Ten Things you Must Know before Using Twitter

Posted on 14. Apr, 2009 by in Web

As I thought about the next topic for a blog post, I could not help but get drawn back to Twitter (you can follow me here). It is what interests most of my readers, and the truth be told, it is what interests me.

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This week, Twitter experienced a game-changing event. My wife joined! Now, Twitter is a lot of things, but I never knew it was  a good luck charm, a few hours after she joined, she went into labor and gave birth to a beautiful little girl.

The reason I mention my wife joining is because when she joined, I started to realize that there are some very basic terms that are unknown to new Twitter users and are not explained well anywhere. I figured I would take the task upon myself to explain to the millions of the people out there who will be joining Twitter over the next year or two, what they need to know. Before I do that, it is important to understand what Twitter is. You can understand it better by reading this post.

After you understand why one should tweet, you should read the first 5 things you should do after registering for Twitter. Read about that here. Now, that you have the basics, here are some terms you need to know in order to make use of Twitter in the most efficient way.

  1. Reply (@): Twitter has a every unique replying feature. Whenever a person’s name is preceded by a @ symbol, that means that the sentence (tweet) that follows is directed at them. So if you are using Twitter on the Web, which you should not be (talk about that more later), and you want to reply to someone, simply type @ and then their name, then type the reply. There is also a reply icon on the Web interface that inserts the reply prefix automatically. On all the Twitter clients, there is a reply button for every tweet, which makes the process much easier.
  2. DM (D): A term you are sure to see in people’s tweets is DM. It stands for Direct Message. This is like email for all intents and purposes. It is as if you have a Twitter inbox. Only you can see your DMs. As opposed to replies and regular tweets, DMs are completely private. This feature is used if you want to write something privately to someone, but more importantly, if you are writing something that your followers will not find interesting. One of the more annoying things on Twitter in my opinion, is when people have long threaded conversations, and you as their followers have to see it all. Not only does it not interest you most of the time, but the whole concept of viewing threads on Twitter still has a lot of room for improvemt. It is quite challenging to really understand an entire conversation from beginning to end using Twitter. So stick to DMs if you are replying more than twice to someone.
  3. Retweet (RT): Retweeting is one of those things that can make or break your Twitter experience. Let me try to explain it to you in simple terms. If someone tweets something that interests you and you feel it would interest your readers, you retweet it for your readers. What it does is basically quotes that person’s tweet and gives them the credit, so people can see the tweet and then choose to follow that person. It is pretty much parallel to forwarding an email. The original person who tweeted might have 50 followers so only 50 people are exposed to the tweet. Whereas you might have 5,000 followers and by retweeting it, you increase that person’s exposure and distribute the tweet you felt was interesting. However, retweeting is really much more than that, it serves a purpose much more important than forwarding a tweet. It contributes to the entire concept of the Twitter community. You share someone else’s wisdom, and they will in turn share yours. Sharing, promoting (people), and distributing is what it is all about. I would love to perform an experiment and see how someone does on Twitter without tweeting one single thing and just retweeting other people’s interesting tweets. I am sure they would have themselves a very respectable Twitter network in a very short period of time.
  4. Hashtag (#): Hashtags are a pretty simple concept that really enhance the Twitter experience. They enable easy categorization of tweets for effective future searching. That means that if for example, you are tweeting about the iPhone, you simply insert a # before the word iPhone. Anyone who then searches hashtags.org or Twitter search, for the #iPhone term, will come up with your tweet as well as all tweets on the subject. Hashtags actually add a lot of fun to Twitter. For example, someone came up with the hashtag #fiddme, I am not sure why it was not named #feedme, but basically if you are eating something good or that looks nice, you can take a picture of it, tweet it and include that hashtag for people to be able to see a lot of interesting foods being consumed by Twitterers all over the world. Why do I need that? You don’t, but it is fun. Another hashtag is #Followfriday. This is one that you do need if you want to really get ahead in the twitterverse. Every Friday, you recommend some good people to follow and include the #Followfriday symbol. I have found many great people using this tool, and like RTing, it enhances the twitter experience by building strong and  mutual Twitter relationships.
  5. Twitpic: This tool enables you to share pictures with your followers. Not much more to say about it besides upload a picture to Twitpic, uncheck the box that tweets it automatically for you (annoying), copy the URL, write something about the picture in Twitter, then paste the URL for your followers to see. I do not need to tell you how many words a picture is worth, so sometimes it is helpful to stop telling and start showing.
  6. URL Shorteners: This is something you might see in tweets and become very confused. So let me explain it to you. Since Twitter only allows you 140 characters, it is not the most effective way of tweeting if you are going to share a link with your followers that is 70 characters long. By the way, I did not think links deserved their own bullet, but you should share links often on Twitter, and not just write random thoughts. People like to read articles and posts, and not just hear your thoughts on certain matters. Anyway, back to URL shorteners. There are endless sites that offer this service. It enables you to share a long link with your followers and still have room for your thoughts about the link you are sharing. The most common and easiest of them in my opinion is TinyURL, but there are so many to choose from, including Digg’s own shortening service. The important thing is to use one, and not waste space on a URL, does not really matter which one you use.
  7. Tweetdeck: Before I explain, I have to warn you that there are many people who disagree with me about this Twitter tool and prefer others like Twhirl, although I have to say, I do not understand those people. Tweetdeck is the most popular, sophisticated, effective, and useful 3rd party Twitter application out there. If you can only install one Twitter application, Tweetdeck should be it. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say the greatness of Tweetdeck is that it automates all the above points in a very simple interface. You can reply, DM, retweet, shorten a URL, and share a Twitpic without ever leaving Tweetdeck. The newest version also includes a cool feature that when replying to a tweet with a hashtag, the hashtag is automatically generated in your reply. I could go on for hours about the greatness of Tweetdeck, but I will just name some awesome features offered by Tweetdeck:
  • Facebook Integration: You can now share your tweets with your Facebook friends if you choose by simply selecting a checkbox near the Tweetdeck tweet box.
  • Twitscoop: This cool feature enables you to  see the trending topics on Twitter. So if Gmail is down, chances are everyone is talking about it, you can then read what people are saying and share your thoughts with people you do not follow.
  • Twitter Search: It is as it sounds. No need to leave Tweetdeck to search for certain tweets, you can just open another column that will notify you when someone tweets about your search term.
  • GroupsThis is one those features that after using it, I do not understand how I got along before it. If you are following over 1,000 people, how can you possibly read everything? You can’t! So you create a group of the people that generally tweet interesting things and follow only that column. It makes the Twitter experience so much easier.

8. TwitterFon: I would love to somehow check the correlation between Twitter users and iPhone owners. Judging by the frequent iPhone trend on Twitter, a lot of Twitterers use iPhones, so I thought I would let you know which iPhone Twitter app has all the competition beat, hands down. Twitterfon is the number one iPhone app for Twitter in my opinion. I am not going to go into the detailed comparison between Twitterfon and Tweetie, you can read that here. What I will tell you is the fact that Twitterfon notifies you of new tweets, replies, and DMs makes it the app for me, period.

9.   Topify: I have discussed Topify before, so I will just say that it is one of the most useful Twitter services out there. It replaces the annoying and useless Twitter emails you get when someone follows you, with a useful and informative email. It also allows you to follow back by replying to the email. Topify also enables you to reply to a DM via email and the best part is that the developers really listen to customer feedback and improve the service accordingly and consistently.

10.   Wefollow: I have also discussed this service before, so I will tell you that when my wife joined Twitter, this is the first place I showed her. WeFollow is the best and most  effective way of finding people to follow. It is a Twitter directory based on tags people give themselves, and is organized in a very user-friendly way to enable you to build yourself a quality Twitter network in a very short period of time.

As you can see, I have a lot to say about Twitter. I will just say that when you do join, this post along with the Top 5 Reasons to Tweet and Top 5 Things to do after Joining Twitter, will give you a head start and assist you in maximizing this amazing social networking tool, no matter what your goals are in using Twitter.

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