you over the character limit. Step forward sites such as tinyurl.com, snipurl.com and icanhaz.com, which offer an easy way around this.
The Internet may seem to be a behemoth of unconnected sites united simply by the fact that they are all online and accessible by anyone with the correct equipment. But if you look closer it is easy to see that there is a lot of connectivity between certain sites, not least in the use of hyperlinks which allow you to navigate between sites which have a common interest. But where this becomes fascinating is with the rise of the super website, the one which is by far and away the leader in its field. Prime examples of this in recent times are not hard to identify.
We have Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia which is seen as an immediate resource for collated information. Then there is YouTube, a video hosting site which allows one to view footage collected from numerous different places. How hard it would be to find the sites you need if it were not for the ultimate search engine, Google. And recently, Twitter has become a site which everyone knows about, even if they only know that everyone else is talking about it.
One of the things that makes Twitter so popular is that it is an excellent way to spread links. This allows it an instant affinity with other sites. If you find a video on YouTube which you believe that everyone should see, you post a link to it on your Twitter account, and people can view it and then pass on the link. This connectivity is also very useful for bloggers who can install a “widget” on their blog which automatically posts a link on their Twitter feed whenever they put up a new blog post.