Saturday, May 15, 2010

Twenty Twitter Tips

The following post is in response to a friend’s question: How Do You Get People to Follow You on Twitter?

The short answer is: It’s called social media; engage others and provide something of value!

Here are Twenty Twitter Tips to help you get started:

  1. Go to the Twitter Help page and read it;
  2. Read a few of the blogs on ‘How to Find Followers’, but don’t buy a program to automate!
  3. Fix your Bio (if it’s weak – or cliché); choose a great photo; state your location; and include a link to your website;
  4. Send invitations to people already in your database;
  5. If you haven’t already done so, download (free) TweetDeck or a similar application to manage your Tweets;
  6. Use ‘Hash Tag’ (#) searches to find relevant Users (i.e. #environment, etc.);
  7. Follow everyone you find interesting (there’s an initial limit of about 2,000);
  8. Search the ‘followers’ or ‘following’ lists of others you find interesting, and follow them;
  9. ‘Retweet’ (RT) interesting and relevant Tweets;
  10. ‘Mention’ (@) your Followers liberally; respond to, or comment on, their Tweets;
  11. Keep your own Tweets laser-focused (but stay human);
  12. Use Hash Tags to identify your tweets (if applicable);
  13. Participate (Tweet) often (but don’t overdo it);
  14. Use compelling titles for your blog posts and link to them in your Tweets;
  15. You should be blogging in your area of expertise at least once a week (keep it to approximately 300 words);
  16. Remember: Social Media introduces; Blogs educate; Websites/People sell;
  17. Provide your Followers with value: Contribute, contribute, contribute!
  18. Watch and emulate the Users you appreciate most;
  19. Keep it fun. Don’t become obsessed. It’s not a contest – just let it happen;
  20. Contact me if you’d like clarification on any of the points above.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Met Jesus in Kitgum

I met Jesus in Kitgum. Her name is Sandy. I don’t know what she looks like, but I’ll never forget the sound of her voice.

Four years ago, my friend David Collins, founder of Canadian Food for the Hungry, invited me to join him and small group of adventurers on a Vision Trip to Uganda.

Uganda is in east Africa. The northern part of the country has been ravaged by an ongoing, brutal, and senseless civil war. After arriving by airplane and spending a few days in the capital city of Kampala, we boarded a much smaller aircraft and headed north to Kitgum.

Kitgum is a tiny dusty town just south of the Sudan border. Home to numerous relief agencies, it’s a bit of a safe haven for victims of a war that has recruited thousands of children and forced them to serve as soldiers, porters, or looters.

Just before dark, we settled into our accommodations – a sagging mattress, a torn mosquito net, well-worn furniture, and a cold shower. I was a little apprehensive about sleeping in that room, but it was far better than what we would witness the next day.

In the morning, as we piled into our van, we heard rumours of recent ambushes on the route we’d be travelling. For the price of a case of cookies, we were in good hands – eight armed guards rode in the truck ahead of us.

That day, we visited two IDP camps and interviewed three brave survivors. IDP stands for Internally Displaced Peoples. These are like refugees – in their own country – who have been moved from homes scattered throughout the countryside in an effort to avoid attack from rebel forces. The theory is that there’s safety in numbers. The problem is that it’s almost impossible for these people to support themselves in camps.
One of the camps we visited was Padibe. A fire had recently torn through this camp, devouring the grass roofs of tiny huts that provide shelter. These people had lost everything – and then lost that too!

At Padibe, we heard from a young woman – now in her mid-twenties. Guilt and fear prevented her from speaking in much more than a faint whisper. Through a translator she told us how, as an adolescent, she was walking with three other girls from her village, on their way to work in a field, when they were ambushed by rebel soldiers. The soldiers warned them not to show fear, and in a twisted attempt to prove their point, shot and killed two other children in front of them. All four girls were terrified. Their punishment was that this young woman and one of her friends were ordered to beat the other two girls to death. From the lips of the translator we hear three dreadful words: “…and we did.”

The survivors were taken to a nearby rebel camp. But in the middle of the night, the beaten girls regained consciousness and crawled toward the sound of voices, looking for help. Our survivor and her friend were told to finish the job – “…and we did.”

For over twenty years, children have been abducted and forced to do unthinkable things. Girls are recruited as porters, looters, and concubines. Ten year old boys are lined up across from one another, given guns, and told to shoot the boy across from them. Those who survive become soldiers; those who don’t are called cowards. The threat is always the same: “After what you did, you can never go back.”

The broken young woman addressing us in the IDP camp eventually escaped during a raid and hid two nights in the bush before arriving in Kitgum.

But that’s not my story.

My story involves another young girl: Sandy. Sandy’s a Night Walker – one of hundreds of children who live on small farms with their parents, yet journey every evening to huddle together for the night on a concrete slab in the centre of Kitgum, in an effort to avoid abduction.

After an emotionally exhausting day in the camps, our group returned to Kitgum and, that evening, visited the Night Walkers. We were somewhat surprised by their enthusiastic welcome. These kids were clean, well-dressed, orderly, educated, healthy-looking, beautiful, gentle, and joyful.

I was tired and found a place to sit on a concrete wall. I remember the warmth of the wall and the warmth of the bodies around me. The black children seemed to fade into the blackness of the night. I heard a voice beside me: “My name is Sandy.”

We just sat there. Sandy’s fourteen. She sleeps on the veranda and has a twelve year old brother named Jacko. She showed me her school books and math homework. A ten year old entertained us. I played and teased with others as they crowded around. But I sat with Sandy.

Not far off, I heard voices that sounded like fun. I asked Sandy if she’d like to see what was going on, but she was clear:

“No, I just want to sit here with you.”

After a trying day, and in the midst of commotion, here was a friend who just wanted to sit with me. I couldn’t move. I wanted to stay there forever.

I don’t know how long we sat there, but eventually someone came to tell me it was time to go. I stood, and reluctantly said good-bye. I moved away from the wall and waited for the others.

But as I stood there I felt something. The breeze? My imagination? A gentle touch on my shoulder?

It was Sandy: “Mr. Jeff, are you coming back tomorrow night?”

I wouldn’t recognize Sandy to see her. It was dark, and she was dark. But she had a rich and gentle voice. I would remember that voice.

“I just want to sit with you.”

“Are you coming back?”

Toastmasters & the Church

In January of this year I made two commitments to myself: I would join a Thursday morning Toastmasters group, and I would join a Sunday morning church service.

My first morning at Toastmasters a gentleman with a broad smile walked directly toward me, recognized me as a guest, shook my hand, and warmly welcomed me. He then took me into the room and elegantly introduced me to others who would soon become my friends. I was addressed by name and treated as an honoured guest. That first day, I was treated to a hot breakfast, offered an opportunity to speak, and at the end of the meeting the group genuinely wanted to hear how I felt about being in their presence.

Within only a few short weeks I’ve been invited to lunch with one of my new friends, and coffee with others. Another called Easter Sunday to invite me to join him for dinner. The Toastmasters organization actively explores and builds on the individual gifting of each new member. I even have a mentor to help me grow. At each meeting I’m encouraged (and delighted) to serve the group, and I’m learning how to love others.

This morning at Toastmasters I had the distinct privilege of delivering a short message entitled: I Met Jesus in Kitgum.

I’ve been following Jesus for over twenty years. I have served on staff at a large local church and have a Masters degree in Christian Studies. I know that the Church truly is the body of Christ. I love the stated vision of the little congregation that meets on Sunday mornings in my new neighbourhood, and to their credit, they do have great coffee, but like all who are created in the image of God, I long to be valued, to belong, and to contribute.

As I wait in hope for the church, I praise God that his Spirit is welcome at Toastmasters!