How to Use Twitter


The home page of the social media Web site Twitter.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

It's not just for the tech-savvy kids who huddle around laptops in coffee shops. Parents, businesses, politicians (some of whom are clearly too comfortable with the technology), even Wilford Brimley -- or at least a handful of imposters posing as the septuagenarian Quaker Oats spokesman -- have hopped the train to Twitter Town, joining the social media network that, along with Facebook, is changing the way the world communicates, 140 characters at a time.

Just like email, cell phones and global positioning systems, one can outrun Twitter only for so long. Eventually, your curiosity, susceptibility to peer pressure or just plain need to be included will likely lead you to the site.

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When you get there, don't let the site's eccentricities scare you away. Available in six languages, as well as in various smartphone application formats, Twitter is essentially begging you to give it a shot. Sure, this corner of the universe can appear overwhelming to new inhabitants, but with a little help, it's actually easy to use. Armed with this article's information and tips, you'll be tweeting, following and hashtagging in no time.

Twitter Terminology

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to mastering -- or even attempting to use -- Twitter is the cutesy vernacular the site uses to describe its tools and functions. So, to start tweeting, or mentioning, it's necessary to first figure out the Twitter terminology:

  • Tweet -- a message that a Twitter user posts to his or her profile page.
  • Follow -- to subscribe to another user's tweets.
  • Retweet -- to forward a tweet posted by someone else to all of your followers.
  • Hashtag -- a number sign (#) placed before a word or phrase in the text of a tweet. A hashtag creates categories for tweets, allowing users to see similarly-themed message by clicking on it. The hashtag in "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously #NoamChomsky," for example, would categorize the tweet as relating to the author Noam Chomsky.
  • Reply -- a response to an existing tweet, posted by clicking the "reply" button. The reply text automatically begins with @username (the username of the person to whom you are replying). All replies to a user's tweets are logged under the @Mentions tab on the user's home page.
  • Mention -- a tweet update that contains @your username anywhere in the body of the tweet. Both new tweets and replies can be considered mentions.

Now that you know the lingo, click to the next page to get your Twitter conversations started.

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How to Tweet

"At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called tweets," the Twitter Web site explains. "Each Tweet is 140 characters [or less] in length, but don't let the small size fool you -- you can share a lot with a little space. Connected to each Tweet is a rich details pane that provides additional information, deeper context and embedded media."

To start tweeting (sending out messages), go to Twitter.com and click the "sign up" tab to create your account. Once on board, tweeting is as easy as three steps:

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  1. Log in to your Twitter account.
  2. Type your tweet into the "what's happening?" box at the top of the screen. Remaining characters show up as a number below the box.
  3. Click the "tweet" button to post the tweet to your profile. The tweet will appear immediately in your profile's timeline.

So what happens when you don't like what you see -- or you realize you've just accidentally sent your parents and coworkers a racy joke? Fear not misspellers and over-sharers; the Twitter gods have granted you the ability to delete your tweets. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Log in to Twitter.
  2. Locate the tweet you want to delete.
  3. Hover your mouse arrow over the message and click the "delete" option that appears.

Tweeters can also send messages directly to a particular user. Direct messages are private messages sent from one user to another that can be seen only by those users. To send a direct message:

  1. Log in to your Twitter account.
  2. Click the "messages" tab on the top menu bar of your page. This will take you to a page showing your private messages history.
  3. Click the "new message" button.
  4. In the pop-up box, type the name or username of the person you wish to message.
  5. Compose the message you wish to privately send and click "send."

Continue to the next page to learn what everyone else on Twitter is up to.

Following on Twitter

It will get you arrested in the real world, but on Twitter a certain amount of stalking is not only allowed, it's encouraged. Following a Twitter user means that you've elected to have the user's tweets appear in the timeline on your home page. All the people that a user follows have permission to send the user direct messages.

Following is an easy way to keep tabs on the comings and goings of friends, family and anyone else with a Twitter account. Yet just because you simply must have instant access to your favorite celebrity's twitter feed, doesn't mean that the feeling is mutual. A user does not have to follow all of the people who are following him.

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To follow a Twitter user, simply click the "follow" tab under the user's profile picture on his or her home page.

Although Twitter sends an email to users each time a new person chooses to follow the user, it does not require the user to approve followers. However, a user may block others, which prevents them from following the user, replying to the user's tweets or mentioning the user. To block a particular person:

  1. Go to the profile page of the person you wish to block.
  2. Click the "person" icon, which brings up a drop-down "actions" menu.
  3. Select the "block" option.

Next up, see how companies are using Twitter as a major component in their marketing and promotions strategies.

How to Use Twitter for Business

The Grand Ole Opry used Twitter to announce to fans -- and to the performers themselves -- the lineup for the first concert at the Opry after it reopened following May 2010's devastating floods in Nashville, Tenn.
The Grand Ole Opry used Twitter to announce to fans -- and to the performers themselves -- the lineup for the first concert at the Opry after it reopened following May 2010's devastating floods in Nashville, Tenn.
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Twitter provides businesses with direct access to both current and potential customers, allowing them to give information about their products and services and get feedback from the people who use them. The Twitter Web site advises businesses to "treat Twitter as an open, continuing conversation with your customers rather than just a broadcast medium."

The range of companies currently using Twitter for business purposes is as varied as the people they're courting. Luxor, a pyramid-shaped, Egyptian-themed hotel and casino in Las Vegas uses Twitter to provide recommendations for guests and visitors, promote upcoming events and host promotions like ticket giveaways. The NBA's Portland Trailblazers, on the other hand, tweets breaking news, team and player information and behind-the-scenes photos in an effort to engage fans. In cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle, mobile food trucks use the social media tool to announce their menus, schedules and ever-changing locations.

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Drawing on the experience of these and other business users, the Twitter Web site lists a number of best practices for building an online following, including:

  • Sharing photos and other interest-generating information such as glimpses at new and developing projects.
  • Monitoring comments about the company, its brand and products.
  • Asking questions and responding to feedback in real time.
  • Using tweets to announce special offers and discounts.
  • Referencing articles and links about the company and its industry.

Twitter also uses its own technology to both promote its brand and help other businesses use the format to do so. Via @TwitterBusiness, the company tweets about Twitter news, the ways in which businesses are using Twitter and success stories, among other topics.

For more information on Twitter and other social networking tools, visit the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Mashable. "40 of the Best Twitter Brands and the People Behind Them." Jan. 21, 2009. (July 17, 2011) http://mashable.com/2009/01/21/best-twitter-brands
  • Twitter. "How to Post a Tweet." (July 17, 2011) http://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics/topics/109-tweets-messages/articles/15367-how-to-post-a-tweet
  • Twitter. "How to Report Spam on Twitter." (July 17, 2011) http://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics/topics/114-guidelines-best-practices/articles/64986-how-to-report-spam-on-twitter
  • Twitter. "The Engineering Behind Twitter's New Search Experience. May 31, 2011. (July 17, 2011) http://engineering.twitter.com/2011/05/engineering-behind-twitters-new-search.html
  • Twitter. "The Twitter Glossary." (July 17, 2011) http://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics/topics/104-welcome-to-twitter-support/articles/166337-the-twitter-glossary
  • Twitter. "Twitter Business." (July 17, 2011) http://twitter.com/#!/twitterbusiness
  • Twitter. "Twitter is the best way to discover what's new in your world." (July 17, 2011) http://twitter.com/about
  • Twitter. "What Is a Direct Message? (DM)." (July 17, 2011)http://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics/topics/109-tweets-messages/articles/14606-what-is-a-direct-message-dm