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Happy 5th birthday, Twitter - Martha Carr

There is no quicker way these days to overwhelm anyone who could have voted for Reagan than getting them to dive into social media, which is shorthand for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all of the other ilk, and start swimming.

However, that's not a good enough excuse to avoid it altogether anymore. Facebook now has more users than the population of Brazil, and Twitter, which just turned five years old, is said to be closing in on 200 million Tweeters.

Last year, according to Twitter, there were 50 million tweets per month, and just 12 months later that number has leaped to 140 million.

The growth is becoming exponential as more and more people from every background are figuring out how to connect socially and professionally in cyberspace. To opt out at this point would be like saying a hundred years ago that the phone was a passing fancy and electric lights were too dangerous indoors. In hindsight, we can all see that those who embraced the new technology had the easiest time of transitioning into what was fast becoming an entirely different way of living on even a day-to-day basis.

That's what is happening now and on a much faster timeframe. The key is to just start and look for a few good guides along the way.

I started with my son, Louie, @LateNightLouie, who at 23, sees all of it as normal and not only quickly masters the basics but finds hidden tools. That has to be some kind of side benefit from all those years of playing video games where small treasures and clues were hidden all along the path. I thought it was useless but the joke is definitely on me this time.

Louie's Twitter tips quickly got the number of followers who clicked on @MarthaRandolph nudging toward a thousand in under a week. However, I still had to wonder what the point was of all those short tweets.

It didn't take long to notice that Twitter is like a giant, constantly evolving corner hangout where anyone can ask a question and get immediate responses, voice an opinion and start a conversation or tell everyone their big news.

Think of Twitter as a giant local diner where there's always an expert. It's faster than Facebook and with shorter answers in 140 characters or less. In other words, it's now even easier to find answers.

Local businesses can see this as a free, quick opportunity to focus on local Tweeters and post discounts or specials or local events. Busy moms can ask for home remedies or the best place to buy used sports equipment. There's something for everyone but a few tips can make it so much easier.

The new how-to manuals are now online blogs that operate as fluid guides on every topic. No wonder Borders is in bankruptcy. The best blogs are free, always timely and comprehensive. There are a few good ones talking about Twitter and here's just a couple of examples to get you started.

Rachelle Gardner, @RachelleGardner, my literary agent who also has an award-winning blog about the publishing world is always preaching consistency in everything. I've watched her steadily grow her following to some pretty healthy numbers. It's not as sexy as all of those who shout about how to get somewhere faster but her methods work, and usually a lot better for a lot longer.

Rachelle's advice is to tweet people like you're having a conversation face to face. Don't try to flat out sell anything to anyone. Sell the service and let people decide for themselves if they want more. More of Rachelle's tweeting tips can be found at http://tinyurl.com/27vqp2o.

Michael Hyatt, @MichaelHyatt, the Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers has attracted close to 100,000 followers by becoming as informed as he can about the most up-to-date Twitter tools, and then sharing everything he's learned with others. For tips that start from the beginning, go to Michael's blog at www.MichaelHyatt.com, where there are endless amounts of useful advice on social media.

There is so much to say about Twitter but just like tweets, there's only a certain amount of space. So, go start an account and find someone to talk to about the early flowers you've planted, or being in remission, or finally finding a job. Or ask all of the questions that haven't got any good answers, yet. Keep it brief and have some fun, but most of all, be included.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com or follow on Twitter @MarthaRandolph.