Twitter 101 – The Basics of Twitter

by Keri Honea on March 30, 2011

Twitter LogoYou’ve heard all the rage about how great Twitter is for both personal and business interaction when it comes to social media. You’ve set up your account, created your own Twitter background, and even established a few followers. Now that it’s time to start tweeting, you think, this isn’t so hard, right? Just type in 140 characters about something, hit send, and read your Twitter feed.

But then you see @ symbols, # signs, and the abbreviation of RT in front of some tweets in the feed. What is bit.ly and ow.ly? It looks like a foreign language at times.

Welcome to the world of the Twitterverse. Those who have been actively tweeting over the last few years are well versed in these symbols and Twitter protocol in general as they have been implemented over time. However, newbies to this world can become easily confused and a bit overwhelmed at first. After all, don’t you want to seem like you already know what you’re doing?

As such, here is a quick lesson in Twitter 101, taught by me, Keri Honea, lead social media expert here at Content Solutions and member of Twitter since 2006 (incidentally, that’s the year Twitter came into existence).

Mentions/Replies

It’s great to announce your own stuff on Twitter.

Content Notes on Twitter

However, you also want to have Twitter-based conversations with your followers and those whom you follow. You do this with the @ symbol, immediately followed by the follower/followee’s username. This is called a reply or a mention, and the terminology is fairly interchangeable although they each mean slightly different things.

The following is an example of a reply:

Keri Honea on Twitter

A reply typically starts with the @username, because generally, these tweets are replying to something another user said. This is a general rule, and it doesn’t always adhere. For example, sometimes users start tweets with the @username to ask a question or to start a conversation.

So for these tweets and those that mention other users, that’s where the term mention comes in.

Power Button Twitter

It’s important to know both terms, because, as previously mentioned, users use the terms interchangeably and you don’t want to be caught saying, “Huh?”

Retweets

The goal of most Twitterers is to get their content retweeted, meaning that it is copied and pasted and resubmitted through someone else’s Twitter account, but your username gets slapped onto it and claimed as your content. Twitter currently has two methods of retweeting: automatic retweets and edited retweets.

An automatic retweet is pretty much as it sounds. You say something witty, another follower likes it enough to retweet it, and your tweet automatically appears in that follower’s feed, unchanged.

Automatic Retweet

The little square symbol notes that this was an automatic retweet of @chairboy’s tweet. If you don’t get the joke, don’t worry about it. It has some hard core nerdery involved.)

The idea of automatic retweets is fairly new to Twitter, and they incorporated it to help with retweeting long tweets. Retweets used to look like mentions, but they had the abbreviation of RT before the @username. So if the tweet was long and the username happens to be a little long, then there was a good chance that the tweet go past the 140 character limit. Users would have to trim down the original tweet, and even then it wasn’t always reusable. Automatic retweets takes all those extra characters from the RT and @username out of the equation for you instantly.

But if you want to add a little something at the beginning of a retweet, then you have to create an edited retweet. Unfortunately, the web version of Twitter only allows for automatic retweets, but if you use a client like TweetDeck or HootSuite, you have the option of editing your retweets.

Edited RetweetShortlinks

Thanks to Twitter’s tight 140-characters-or-less rule, when you tweet a link, you want the link to be short so you can 1) say something about the link and 2) entice retweets. And thus, the need for shortlinks were born! Companies developed bit.ly, is.gd, and tinyurl just for these shortening needs. Once you subscribe to these services (several are free), you can insert your long link into their shortener and receive a nice, small version of your link. If you use a Twitter client, most of these will automatically shorten your link with the service of your choice.

Link Shortening Example

If you scroll up this blog post, back to the image of a ContentNotes tweet, you’ll see that we have our own link shortener, courtesy of YOURLs. YOURLs has an informative guide to how to set up your own link shortener, but if you need assistance, two of us here at Content Solutions are pros when it comes to installing YOURLs. Don’t hesitate to contact us about it!

Hashtags

Hashtags designate a trending topic on Twitter or a topic someone wants to trend on Twitter. Most searches on Twitter are based on the idea of trending topics, and the top trending topics run in Twitter’s scroll bar on its home page. If you’re trying to promote awareness of a certain event you’re either holding or attending, making the name of the event into a hashtag is a great way to do so. Then if other people retweet it or use the same hashtag, it will start to spread over the Twitterverse and potentially (as well as hopefully) out into the real world. Hashtags are the best way to get your tweets to the top of Twitter search results.

Creating a hashtag is simple: add the # sign in front of your term. If your term has more than one word, scrunch it all together into one word, like #SeeThisIsAHashtag. If you put spaces between the words, only the first word (#See) would make it into the search results and/or trending topics, which is most likely not your goal.

Professional Hashtag

Like most things in this world, what started as a good intention has been warped into something else, and this definitely holds true for hashtags. Many Tweeters use hashtags to make funny remarks. The following user is notorious for doing so (with hilarious results, I have to add).

Funny HashtagAnother Funny Hashtag

Hashtags have also become a method for turning things viral, especially rumors. For example, Jackie Chan reportedly died on Monday thanks to the #RIPJackieChan hashtag (it’s not true).

Think you got it all? Don’t forget, the best way to learn all of the insider tricks is to stay active on Twitter! Tweet often, keep conversations going with your followers and with whom you follow, and always investigate what new elements are as they pop up. As Twitter continues to grow, the little extras that flow with Twitter will grow too.

Have a Twitter question I didn’t cover? Leave it in the comments below!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacque Miller April 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Thank you for putting this together. I appreciate the clear explanation behind hashtags.

Keri Honea April 27, 2011 at 2:35 pm

No problem! I’m glad you found it useful.

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