Twitter can seem like a wonky social platform when you first come to it. It’s full of strange characters and retweets and what not. I decided to write this intro to twitter. I hope you find it quick and exhaustive, newbies!
Twitter is a social network with really limited communication construct. For example, on Facebook you can share photos and videos and text and links to web addresses and… everything. But Twitter is limited to text, and maxing out at 140 characters at that. So, a post could be the letter “a” 140 times (no spaces). The post could be the letter “a” 1 time. A “post?” That’s a silly name. That’s why it’s called a tweet… a sillier name. Here’s a tweet.
It’s that simple. It’s less than 140 characters. Hopefully it’s interesting… done.
But, publishing only 140 characters of text can be really limiting, so twitter has some built things it does well:
- Identify weblinks. A lot of tweets includes a website, so twitter acknowledges and identifies those weblinks. It looks for the good old “http://” and treats whatever comes after as a clickable weblink.
- Identify hashtags. This is where things start getting wonky. About 400 million tweets are posted a day. There is very little information in the tweet, outside of the text and the username of the account that posted the tweet. The result: it’s hard to organize twitter. Say you are tweeting about the Superbowl. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to flag to the twitter universe that you were talking about the superbowl? That’s where hashtags come in.
I can flag my tweet by “using a hashtag,” which is marked by this symbol: #. What follows that symbol is “the hashtag.” So, if I’m talking about the superbowl, I can put this in my tweet, and the twitter universe will know I’m talking about the superbowl: #superbowl. Now, if someone clicks on that hashtag (in any tweet), they’ll see a stream of tweets coming in that use the same hashtag. It allows you to organize your tweet with similar ones. Your tweets don’t have to agree on which is the better team or anything like that, just that it’s relevant for that hashtag. And it’s totally up to you, there is no one policing it. So, if you want to put #superbowl in a tweet about underwear you just bought, no one’s going to stop you. People might think you’re bad at twitter, but that’s about it.
Now, I want to emphasize: hashtags are not defined, nor policed. Twitter, itself, doesn’t say, “this hashtag means THIS.” It’s entirely in the hands of the users. So, for the superbowl, people might identify their tweets as “superbowl relevant” by using the #superbowl hashtag, but they also might use #sb or #SBXLVIII. Since it’s a bit loosey goosey, current-day marketing campaigns try to set a standard for discussions about their products or events. Watch the Superbowl, and you’ll see a hashtag displayed on-screen they encourage you use. Look at most ads, and you’ll see a hashtag they hope you’ll use when talking about the product. Watch a TV show, you’ll usually see a hashtag in the corner. They want to help organize the conversation around their products.
Again, though, it’s up to you! If you want to start a new hashtag that says #jdgistheman, you can go right ahead! I hope it takes off and trends! (More on that later.)
- Identify users. The last part of a tweet you need to learn about is how to identify a user in your tweet. You do that with the “@” symbol. If you use the @ symbol, twitter will identify the following text as a username. So, if you wanted to say I’m the man, you can tweet this:
Do you guys know @johndeguzman is the man? #jdgistheman http://johndeguzman.com
That should all make sense now! That particular tweet identifies a user (if someone clicks on it, they are taken to my account), a hashtag (if they click on the hashtag, they are taken to a search for the tweets that contain that hashtag) and a weblink (if someone clicks on it, they are taken to the website.)
Bonus: if you are mentioned by someone in a tweet, you will get a notification that you have been mentioned. It’s very useful. You can access all tweets you are mentioned in by going to the “notifications” section of the twitter experience.
Those are tweets! It’s that simple! Now, on to…
What you can do with Twitter and these Tweets
Tweets are meant to be public. In other words, anyone, even without an account, can go to http://twitter.com/johndeguzman and see what I’m telling the world. They can click on any user I mention in my tweets, and hashtag or any weblink. Nothing’s hidden from them. Twitter gets a lot more fun when you do create an account. It allows you to do key things.
The first thing you can do is tweet! You can post your own 140-character posts. Here’s a cool thing about twitter, though: more than half of the users never post at all. They just want to see what other accounts are saying and sharing. That’s the biggest barrier I hear from non-twitter users. “I have nothing to say.” Well, for a majority, twitter isn’t about saying anything, it’s about reading important things. And there is so much to read…
That brings us to the second thing you can do with your account: follow people. When you launch the twitter app or go to http://twitter.com, you’ll be greeted by a stream of tweets from all of the accounts you’re following, sorted in reverse chronological order. (Speed matters on twitter… it’ll matter to you, too, when you start using it and a blizzard comes in and you want the latest info from your local government on the status of school closings.) This list of tweets? It’s called, simply, your feed. If you’re only following one person (I suggest http://twitter.com/johndeguzman) you’ll only see that person’s tweets in your feed. If you’re following 2,000 people, you’ll see a lot, lot, lot of tweets in your feed.
That’s the key of twitter: it becomes your own newspaper. There are accounts to cover whatever you’re passionate about. Do you want to know what your corner sandwich store is saying? You can probably find them on twitter. Do you want to know about things happening in the Yankees backoffice? I imagine you can follow their PR department. And all of their athletes. And the team doctors. And the stadium. And sports reporters. And passionate Yankee fans. And the concession stand. And wives of the players. And the owners. And ex-players. You can find almost anything on twitter!! You might also want to follow celebrities or political activists or your child’s high school or good twitter curators or news organizations or a fashion designer or brands of all kinds or photographers or clowns or dead celebrities or comedians or famous authors or tv shows or your city for emergency alerts.
Twitter is valuable because you can build your own personal feed, loaded with things you’re passionate about. If done right, Twitter will be your go-to content source. You will pick up your newspaper less. You’ll watch less local news. You’ll open facebook less. It’ll be the first thing you read in the morning. Why? Because it’s a fantastic report of things you’re interested in.
So, go build your feed. Follow people. If you don’t like their tweets, just unfollow them. Jump around. Twitter’s a constantly-changing social network, moving quickly, and you’ll find yourself following and unfollowing people on a regular basis. No one’s feelings get hurt. (Just don’t unfollow me, because I’ll cry and eat lots of ice cream.) I have suggestions of accounts to follow at the end of this writeup.
At this point, you have your account and you’re following a bunch of people and you know how to interpret tweets, but there’s a bit more! You can actually interact with tweets, so let’s talk about that. Here’s a tweet.
See those options beneath? Reply, Retweet, Favorite? That’s how you can interact with a tweet. Let me take them in what might seem like a non-sensical order.
1. Favorite a Tweet
“Favoring” a tweet, also called a “fav,” is a way for you to “mark” a tweet with a star. (It is the actual star in the embedded tweet above on the bottom right.) You can think of it as facebook’s like button. The person who posted the tweet gets a notification that you have favorited their tweet. People use the “fav” for a few reasons, here are the two most popular:
- You like the tweet. It might be funny or heartfelt or… whatever. It meant something to you and you wanted to let the person who posted it know.
- Mark a tweet you want to go back to and explore later. Maybe the tweet has a link to a long article you don’t have time to read on the phone. Go ahead and mark it so you can easily find it when you get to your desktop or tablet.
Favoriting is simple! Feel free to do it often on my tweets!
Like anything else on twitter, there are no strict rules about fav’ing. Use it how you’d like.
You can access all of the tweets you fav by selecting that section of your account. Here’s mine. You’ll see they all have stars on them because I’ve fav’d them.
2. Retweet a Tweet
What if you see a tweet you like a lot and you want to share it? You can! Just “retweet” it. That will share that tweet with all of your followers, so it’ll appear in their feed. Hit the retweet button, and it’s done. Simple. (It’s the logo on the embedded tweets that looks like two arrows circling each other.)
If you see tweets in your feed from people you aren’t following, those are retweets! Twitter makes it easy to see who retweeted it.
You can see that I retweeted this tweet by @joshmalina.
Retweeting is a fundamental part of twitter usage. It allows information to travel really, really quickly. (Again, speed matters here.) The art of the retweet is just as important as the art of the tweet… if that makes sense. Curating tweets to share in your feed is a fun part of twitter.
Now… a little bit of a complication here: proper retweeting (like I did above to Josh’s tweet) is a feature twitter introduced recently. Before the proper, clean RT, users would have to quote the tweet and would indicate it was a retweet by, literally, using the letters RT. We call this a manual retweet. So, if @Time were to tweet that I’m the greatest and I wanted to share that with my followers, I would have to do:
RT @Time: John de Guzman is the greatest! #jdgistheman
You’ll still see people do “manual retweets” like that. The only time manual RT’s are useful is if you’re providing interesting commentary, like @joshmalina did above. He wanted to share @Time’s tweet, but he wanted to add some commentary to emphasize. So, he quoted @Time’s tweet—including “@Time: “ so you can know it was from @Time’s account—then he put in his commentary: “The disgrace of the modern age. »»>” In turn, I did a proper retweet of his tweet.
If you do a manual retweet and don’t provide interesting commentary, you’re just clogging people’s feeds. See, twitter’s actually smart about this. If I retweet a user you’re already following, you won’t repeat that tweet in your feed since twitter knows you already have access to the original tweet. If people manual retweet, you can see the same tweet a few times in your feed. That’s no good.
All of that blabber probably would have scared you 10 minutes ago. But, if I’m doing this writeup correctly, you should understand it all. Hooray! Learning!
3. Reply to a Tweet
You might want to reply to a tweet to tell someone “whoa, that’s funny” or answer a question they are asking. You’ll see the reply option right there. (It’s the one that looks like an arrow pointing left.) Hit it and a tweet compose window will pop up with all of the user accounts in the tweet pre-populated in your draft. Simple! You can reply to all of them or just to the person who wrote the tweet… again, no rules. Sometimes it makes sense to include them all. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Reminder: because you are mentioning a user in your reply, they’ll get a notification that they have been mentioned and they’ll see your response in their “notifications” section.
There is one wonky thing that even experienced tweeters don’t know. I’m going to try to lay it out here so we can all know it once-and-for-all.
If the first thing you do in your tweet is mention someone with the @ symbol, NOT ALL OF YOUR FOLLOWERS SEE IT WHEN YOUR POST. The only people who will see that tweet in their feeds are PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW BOTH OF YOU. So, if you tweet:
@johndeguzman takes incredible photos! He’s also hilarious! You should follow him! #jdgistheman
The only people who will see that tweet in their feeds are people who follow you AND me, which defeats the purpose of this very, very, very important tweet.
Now, as I said earlier, all of twitter’s interaction is public, so people COULD go to your account page and they’ll see your public reply to me, but they’ll only see it in their feeds if they follow both of us. The easiest way to get around this is to insert a character in front of the @. (Any character will do, but most people use a period.) Then all of your followers will see your very, very important message in their feeds. So, copy/paste this into a tweet for all of your users to see:
.@johndeguzman takes incredible photos! He’s also hilarious! You should follow him! #jdgistheman
The “.” makes all the difference. (Tweet the one above often.)
Here only people following @brianpodolsky and me will see the tweet in their feeds (which is what I want in this case):
Here all of my followers see the tweet in their feeds (which is what I want in this case):
The “.” makes all the difference!
Respect the content
That’s the bulk of twitter right there! There is one more critical thing I want to mention: tweets should be considered protected content. Like, copyrighted. Someone wrote that funny or insightful tweet. It took work. So, copying the text from tweets and pasting them into your own account is a huge no no in my book. Just retweet someone. Give them credit for doing work good enough that you’d like to share it.
It may be 140 characters, but people have squeezed a lot of great sentiments into a tweet. Don’t just take it without credit. That’s bullshit.
OK! Twitter’s main class is done! There are a few more things I think are worth mentioning, but they aren’t critical. So, below are some accounts I recommend you follow. I’ll continue the write up after that in the Appendix, which covers the remaining, non-essential things: private accounts, trending, lists and direct messages. Thanks for reading!!
John de Guzman
Some suggested users:
Appendix (coming soon):
- Private accounts