Twitter 101: Helpful Hints

by Briana Campbell (@MsMatchGirl) Over drinks last weekend, a friend, and not a non-internet savvy friend, looked across the table and asked me, “But how do you use Twitter?”

by Briana Campbell (@MsMatchGirl)

Over drinks last weekend, a friend, and not a non-internet savvy friend, looked across the table and asked me, “But how do you use Twitter?”


For me, Twitter is second nature. When I started using it, I jumped right in. I learned as much as was possible. I didn’t, of course, want to look like an arse when I started to Tweet. But I realize that not everyone takes to this social network as easily as I did. And, if I think about it, there are a lot of people I know who use Twitter on a daily basis and still seem not to know a few tricks that keep the conversation moving. So, maybe those people need a little hand.

Think of Twitter like a cocktail party (I think the analogy still holds) where you’ve gone stag. There are a lot of people talking – to the group and to each other and, if you’re lucky, maybe one of them will direct their conversation to you. Here are a few simple tips to make yourself feel a little less socially awkward, and a lot more suave, when you sidle up to the bar at that online cocktail party.

1. Choose your name. Keep it short (Twitter limits you to 15 characters) and memorable and, if possible, your own. Don’t stress out if you decide you want to change it later. It’s simple to do and it won’t affect your followers.

2. Follow some people. Don’t stress out if they don’t follow you back right away. Twitter, is not like Facebook. You can see what people are saying even if they don’t follow you back (unless they have a private account. I won’t go into private accounts here, but, personally, I find them pointless. That’s what Facebook and Google circles are for!). If you want to nerd out about social media and design like much of the Z-team, here are a few great people to follow (add yours in the comments): @brainpicker, @chrisbrogan, @garyvee, @mashable, @psfk, @guykawasaki and, of course, you should follow the Z-team!

3. Learn about hashtags. You know – # – they’re all over your Twitter stream. They’re used to categorize subject matter. And they’re searchable. As I write this post, the hashtags that are trending (popular) in New York City include Lion, iPhone, MacBook and Captain America. The new Mac OS, Lion, launched this morning, MacBooks are no longer and Captain America movie is making the geeks excited – so people are talking about them and they’re putting a # in front so that they can see who else is talking about them and keep the conversation going.

During a conference you’ll see a lot of Tweets with hashtags like #IU11 or #digpharm, from people attending the conference and those following along (via the hashtags) from home. People use hashtags to have online chats, as well – they make it easy to follow the conversation.

Of course, sometimes people will just make up a hashtag and see what comes of it. We did this when one of my friends got married and there were a lot of social media types in attendance. #joannswedding never did trend, but it was super fun to use and friends who were not able to make it were able to follow along with some of the more fun events of the evening.

4. Mention people. If you look up at #2, you’ll see the @ symbol in front of the Twitter names of people I suggested you follow. Use that handle when you want to talk to them or reference them in your Twitter feed.

In the image below, you’ll see a conversation (and an exciting one, at that) between me and a Twitter pal. Notice how each Tweet begins with @? Starting a Tweet with @ means that only the two people Tweeting and anyone who follows both of them can see the conversation.

If you want to mention someone in your Tweet and make sure everyone can see it, you need to put a character in front of the @, like in the image below. By putting the period in front of the @, I was able to let everyone who follows me know that Brian DiFeo was presenting at the Community Manager Meetup (#cmmeetup), not just those who follow both of us.

For the newbies, a quick glossary of things you’ll see:

#FF – This is Follow Friday. People use it to give shout outs to people they follow, who they think their followers should follow, too.

OH – This means overheard. You’ll see it if someone is Tweeting something (usually hilarious or ridiculous) they just heard someone else say.

RT – This is a retweet. It’s both a verb and a noun and you can find out more on the Twitter glossary. It you see it on someone’s stream it means they are retweeting what another user already Tweeted. Sometimes you see it with commentary, sometimes without. Below, an image of a RT with a comment:

Test Link

These helpful hints should get you started on the right foot.

Is there anything you find confusing about Twitter? Anything else you’d like to see covered or explained?