Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WotW: Speak the Language of Birds

In the beginning was Facebook. OK, really it was MySpace, but can we just forget about that ugly episode? Everyone was happy and had a great social network to share meaningless updates and go around poking people. Then along came a little bird named Twitter, giving people the chance to tweet shorter versions of meaningless updates.

Fast forward a few years. Today, Twitter is more than just "that other" social network; it's holding a huge market share of the social media world and gaining new accounts every day. Yet, by and large, Twitter is misunderstood. Almost every day I hear someone tell me they don't understand Twitter. So, today's post is designed to help you navigate the world of Twitter.

First of all, you need an account. When you set up your account, you will have to create a username. That seems basic enough, but it's more important on Twitter than just about anywhere else. It's how you are known to other Twitter users and becomes part of your Twitter handle (we'll get to that term later). So make sure you choose something memorable and specific to you, and remember that people will be seeing it, so don't choose something embarrassing.

Before we get any further, let's get some vocabulary down, as this is one of the toughest parts of Twitter.

Twitter Glossary

  • Tweet - a message you or someone else writes that is limited to 140 characters. You can include links, images and locations with your tweets. Your tweet is posted to your feed and to your followers' feeds.
  • Feed - a scrolling list of tweets that is updated as new tweets happen.
  • Follower - someone who has chosen to receive your tweets in their feed.
  • Follow - when you follow someone, you will receive their tweets in your feed.
  • Reply - you can reply to a tweet, just like you would to an email. This is also similar to leaving a comment on Facebook. When you reply, you always start the message with @username. This alerts them that you have responded.
  • @ - the @ goes before Twitter usernames. It is a quick way of identifying a fellow Twitter user and creates a link between you and that user, letting them know you mentioned them in a Tweet. For instance, if you wanted to Tweet about Housewife Eclectic, you would put @wifeeclectic in your tweet. Once you post it, I will be able to see that Tweet, even if I'm not already following you.
    • You can use the @ anywhere in a tweet.
  • # - The pound sign is called a hashtag in Twitter. A hashtag is a way of telling Twitter a keyword in your tweet. For instance, if you were tweeting about the Presidential debates, you might want to use the hashtag #debates. This way, if someone is searching for debates, your post will get pulled up because you identified that keyword. Hashtags are a great way for your tweets to get recognized by others. You can use a hashtag anywhere in a tweet.
  • Trends - topics that many Twitter users are talking about at a certain time. Trends change throughout the day and are usually matched up with a certain hashtag.
  • Retweet - this is much like the share button in Facebook. A straight retweet will just reshare a tweet on your feed so your followers can see it.
  • RT - When you retweet something on a mobile device, it often adds RT to the start of the tweet, letting people know it's a retweet. You can add your own comments to a retweet, though it's tough with the limited number of characters.
  • MT - this is like RT, but stands for Modified Tweet. You use this when you quote someone else's tweet, but modify it in some way, usually shortening it.
  • Direct Message - also known as DM, this is similar to messages on Facebook and is private between you and the person you send it to. Because Twitter is designed to be open, Direct Messages are often looked upon as a novice feature. 
  • Favorite - this is similar to the like button on Facebook, except that Twitter keeps track of the tweets you favorite. I usually reserve the favorite option for really witty tweets or stories that are particularly interesting.
  • Lists - these are lists of followers you group together. For instance, maybe you want to organize a list of your family members on Twitter. Place those members in a list and you can quickly see posts by them.
  • Promoted Tweet - a tweet that a business has paid to be obnoxious and fill up your feed.
  • Handle - your twitter handle is your username, preceded by For instance, Housewife Eclectic's handle is
The layout of Twitter is a little big overwhelming and confusing at first, so let's break it down. At the top of each page is the menubar.

  • Home - This takes you back to your main page, which shows the tweets coming into your feed. 
  • @ Connect - This allows you to see how people are interacting with you and allows you to find new followers. You will see which people followed you, and when they did it. You can also see when someone has mentioned you (@username) and when they have retweeted one of your tweets.
  • #Discover - This allows you to discover other Twitter users and topics that are popular. Joining in on a trending topic or discussion can be a great way to get people to recognize you and maybe gain some new followers. At the very least, it will allow you to see posts from others who might be interesting enough to follow.
  • Me - This gives details about you: your followers, who you're following, your lists, images, etc.
  • Search - You can search for any topic or person in this field and Twitter will do its best to pull up relevant information. This is really nice when a big event is happening and you want to follow what others are saying about it. It's also a good way to find friends and/or businesses you want to follow.
  • The Gear Icon - this gives you options to change your settings and view your Direct Messages.
  • Blue button with a Quill - press this button at any time to quickly compose a tweet.

On the left side of the page are some quick-view options. The first one is information about you. At a glance, you can see how many tweets you've composed, how many people you are following, and how many people are following you. You can also compose a tweet directly from here by typing in the field that says, "Compose new Tweet..."

The field will expand so you can type more. In the bottom-right corner you will see how many characters you have remaining. One of the most challenging things for new users is learning how to condense ideas in 140 characters or less. In the bottom-left corner you see icons to attach an image and to identify location.

When you attach a photo, it doesn't automatically appear with the tweet, like it does on a Facebook post. Instead, it adds a link, taking up some of your 140 characters. So, you have to plan around that when you add a picture. When someone clicks on the link in your tweet, they will see your picture.

When you press the Blue Quill button in the top-right corner of the menubar at the top of the page, you get a similar tweet composition box. It doesn't matter which method you choose to compose a tweet.

Underneath the tweet field is a box giving you suggestions of people to follow. Sometimes they're interesting and you want to follow them (do this by pressing the Follow link under their name). Other times they're not useful. You can also click Browse categories and Find friends to find more people to follow.

A quick word about following. Just because you follow someone does not necessarily mean they will follow you back. This is especially true of celebrities. They have so many people following them that they just don't have time to follow you back. Why should you bother following people anyway? If you don't, Twitter will be a boring place. When you follow someone, their tweets appear in your feed timeline, giving you a never-ending supply of things to read.

Trends are a really fun part of Twitter. You can see what's currently trending in the Trends box. Click on any trend and you will see a feed of all the tweets that are talking about it. Join in on the fun. I've found many new people to follow by doing this and have also been followed by others.

When you look through your Twitter timeline feed, you mostly just scan through the tweets really quickly. If you hover over a tweet, you'll see options to reply, retweet and favorite.

Every now and then, click on a tweet, especially if it has a link. You'll see how many people have retweeted and favorited that post.

And there you have it. That's Twitter. But, wait, it can't be that simple can it? Well, yes. Twitter is designed to be simple. It just seems complicated at first.

Let's go over some commonly asked questions

What Do I Do With Twitter?
You do three things:
  1. Read tweets from those you follow.
  2. Post your own tweets.
  3. Follow others and try to build your followers.
What Do I Tweet About?
Whatever you want. Twitter first started as people just posting about what they were doing. Today, people use Twitter to post interesting thoughts, news stories, and ideas. 

How Do I Get Lots of Followers?
There's no one way to do this, but there are a few things that can help:
  1. Post interesting content.
  2. Post frequently (there's no limit to the number of tweets you can do in a day).
  3. Use #hashtags and @mentions. 
  4. Follow other people. They may not follow you back though, so don't bank on this.
  5. Ride the trends.
  6. Use your other social networks, including your blog, to let people know you're on Twitter (by the way, follow us @wifeeclectic).
Don't get too discouraged if you don't rack up a slew of followers. There are a small number of users with a large number of followers and they make up the vast majority of the tweets on Twitter.

How do I use a hashtag?
Place a # before any word to make it a hashtag. Choose your hashtags wisely. Try to limit yourself to about two hashtags per tweet. Any more than that is overkill and makes you look desperate.

How do I know what to hashtag?
That's hard to say. A good way to determine this is to write out your tweet without any hashtags. Read over it and see what the best keywords are in that tweet. Add a # in front of those words, and you've created a hashtag. You can also look at what others are using as a hashtag and ride the wave.

When should I retweet something?
A retweet is a tribute to someone. Retweet when you feel something is interesting and/or you want your followers to see it too. What you retweet is as much a reflection of who you are as what you personally tweet, so be careful about what you retweet.

When should I reply?
Reply when you have something interesting to add to a tweet.

When should I use Direct Message?
Really, you shouldn't. Unless this is the only method you have to contact a person and it has to be a private message, find some other way to contact them.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask, either in the comments or follow me on Twitter @nxtitan.


Gina said...

I wish I had read this 6 months ago when I was first starting on Twitter! Nice guide!

Tanya said...

Again, a great how-to. I always direct people here when they have IT questions because your how-tos a so thorough and plain languaged. I learnt a couple of things too, thanks.

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