Twitter It Up! (Part One)

twitter_logoA tool is only as good as a user’s ability to use it effectively.  Twitter may be one of the fastest growing social media platforms, but just having an account on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to wield it like a revenue-generating, traffic-driving juggernaut.  You can certainly get there, but if you’re new to Twitter here are a few basics that might help you get started.

Terminology

Twitter is a micro-blogging service, meaning you can write whatever you want but only in short bursts.  Each user has an account name — called a “handle” — that begins with the “@” symbol, and each message — called a “tweet” — is a maximum of 140 characters.  For example, if my name is Bob Loblaw, my Twitter handle might be @bobloblaw.  Every tweet can be seen by anyone following the user, but you can specify the tweet as directed to a particular person by using their Twitter handle at the beginning of the message, so if I wanted to send a direct message to the White House I would start it with @WhiteHouse to indicate that it was directed to that particular account, like this:

@WhiteHouse Just say no!

Everyone would see it in my Twitter feed, but everyone would also know I was talking to the White House.  This is where the direct interaction comes in.  If the White House wants to respond, they can simply reply:

@bobloblaw Thanks for your opinion!

I can also send tweets to multiple specific people:

@WhiteHouse @Congress Just say no!

If I was simply broadcasting a tweet to all of my followers and wanted to include the White House so they saw what I was saying I would still include the handle, just not at the beginning:

Just say no, @WhiteHouse!

Connections between Twitter users are made by following each other, enabling one to see what is posted in the other’s Twitter feed.  I can send someone else’s message to my followers by “re-tweeting” it.  To designate a re-tweet, begin the message with “RT” like this:

RT @thefox What does the fox say?

Tweets can include pictures, videos, and links.  Given the length restrictions of tweets, URL shorteners like bit.ly or tinyurl.com are very useful to condense a long website address into just a few characters.

Hash-what?

You’ve probably heard about hash tags somewhere, and you’ve probably seen them in advertisements, even if you didn’t know it.  Twitter is the service primarily responsible for making hash tags a part of the social media vernacular and a very powerful informational tool, so there’s no better place to look at what they are and how to use them.  When you boil it down, a hash tag is a word or phrase (with no spaces) beginning with “#” that can be used as a keyword for searching and categorization.  Think of it like a Google search term for Twitter.

Let’s say you wanted to find out everything there was to know on Twitter about the Super Bowl.  You could do a Twitter search for #superbowl and find every tweet hashtag2from every Twitter account who used that particular hash tag.  You would get tweets from the official Super Bowl Twitter account, tweets from all the major news outlet Twitter accounts, and tweets from everyone else who used the hash tag anywhere in the world.  Given the nature of Twitter’s real-time communication, this works especially well for breaking news and current events – the terrorist attack at the Mumbai shopping mall a couple years ago was actually made known first through the Twitter accounts of eyewitnesses rather than official news outlets.  You can search on any hash tag you can think of in order to see what is going on in the Twitterverse on any particular subject (#steakandlobster #whatareyoudoing #candycrush #puppies #smallbiz)…anything you want to search on is fair game.  Just as you can search Twitter for everyone else’s use of a certain hash tag, you can use that hash tag yourself; after that, anyone who searches on that hash tag will see your tweets alongside everyone else’s.  You can use as many hash tags as you want in any given tweet, though many consider it poor form to use more than a couple at a time.

You can even create your own hash tag, and companies often do this to generate buzz for particular events or brand names.  If you own Joe’s Donuts and are having a sale where you’re giving away free donuts, you can tweet your message with your address and the hash tag #getfreedonutsatjoes; as customers see your tweet in their Twitter feed, they’ll re-tweet it and send it on to their followers, who will re-tweet it again, and so on…thus generating the much-desired buzz and bringing in customers from far and wide.  You can incorporate the hash tag anywhere in your message, making your precious few characters to double duty, like this:

Kansas City has the best #BBQ in the country!

Anyone searching for BBQ on Twitter will find your opinion about where the best can be found.  Hash tags will often be left at the end of the tweet, too:

My boss just told me the company couldn’t afford raises, then showed me his bonus check. #areyoukiddingme #nofair

Hash tags are very simple to use, and are so effective at organically categorizing the flood of information flowing through Twitter that they are now being integrated into other social media platforms, as well.

Part two will focus on analytics, some of the best Twitter tools, and how to get started Tweeting yourself. Stay tuned!

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