Twitter is a realtime micro-blogging public social media network. It has a 140-character limit for a Tweet, but recently removed the same limit for direct messages (more about those in a moment). Like most social networks, Twitter is free to join and can be joined by anyone. I’ve been on Twitter since 2010, and currently have 354 followers, and I follow hundreds of accounts. I also continuously read and learn about Twitter and other social media networks and run a curated board about Social Media for Business on Pinterest.
Getting Started with Twitter
To get started with Twitter go to Twitter.com and choose the new account or getting started link then follow the prompts. You’ll need to provide very little information to join the network, and you’ll need an valid e-mail address as your login. When you create your account you’ll be prompted to create your Twitter Handle – this is your username on Twitter and how you will be seen by others. You can use your name or a variation on your name (15 character limit). I found that my full name was too long for a Twitter handle and I had to use a diminutive instead. Besides using your name, you could also use your company name, your personal “brand” name, a nickname, the name of your cat, etc. but remember that your handle is your public face. When you create your account you should immediately replace the default “egg” avatar with a picture or some type of icon. You can also add a profile picture to the top your profile page. And finally, you’ll be asked to provide a profile page description and your website or blog address. The website isn’t required, but if you have one – fill it in.
Twitter as a Professional Networking Tool
Twitter has many sides to it, which is why it is not the most immediately intuitive social network to use, unlike Facebook. Since anyone can get an account on Twitter – the network is used by different people in different ways. Many celebrities are on Twitter, including writers, comic book artists, actors, musicians and people in the music business, directors and people in the film and television business, news agencies, businesses, etc. Even though the mechanics of the network are the same for everyone – different users emphasize different things with how they use Twitter. For example, many businesses use Twitter as word-of-mouth advertising. When a business does this they are concerned with “engagement” a metric that tracks how much customers interact with the business through social media including Twitter. This isn’t simply only traditional brick-and-mortar, corporate, or even internet businesses, however. Television networks such as the CW and USA require their creative teams to have a Twitter presence. Here’s CW Public Social Media Directory – note it includes all their shows and most creative people for those shows. Actors and other involved creative people who tweet about their CW shows are spreading positive good will about the show and hopefully, in CW’s eyes, increasing viewership. No longer do monolithic networks put out a product and expect the masses to absorb it without opinion. Now television viewership is more of a two way street. Viewers can express both positive and negative opinions about what they are watching – immediately, and without censorship or interpretation by a third entity. But many other companies are finding that Twitter can help improve brand reach and influence and even help bring in new customers.
However, Twitter can also be a professional networking tool – even if you have yet to start your own micro-business or small company, I’ve found that by following leaders, experts, and simply just other professional people in your business or profession, you can quickly build a professional network. And as you follow others, some of them will follow you. Also, by tweeting on professional topics, you will gain followers. Twitter, like Linked In, is the place to be in the professional sense, especially if you behave in a professional manner. And because Twitter lets you have as many accounts as you want (unlike Facebook per their terms of service) you could even create multiple accounts for different roles. Personally, I keep everything in the same account, but I don’t manage multiple accounts for others yet.
Twitter is a Public Social Media Platform
All tweets on Twitter are public (except some DMs discussed below). Everything you say in a tweet can be read by everyone else on Twitter. There is no difference between “friends” and “public”. This means you do have to think about what you’re saying. This means, for example, if you are currently job hunting, you might want to be a little careful about the content of your Tweets. It also means, if you don’t want something known – don’t tweet about it.
Also, because of the character-limited nature of Tweets, most items on Twitter aren’t necessarily original Tweets. They are Retweets, Links, occasional pictures or video, auto-posted content from other sources such as Instagram, Vine, a personal blog, or others. A Retweet (RT) is when you click the RT button on the bottom of someone else’s Tweet. This will post that Tweet to your Twitter as an RT. You can even RT a retweet someone else retweeted. So for example, my Twitter handle is @JackieOMoleski. If I see a Tweet I like, or find interesting, or even a link to a post or news article I want to read later, I’d click the Retweet button, so for example, if I RT a @BlackGirlNerds Tweet, it will appear on my timeline but as a Retweet. Similarly, if that tweet was a RT, it will show. Here’s an example:
Here I’m retweeting @BlackGirlNerds, who are in return Retweeting @InHollywoodland. On Twitter it’s always easy to tell something is a RT, and to track who the original Tweet came from. Therefore, there should be little misunderstanding about who’s content the Tweet actually is.
By contrast, here’s an original Tweet by me – on the same topic:
The difference is obvious.
Twitter also has DMs which stands for Direct Messages. A Direct Message is sent from one Twitter user to another directly, with the implication it’s private. DMs start with @username (handle) at the beginning of the Tweet. To send a DM you must follow the person you are messaging and they must follow you. Also, see the little left-pointing arrow at the bottom of every tweet (see pictures above) – clicking on that will let you reply to the Tweet. Note, however if you have any characters before the handle in your DM – the message will post to all of Twitter as a public Tweet, this includes a simple dot or period prior to the handle. Dot@User (handle) can be used to send a message to a particular user while simultaneously sending it to your timeline as a public tweet.
It is very important to remember that Tweets are public. Don’t make the faux pas of engaging a troll, and embarrassing yourself in public.
There are a lot of acronyms, terminology, and even slang that is used on Twitter – here are a few of the most common and necessary ones to understand.
Handle – Twitter slang for your username or identity on Twitter. It’s always preceded by the @ symbol.
Hashtag – The # symbol prior to any word or group of characters without spaces makes that topic searchable.
Trending – Twitter keeps it’s own statistics about how the site is used and hashtag topics that are extremely popular at any given time are said to be trending. Marketers and even fans often will try (sometimes successfully) to get a topic to trend. Also, when a hashtag gains popular use over time in the context of a political statement such as #Icantbreathe or #blacklivesmatter it’s often said to be a “trending topic” though this is a different usage than the Twitter metric or statistic.
Retweet – Explained in detail above, but a copy of someone else’s tweet sent via the RT (retweet) button to your own activity or timeline space with attribution to the original sender.
DM or Direct Message – Also explained in detail above, a “private” message between two Twitter users.
Dot@user (.@handle) – the most common way to copy a DM to your timeline, thus making it public. Another way is to place the username or handle any place in the Tweet (the end is also common) other than at the very beginning with no characters before it.
Live Tweeting or Live Tweet Event – Tweeting simultaneously to an event at the time it happens. For example, last Monday I live-tweeted the Supergirl pilot; in other words, I Tweeted reactions as I was watching it, as did many other people on Twitter. Live Tweet events normally have an “approved hashtag” (such as #Supergirl) that everyone uses in their tweets so they are linked and a search will bring up all such Tweets. Live Tweeting events sometimes include people associated with the event also live tweeting it, or answering questions. And Live Tweet events are also a lot of fun. Yes, one could live tweet from an irl event, such as a sporting event, parade, trade show, (fan or professional) convention, etc. Essentially, what makes live tweeting so much fun is the instant sense of community and the variety of perspectives. It’s also a great way to “meet” new people, find accounts to follow, and gain new followers.
Favorite – For a long time, Twitter had a “favorite” button (a star), rather than a “like” button. Twitter users used it to bookmark great Tweets. This week, Twitter change to a heart-shaped like button. My observation is that some users were upset by this. We’ll see if it lasts, and users adapt or not.