Twitter for Boomers, Lesson 2

A couple of weeks ago, when nature was wreaking havoc on the Northeast in the form of earthquakes and hurricanes, I wrote a post about the importance of Twitter and outlined the basics for opening an account. Now that you’ve had a couple of weeks to play around, it’s time for a few more tips.

First of all, you’ve probably been making lots of mistakes. But that’s OK because I’m pretty sure almost no one saw them. The most difficult thing about Twitter–and really, it’s not hard once you catch on–is figuring out how to talk to people, how to use the @ address (or mention), how to tweet and retweet, and what tone you should take. As I’ve said, Twitter is only as good an experience as you make it, and the Twitter experience completely depends on who you are following and who is following you back. So to review:

  • Following people. You should start out by following about 100 people/organizations, unless you’re Yoko Ono, who follows everyone who follows her, nearly 700,000 people at the moment. First find out if anyone you know is on Twitter. Easiest way is to ask. Or put up a Facebook status asking. Or try the tips in this article from, “10 Ways to Find People on Twitter.” Next choose a few news organizations you like–your local paper, the Associated Press, Gawker, whatever. If you like fashion, then follow fashionistas. If you like tech, well, you won’t be reading this, but follow Tech Crunch. There are organizations you can follow for dog lovers or knitters or whatever. See the Search box next to the blue Twitter bird on the top black bar? Type anything into it and you’ll get results. Fiddle around a bit by clicking on this and that and you’ll find the ASPCA, who along with the Huffington Post, will provide you with pictures of adorable kittens.
  • Getting followers. You see, in Twitter, you can follow almost anyone–unless that person has a protected account (will explain at a later date, but forget it) or has blocked you. People get blocked for being obnoxious (being a “troll”), sending spam, and stuff like that. Otherwise, people don’t bother to block their followers, generally. (I suppose there are some picky people and, actually, even I do a filter thing to get rid of people I’m following who might be dicey. More on that at another time.) But getting followers is hard, unless you’re famous. A good method is to take a social media class at your local Y or community college. That way you’ll start out with a group you can learn with. So to get followers, you have to have some to begin with. Then you have to tweet interesting things–but in the right way. It’s a “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing.
  • About famous people you follow. Know they will not follow you back or even read your tweets. Most famous people have someone who tweets for them. At most they look at their @ mentions, that is, tweets addressed to them. They won’t bother to read these tweets unless they know the sender–or unless you catch their attention.
  • Catching their attention. Well, you do this by commenting on something they’ve said. Using the retweet button at the bottom of a tweet is nice for the person you’re retweeting because for people who count these things, the number of retweets increases a person’s influence online. But look at this: I tweeted the publisher WWNorton this evening:I was being silly. Sort of Tweeting into the stratosphere. Sort of telling my Twitter friends who might be reading through their stream at that moment that I was tired. But, then, this appeared:Somebody at WW Norton read it and was amused. The more you tweet, the more likely things like this will happen. I tweet about Baby Boomers–the AARP follows me. It kind of begins to work like that.
  • Remember, Twitter isn’t about you. Sure, if you’re the star in your local drama club’s production this weekend, tweet about it. But people don’t want to hear about how wonderful you are. They want to interact. Twitter is really social–people make friends. The other night I witnessed the first face-to-face meeting of two women who had been Twitter friends for years. I mean, they really know each other well. Then they finally met. It was kind of awesome. (Yeah, @AmyVernon and @TheWordIsBerry.) If you’re being too obvious about how clever you are, well, any followers you may have will be bored by the tweet. If they even see it.
  • The trick of the retweet. This is how you’ll get noticed–with the manual retweet. That means copying a tweet and pasting it into the “what’s happening” box. You begin by saying something short. Then you type RT (meaning retweet) @ (wherever it came from). Here’s an example: No way I  think Slate magazine was going to read this. But some of my Twitter friends did. And that was what mattered. I’m talking to people I know. Notice that I’m also passing on information, an article from Slate.
  • Tweet essentials. So what does a good tweet have? To quote Sree Sreenivasan, who practically invented social media (follow him at @Sree or @SreeTips), you need to be succinct and give information. A tweet, he says, should be useful or funny. You’ve got to keep it under 140 characters; Sree advises 120, which gives room for retweets.
  • Sending Tweets. So this is where it gets a little complicated. If you start a tweet with @goodfriend, the only person who is going to see that tweet is goodfriend and someone who follows you and goodfriend. Now, when a whole bunch of you are following a famous person, you’ll see the tweets. Remember, the famous person probably won’t bother (though, as I said, people check their @ mentions; you might really hear back). So what you do is put a “character”–a period or anything before the @ mention, like this: Everyone who follows me could see this, although I was really sending it to my friend. But people saw it and retweeted it–kind of like dropping a stone into a lake. It ripples. Sometimes, though, I don’t bother with the .@ and just use @. I do this when I’m being dumb and not thinking, when I’m really talking to one person, or when I don’t really care. Like this:MarcIsGod is my daughter’s friend. This was a conversation between the two of us. Probably we should have been Direct Messaging.
  • Direct Message. Did you know that all Tweets are going into the Library of Congress–except for private ones, called direct messages. You send a Direct Message by putting D before the @, like d @goodfriend. Thing is, you can only direct message someone who is following you. So it really is a friend-to-friend thing.
  • About links. A good Tweet often contains a link to an article or website that gives more information. I’ll talk about link shorteners and stuff in another post, but you can copy the URL of whatever you want to send out and paste it into your link. (Don’t just send links, however. That’s what spammers do. If someone is sending you only links, block him. I’ll get to that later, too.) Also, never click on ANY link unless you know where it is coming from. There’s a lot of bad spamming stuff going on in Twitter. So be careful. Also, if you are manually retweeting and there’s a link you’re including, you’ll also probably have to manually add http://–the magic characters that make a link clickable. This has been a problem in Twitter for a while now.

So, in general, find good people to follow and just play around. Have fun. I’ll recommend this wonderful article on the basics of Twitter by @TweetSmarter. I’ll give the link in full so you can see the title: Follow @TweetSmarter. He’s the smartest. But Twitter is only hard in the beginning, and only if you don’t take advice from people like @TweetSmarter.

Let me know how you’re doing with Twitter. As long as I don’t get too many questions, like under 100, I’ll answer them personally. I love hearing from everyone by email, Twitter, and Facebook, but there is that comment box too. In case you forgot, I’m @wordwhacker.

Wrinkles Happen

Marc Freedman thinks this Baby Boomer stuff is all about “encore careers” or “the big shift”—a new stage when we can embrace a fresh outlook on life and think positively about what we are able to contribute to society.

He’s wrong. It’s really about wrinkles.

This past weekend I attended an amazing conference on social media at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Spearheaded by former students of the J School’s Dean of Students, Sree Sreenivasan (who was all over it for the entire 2 ½ days, and, actually, really remembers the names of hundreds upon hundreds of people, if not their Twitter handles), attendees had a chance to consult with “social media doctors” and get free headshots for their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or whatever accounts.

The photographers were lively and earnest—and had volunteered their time. So I had my headshots done twice. And they are totally awful.

This has nothing to do with the photographers’ skills. It has to do with the fact that I’ve gone all crinkly around the eyes, even when I’m wearing foundation and powder. And my neck, oh, my neck. I now know completely why Nora Ephron wrote her book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman.

I don’t know when my neck began to look so . . . old. For almost all my life I’ve looked a lot younger than my age. I’m short (very), and so from far away people think I’m a chubby kid. Also, due the miracles of modern hairdressers, my hair is still brownish/blondish. However, it too has changed. I used to have nice wavy hair. Now it’s curly and coarse. On good days it looks OK. When I’ve been to the hairdresser and gotten a profession blow-dry, it looks great. On muggy day, it’s worse than frizzy. Pulling my hair back into a ponytail this morning before I went to the gym, I noticed that my face was surrounded by an aura of “wispies” (what ballet teachers used to call the hairs that slipped out of tightly wound buns).

So I posted on FB that I needed someone who was good with Photoshop to take out the wrinkles and frizz. A high school friend (actually we were in nursery school together; that’s what they called it back then) commented that she couldn’t help, but she felt my pain. Another friend said her sister Photoshopped hers. Cecilia is young enough to have no wrinkles and kind of looks like Sophia Loren. I have no idea what her sibling could have done to make her look better.

So now that I have visible proof of my age in the form of un-photoshopped professionally taken headshots, I decided to come up with “The Baby Boomer’s Seven Wrinkle Principles.”

  • Own your wrinkles. I won’t follow this at all. But if I could, it would be really healthy, I think, you know, psychologically. I know a lot of people my age who have let their gray hair shine in, (I’m thinking of the musical Hair). I admire them. But, not me.
  • Always use sunscreen. This one is really smart. Sunscreen can help prevent skin cancer along with those sun-begat age spots. However, how is someone supposed to get a suntan if she’s wearing SPF 80?
  • Get great with makeup. So what one does is go to someplace like Bloomingdales, Saks or Nordstrom when a cosmetics line is hosting a visiting make-up artist. Get a free makeover; ask lots of questions; and if they have a diagram, make them fill it out. You don’t have to buy anything: you can say you want to see how it all feels after a few hours. If you do like the products, you can always go back with your diagram. I’ve been using by Lancôme for years, which is expensive and probably not much different from Maybelline. I’ve always thought about taking my diagram to CVS or RiteAid and seeing if I can match the colors at a much lower price. (But this little part of me actually believes the expensive stuff works. So much for science.) The trick is to rotate stores and vendors and get as much beauty advice as you can. I’ve been doing this for a while, but since I hate the way a heavy foundation or powder feels, my wrinkles still show. Hence my need for Photoshop. (You can also MAKE your own lipgloss—a tip for the frugal among us. Here’s a link to the video: WATCH: Homemade Lip Gloss
  • Botox. Next.
  • Plastic surgery. As if I could afford it. But I think I might do it. Think=know. Not scared, just broke.
  • Moisturizers. So I use this expensive fancy schmancy stuff from Lancôme, and I’ve been using it for years. Guess what? I still have wrinkles. Consumer Reports gives its highest rating to Olay Regenerist UV Defense Regenerating Lotion, and you can buy a 2.5 ounce tube on Amazon for $8.99 (Facial Moisturizers: Best Face Moisturizer Reviews But now read this: “One popular misconception involves the relationship between dry skin and wrinkles. Scientists say a moisturizer will smooth skin to temporarily make wrinkles less apparent, but moisturizing your skin will not have any long-term effect on wrinkles.” (Facial Moisturizers Reviews
  • Get advice from “wrinkle” blogs. Yes, they’re usually trying to sell you something. You can look at Dr. Alex’s Shrink Your Wrinkles blog ( Or this: Cosmetics Cop on arresting wrinkles | Style Notes blog | The Indianapolis Star | Or read the always brilliant Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times (WRINKLES – Well Blog –

A friend just posted a picture of me taken over last weekend. I’m asking a question into a microphone. For some reason I’m looking up. To the ceiling. My neck is stretched out in all its wrinkly glory. Thanks for the photo, Rafiq. You are a great guy, but I am not going to post a link to that picture.


Hey readers: along with posting comments to my FB, you can also post them to this blog. The “comments” box is at the bottom of the post, and the more you comment, the better I do in search engines. Sharing this link on FB also makes me visible to your friends who aren’t my friends (it’s beginning to sound like a little kid song). So, thanks. And for those of you who have wondered what happened to my blog on Blogher—well, it’s gone, along with three years of work, and it wasn’t completely my fault. I made a query about how to cancel the blog, and they just did it. My “How to Get on Facebook” column is coming, soon, I promise. That one you can print out for your friends who are still saying, “I don’t know. What’s in it for me?” because I’ll show what’s in it for them.

Here’s Marc Freedman’s book. It’s really good, though I have other ideas too. I’m going to talk about it in a column one of these days. Marci Alboher likes it a lot, and she’s the best. (You can follow her on Twitter @HeyMarci.) Finally, if you are inclined to read either book mentioned, I suggest your public library, a wonderful institution I have recently re-discovered. If you are the purchase-book kind of person or want to download it to your nook click on either book cover, you’ll go right to For your Kindle, well, now you know the name of the book. Amazon will take care of the rest.

Social Media, Here We Come, or A Baby Boomer’s First Ten Days on Twitter

I can’t claim I was dragged kicking and screaming into this Twitter thing. I paid tuition for Sree Sreenivasan’s Social Media course at the Columbia Journalism School . I took the subway uptown. I sat down in a class. Actually, first I had a meeting re reunion business at Barnard and then dashed across Broadway at 116th Street, raced down the steps toward the Columbia library (noting that the lawn is draped in white—seeding?), and hung a sharp right into the Journalism building, where I had not been since . . . . since a long time ago.

My high regard for Sree Sreenivasan dates back to my years (again a long time ago) at Sesame Street Parents when he wrote some family tech columns for the magazine. This was before he had a family, but he certainly had tech. It was also before Twitter, before Facebook, before broadband, and though I’ve always had this techie rep (I like to fiddle with things, a trait I inherited from my father, who was a chemist and educator, and also a licensed plumber and electrician), I didn’t know much about the Internet back then. Still, I was easily identified the geek who would edit the tech column.

But I am that much older now, and I worry about whether being part of Generation B-Squared means that I should throw my hands up in the air over social media and disappear from the blogosphere. Will I get it? I mean in social media terms. Many techies (information providers?) adamantly argue that people are now getting their news through social media, and it’s great because your news is tailored through your social network filters to your interests. (See, in particular, “How News Consumption is Shifting to the Personalized Social News Stream” on Mashable: Frankly, I find this a little horrifying. Sure, journalists I’m following on Twitter post links to news media articles. But how much weight I give the information in these links depends on the source of the information—and the reputation of the journalist. Yes to The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, NPR, PSBNewshour. No to @Marcisgod, whom I would trust to direct me to a pair of blue suede Tods, if I so desired, but who I’m not sure knows that there was a recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I’m going to bump up against the NYT’s paywall (except my husband has his “education subscription”) because I probably read 20 online articles a day. True, I used the word “online” in the previous sentence, but I fear I’m too old fashioned. I’m a baby boomer. The oldest in my demographic cohort are turning 65 this year. (The youngest don’t even have wrinkles. We’re a large group, and all that will be in my book.)

Then again, I took to Facebook like a—oh, throw in any cliché there, and it’s true. I pay more attention to FB than my Gen Y kids. With their 1000 or so friends—everyone with whom they went to elementary, middle school, high school, college, worked, or got drunk in a bar—they have already outgrown it, sort of. I, on the other hand, really use it. Socially. (And not for self-branding, as Sree advocates.) I know or have at least met all of my friends (except for Cindy Stivers, who seemed to have appeared on my friend list one day). Aside from face-to-face time with friends, most of my communication has become electronic. My friend Maki lives three buildings down from mine. I could probably go up to my roof and jump into her backyard, a place I love to sit and schmooze and drink wine. Telephone communication is now limited to, “You home? I’m passing your door.” But there’s lots of FB back and forth.

FB is amazing in a lot of ways. A significant book person I know posted a picture of a door with a patch of gold leaf applied. “There must be a story in this,” he commented. And then his writer friends started posting three- or four-line stories. Some were really good.

Of course there are the pictures. I get to see my great-nieces and nephew. My best friend’s great-niece. My daughter’s dog. My friend’s kitchen renovation. Another friend’s new iPhone app. I post shots of what I see during my runs in the park. I also documented recent renovations at the country house. I get to be a wiseguy. My friends get to be wiseasses. We’re all wiseacres.

This is possible because my FB is shut pretty tight. All my settings are for friends only. I do not show up in a Google search. I also have no qualms about un-friending people who get sucked into the FB spam-scans. Over the past couple of weeks I have unfriended about 40 people who still are wondering what some woman found in her Happy Meal or think that if they open up their address books, they’ll get a free iPad, or one that costs $14.99 at any rate. I’ll be happy to be their FB friends again—in fact I look forward to it. But first I have to know that they’re not so gullible. (I sent email messages to people I unfriended explaining my actions.)

All of this indicates that so far this baby boomer finds Facebook much more comfortable than Twitter. On Facebook you can see someone’s profile. It’s a much more hamische (“homey” in Yiddish) place as far as I can tell.

Still, I’ve been using Twitter for only 10 days. I have tweeted only 49 times. Yesterday I read that Judy Woodruff tweeted only three times in 2009, so I guess I’m on the right track at least.

I’m also trying to follow Sree’s suggestions for what makes a good tweet: is it helpful, useful, relevant, timely, actionable, and so forth. So far I’m being mostly me. Someone I’m “following” asked, “How influential are you on twitter?” Look, I’m not even influential in my own kitchen. So much for that.

But I’m keeping it up because: Power to the Baby Boomers! Right on! We are the largest demographic and even though I know many people my age who have trouble with email and no interest, they say, in Facebook, can you imagine the influence about 72 million Baby Boomers would wield if we took all the social media invented by Gen Y (mostly) and made it our own? That’s my intention. Social Media, I’m going to own you.

Sree says one should always sign off with her twitter handle: I’m @wordwhacker. Sree is @Sree (of course) and if you’re interested in social media at all, I suggest you follow his SreeTips page on FB. It’s also a great place if you know young people (your kids, their friends) looking for journalism or social media jobs.

Finally, @Sree, Sesame Street Parents never paid you for one of your columns. I called you a lot, left sweet messages, cajoling messages. I think this was before email. (Notice how quickly I’ve adapted to the new AP Style Sheet and removed the hyphen! I am so, so adaptable despite needing a colorist to maintain my real-looking blondish frizzy curls.) Too bad, @Sree; the magazine died a decade ago—but the money may have covered one or two orthodontist bills for your adorable twins.

So, as you comment, think about what you believe might be the obstacles slipping between Generation B-Squared and new media. I’d love to know you thoughts, reactions, bright ideas. They’ll all go in my book. Promise.

Linda (@wordwhacker)