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What's your handle?

What do Tweeps do when they get out into the real world to mingle? They lounge on beanbags and send each other messages on their smart phones.

I went to a Twitter Festival the other day, or Twestival as it is called by the mini-bloggers, and I felt I was in a virtual world.

Very few people were talking to each other and it was amusing to see an unusually quiet group of young women. They were sitting in a circle, their faces lit up by the light from their smart phones and they were busily tweeting. At times, one of them would giggle, the group would suddenly become animated, but after a while everyone would go back to their tiny screens.

I had earlier registered online for the event and as I arrived I saw helium balloons shaped like the small letter 'd' with an elongated tail, floating away. I had been advised to look up into the camera at the entrance as the event was being broadcast live to 150 cities around the globe where similar events were happening.

"What's your handle?" asked a young man, as I sauntered in with my colleague whom I had met in the lift coming up. She didn't seem surprised to know that I was on Twitter (and I had thought it was more of a young people's thing). One look at the crowd and I thought I should slink away with my walking cane.

Luckily, I knew what a 'handle' is. It is my name. I don't use my real name on Twitter, but that's another story. "Make your Twitter handle as close to your name as possible. It will make it easier for people to recognise you at a conference or event," says one business blogger. "It also treats your name like a brand. Every time you tweet, you promote brand awareness of your name."

I am on Twitter not to promote my name, not yet anyway.

Elaine, a PR consultant, said she got on to Twitter a year ago and she already has 850 'followers'. She said it is a great way to engage with people. She, however, agreed that getting on to the social network makes people anti-social.

"It's the fault of the smart phones. You see people in a group, their faces down, texting ..."

Changing times

Sara and Cynthia said they were encouraged by their company's CEO to get on to Twitter. "It's the new word-of-mouth." They said they get all their news on Twitter. Wonder who reads the print copies of newspapers nowadays?

P.K. Gulati, an Indian businessman, who initiated the Dubai Twitter Festival, said it all started when he got in touch with Amanda Rose, who had organised a London Tweet-up with some of her friends in 2008. She encouraged him to start a Dubai Tweet-up and the first Twestival in Dubai was held in 2009.

By connecting with the right people, Rose was able to bring together people for a charitable cause. "People may say that Twitter is useless, but here on the local level it's affecting real change for real people," says Ben Meck, organiser of the Twestival New York.

Gulati has made the annual Dubai event the only one where entrance is free. He says the criteria to help a non-profit organisation is that it should be local, be registered and should be pro-active.

"Twestival does focus on fundraising, but at the heart of it we are all about community first," says Rose in an interview with socialmediatoday.

Still, many people find it hard to be part of the community. When I reached home I got a tweet that said: 'Sorry, I didn't get to speak to you all at the Twestival. I am a little shy and you don't look at all like your #*%$ avatar'.

Off the Cuff

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Article Type:Travel narrative
Date:Mar 30, 2011
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