A few months ago a good friend of mine told me I should get on Twitter, and because I trust him so much and I was considering a career as a social media strategist, I did. I’d been avoiding Twitter like the plague ever since its inception, convinced that the blips of 140 characters or less were contributing to the deterioration of the English language and choosing to lump anything Twitter-related under the blanket of “vapid.”
And now I’d like to say… I’m sorry. I love Twitter. I’m addicted. I daydream of deleting my Facebook profile and kissing my “friends” goodbye. Twitter is much less demanding and intrusive than Facebook. Twitter is quirky, informative, comedic, and enriching. Twitter has news, fashion, friends, businesses, bloggers, interesting articles, and more. Anything you can share, you can share (and please comment on it!) on Twitter.
That being said, I’ve written a Twitter starter guide so other die-hard Facebookers can find the path to enlightenment (seriously, there are some really intelligent discussions on Twitter) one step at a time, and if you tried Twitter and didn’t like it, maybe this will help you change your mind.
And okay, sure, I’ve only been on Twitter for a few months, but that’s all for a newbie’s benefit! You see, I remember what it’s like to be just an egg. I remember being unsure of my hashtags and wondering if my retweet was silly. So please, learn to embrace and enjoy Twitter. You’ll thank me later.
Also, I’m working on a personal website that I hope to have running by the end of the summer. The goal is that this blog will become less of a blog trying to make its way in the blogging world and more of a way for others to learn more about me. Hopefully this will lead to an overarching personal brand and voice that I can cultivate for the rest of my career. Mucho excitemundo!
And now, Loryn’s Ultimate Guide to Starting on Twitter.
Sorry, it’s ridiculously long.
1) Pick your handle. Your handle is basically a username identified with an @ symbol, and that’s how other users can find and interact with you. Your handle doesn’t have to be your full name because you’ll also pick your display name, and that’s the one that really should be your full name. Don’t worry, you can change both of these later!
2) Upload a profile pic. Make sure your face is easily seen, ‘cause everyone’s only gonna see it teensy tiny next to your tweet. You could make it something besides your face, but that’s kind of unprofessional.
3) Write a brief bio. Make it short and show that you’re human. I always like bios that highlight a person’s job, main interests, and quirks.
4) Read a Twitter glossary, like the one I wrote below. Seriously, you’ll just confuse yourself. If you’re not a read-directions-first type of person (I’m definitely not, so I understand), then at least have one handy for reference.
5) Start following people! Don’t feel pressured to start tweeting immediately. Follow local or national people, businesses, and associations that you already pay attention to or frequently interact with. Anything from your bank to Obama is fair game!
a. I highly recommend following at least 5 news organizations. Twitter is my favorite way to stay up-to-date on the news, and Twitter lets news organizations keep you updated to the second. Any upstanding citizen who is on Twitter but isn’t following any news organizations should be ashamed. I follow NPR, USA Today, the AP, the NY Times, BBC, and a few others. Make sure you follow local news as well as national, or you’ll just look dumb.
b. Don’t be afraid to look up your friends! Tweeting with friends is fun, and for some reason Twitter can cross business and personal boundaries without being too invasive.
c. I also suggest following some Twitter tips users, like @TweetSmarter. When I first started using Twitter, they were a big help!
6) And now, start tweeting! Once you’re following a few people, you should be getting a feel for how Twitter works. Sure, it’s a social media tool for sharing, but Twitter is much more of a conversation than other social media. If you like an article, tweet it, but add a bit of commentary along with your tweet. Twitter may look like a big and confusing stream of mindless chatter, but once you get in the rhythm, it’s a lot of fun and very informative. Read a guide if you need help (*cough* mine) and just relax and interact!
Tweet – A statement 140 characters or less that’s automatically shared users who follow you, but also can be viewed by any Twitter user who searches for your profile.
Handle – Your username, always preceded with an @ symbol. Everyone on Twitter has two names: a profile display name and a handle. My name shows on my profile as Loryn Thompson, and my handle is @lorynwithay. Either of these can be easily changed at any time under “edit your profile,” so don’t stress!
Mention – Typing in a handle (e.g. @lorynwithay) in your tweet will “tag” the user, and they’ll be notified in their “connect” tab under “mentions.” Anyone on Twitter is fair game for a mention, which is different from direct messages (which we’ll get to later). Remember, mentions are basically regular tweets, so they’re still public.
Hashtag – A pound sign that helps group searchable keywords, useful if you want to contribute to or begin a conversation about a topic. For example, if you were at an event, you and other Twitter users could share things on Twitter using the #eventname. Hashtags are generally the most confusing part of Twitter, so I’ll try to explain with a few examples.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney launched an Instagram-like app called “Mittstagram” where people could put Romney-themed frames on their photos, and on one of them he misspelled “Amercia.”nFor at least a few hours, #Amercia was a trending hashtag on Twitter and if you searched for it in Twitter’s search bar you would see all the users who tweeted some very witty puns about the oversight.
One thing I struggled with at first was how to create a hashtag and that’s because I thought it was more formal than it is. Really, all you have to do to create a hashtag is just type it, however, this power can be easily abused. If you #overuse #hashtags, you will #withoutadoubt #losefollowers. There are some trending statements that are just kind of fun to use, like #forthewin (or #FTW), #aheadofthegame, #fail, and others. I’m still not good at using these (I guess I don’t pay enough attention to memes), but using popular catch phrases like that makes you look #supersavy (Which I’m sure isn’t one. I told you I’m bad at this!).
I myself have tweeted more than a couple null hashtags, so don’t worry if this part of Twitter doesn’t feel as natural as the rest of it. Hashtags take a bit of time to get used to.
Links – Anytime you put a link in a tweet (hint: do it often!!), Twitter will automatically shorten it by removing the “http://www
.” and using ellipses to eliminate anything after about 15 characters. These changes only show up after you’ve hit send, but Twitter takes them into account when determining how much space you have to type.
If you’d like, you can register for a link-shortening service like bit.ly or ow.ly which keeps a library of all your links. I would suggest waiting until you’re a bit more comfortable with Twitter overall before trying out a link shortener, however. I only recently registered bit.ly and, to tell you the truth, I was fine without it. Link shorteners enable you to have longer comments within your tweets and give you a little more street cred, though, so I’d suggest eventually making it a habit.
Reply to – Only use this feature if you have one short, quick comment to add to somebody’s tweets. For extended conversations, it’s suggested to use a direct message instead. It’s annoying to outsiders to have a twitter feed full of out-of-context tweets. There’s also a way to hide your tweets, but I haven’t really seen the value of this as opposed to direct messaging.
Retweet (RT) – Clicking retweet will share a tweet you saw with all of your followers. It will show up in your feed as a tweet from the original source with a line at the bottom that says you retweeted it. This is a relatively new modification, and I’m not sure I like it. I prefer the classic RT format, which looks something like this:
“Additional comments from you RT @original tweeter Original tweeted info from original tweeter.”
I like this way better because it allows you to comment on the tweet, which is half the reason anyone should retweet anything at all. I tend to use a combination of both forms of retweets, only using the classic format if I want to comment. If you decide you like to classic RT as much as I do, you can either type out the classic format by hand, or you can download a plugin that gives you a “Classic Retweet” option right next to the regular “Retweet” icon. Here’s a link
to plugins for Chrome and Firefox.
Modified tweet (MT) – The new style of retweeting fixed a problem and caused another. Although the new RT leaves no room for adding your own comments, it did get rid for the need to use MT. When an original tweet is too long but you’d like to add your comments and RT anyways, you can use an MT in place of the RT and cut down the first tweet for length. For example:
@OriginalTweeter – “I just love a good thunderstorm. They remind me of being a kid and hiding underneath big blanket forts with a mug of hot chocolate and my favorite stuffed animals.”
@You – “I did that, too! MT @originaltweeter I just love a good thunderstorm. They remind me of being a kid and hiding underneath big blanket forts.”
Favorite – If you like a tweet, you can favorite it. I really haven’t favorited any tweets, but I do see its value as a bookmarking tool – like, for example, when I wanted to show you an article I liked. Twitter moves fast, so if you want to quickly locate a tweet later, you can favorite it. However, keep in mind that favorited tweets are public.
Direct messaging (DM) – use this for private conversations. Works just like any other messenger, except you’re still limited to 140 chars or less and you can only direct message people who are following you.
Lists – Well, I’ve never made a list, so I’m really no help here.
Hints and Tips
Tweeting from other sites
When you read an article you really like, you should share it on Twitter. Duh, that’s the point. Sites want you to do this, and to facilitate your sharing they provide a “tweet” button. When you click this button, it brings up a nice little form tweet, generally with the article name and the handle of the site you got it from. STOP RIGHT THERE. Please, please, please do not immediately tweet that. Instead, consider the following:
· Does the article name look like gibberish? Clean it up. Paraphrase.
· Add your own comments. Twitter is for conversations, not mindless sharing.
· I always format my sharing tweets like this: “Your comments about the article“Article name” via @sitehandle li.nk.ly/krjea.eare.” This format is kind of like MLA style to me, if you have the info, great, if you don’t have it, omit the entire section.
· Sometimes the site’s tweet format will be designed by some sort of sharing affiliate, like ShareThis. If this is the case, then usually after the link it will say “via @sharethis.” In the interest not putting ShareThis employees out of work, I generally leave their handle attached. Sometimes it shows a message asking you to follow ShareThis after you send the tweet, and you can if you like. If you’re interested in keeping up with social media trends, you probably should.
How often should you tweet?
Well, as often as you’d like, just be consistent. If you’re a heavy Twitter user for a week and then go silent the next, you’ll look unreliable. It’s almost like a job – if you just up and quit work after being a really hard, dedicated worker for three months, no one is going to want to hire you. Luckily, this is much more fun than work. I try to tweet at least a few times each day, which generally ends up to be 1 to 10 tweets each day. However, some users (mostly businesses) tweet only a few times each week, and that’s fine, too. My advice is to stay consistent and stay engaged.
Who should you follow?
I know I already covered this in the beginning, but following people can be daunting. After you’ve followed the first round of people (news orgs, your friends, businesses, your favorite magazines, etc.) don’t be afraid to keep following! Every time I find a new blog I like, I check to see if that blogger is on Twitter. Any time I go to an event, I’ll look for the group hosting the event and follow it. Find a store you like? Follow them on Twitter, you’ll be privy to sales and maybe even a few giveaways!
Use your judgment when following users, but don’t stress about it. Remember: it’s just as easy to unfollow someone as it is to follow them. Follower numbers are constantly in flux, so unfollowing someone is nowhere near as monumental as unfriending someone on Facebook.