Friday, February 6, 2009

Twitter for Newbies

I first signed up for Twitter when we were heading to the Inauguration.

We knew people would be keeping up with our blog posts about what we were experiencing during this important and historical event, but also knew we'd be away from the computer for much of the time. Which meant our web updates wouldn't be that frequent or current. A fellow blogger, Currently Purring, had a "Follow Me On Twitter" section on her blog, and I could see updates she'd posted throughout the day. This seemed like just the tool we needed to keep our Inaugural posts updated.

I Googled Twitter and went through the easy Sign Up process, and now have my own account. I was able to easily set up my cell phone on Twitter, so I could post messages at any time from any place. And, I added the Twitter updates in the blog sidebar. This allowed me to update our blog about what we were doing during Inauguration (that is, until all cell service just stopped when the circuits were overloaded from the activity! That's me in the photo, Tweeting easily on the day before Inauguration.). I continue to use this sidebar update as a tool to keep at least a little fresh content always visible on my blog.

I've also learned a few things about Twitter along the way that I thought I'd share in my Tech Tips:

once you sign up for Twitter, you can customize your home page in so many ways...change the background, add a photo, update the color scheme, modify text. There is really a lot of leeway in how you make your page look, and you can even make it kind of match your blog, if you have one. To make changes, just click on "Settings," then on "Design." The options to add photos or modify colors are at the bottom of the page, below the template designs, which you can also choose from.

  • A comment on Twitter is a "Tweet."
  • To tell others about something someone else has Tweeted, you "Retweet."
  • If you take all of your Tweets and enlarge the words you write most often, those words make up your "Tweet Cloud" - the bigger the word, the more often you use it.
  • "Followers" are fellow Tweeters who want to see your comments.

FOLLOWERS: These can be people you know or just strangers who feel the desire to connect with you based on where you live, what you comment about, or some other compelling reason. It's okay if a stranger follows you; I generally take a look at a new Follower's profile to read it and review their past Tweets before I begin following them, but it's considered polite to Follow in return. On rare occasions, I'll get a truly undesirable Follower, which I just ignore and they usually stop following after a few days; there's a "Block" option, which I've never used, as it seems a bit extreme.

TOPICS: so what do people Tweet about? I've seen such a variety that I don't think there is a right or wrong topic or reason for using Twitter. The comments I've seen so far are: quick updates of what someone is doing "right now" so friends on Twitter or blog viewers are kept in the know; direct responses to comments from other Tweeters; sharing of information or tech tips to inform the Twitter world; and advertising or promoting a blog, website, product, news article, video, etc. (Be sure not to Tweet toooo often though, because that's kind of like spamming in the Twitter world and you may lose a few Followers.)

FIX A TWEET: CAUTION...there is NO Fix a Tweet tool (yet). Whatever you write will be posted as-is for all the world to see, so make sure it's written and formatted the way you want it before you click "update." You can, however, delete a Tweet once it's been posted; just click on the little trash can that highlights when you scroll over the right side of the Tweet when you're on your Profile page.

RETWEEETING: if you like a website or other info that a fellow Tweeter has shared, you can Retweet it to your own group of followers. The correct netiquette for doing this is to be sure to credit the original sender. Here's the format you use: "Retweet (or RT) @(insert Tweet Name here) (insert link or info you liked here) (insert why you liked it here)" and click Update. So here's a sample Retweet... "RT@loveanewidea Love the Inauguration stories - thanks!" (Note: you're limited to 140 characters per Tweet, so you sometimes have to simplify what you're trying to write. Using all 140 available characters is called a Twoosh.)

TWEET LABELS: if you're Tweeting about a popular topic, many Tweeters label their comments so they can easily be processed by search and statistics tools. These labels are called Hashtags. To label a Tweet, just write #(insert name of label here). So, if a current hot topic in the world of Twitter is road sign hacking (which currently IS a hot topic on Twitter), you would probably see a label such as "#signhacking" on Tweets, and would want to use that same label at the end of your comment on that topic.

REPLIES: Tweeters often respond to one another's comments. There are two ways to do this. "Reply" is the public method, and allows the recipient and others to view your response. To "Reply," just move your cursor over to the right side of the sender's comment; there is an invisible star and arrow next to each message, and these icons highlight when you scroll over them. Highlight and click on the curved arrow, which opens up a new dialog box for your response to the sender. "Direct Message" sends a Tweet to only the selected recipient, and no others can view it. To "Direct Message," just click on this option in your right panel; on the page that opens, you simply choose your recipient from the drop-down menu of all your Followers.

FAVORITES: if you especially like a Tweet you've viewed, or want to keep the info in a Tweet for future reference, you can Favorite it. Just scroll over the star to the right of the comment until it highlights, and click on it. This automatically moves the comment to your "Favorites" which you can view any time.

TWITTER STATS: Just paste this URL into your web browser: and enter your Twitter Username to get stats on your own username. To find out how you rank, paste this into your browser: or; you can check your own rank or anyone else's (warning: this can be very sad at first because your rank will be pretty low compared to seasoned Tweeters). You can also find out if anyone is Tweeting about a topic you're interested in with this nifty Search tool.

TWITTER HELP: if you STILL want more info about Twitter, you can find it at Twitter Help. You can also learn shortcuts to do many of the things I've explained above if you want to learn them.

I'm sure I've just skimmed the surface, but the info in this post is what I've been able to figure out about Twitter in the past couple of weeks. I also know I average 6 Tweets a day and my Twitter rank is currently 13.62. I'm predicted to have 47 Followers in 30 days. And, today the top 5 words in my Tweet Cloud are: blog, Twitter, DC, dinner, and inauguration.

You might also like this terrific Intro to Twitter video.
And, here are a few Twitter applications you might find useful.


Amanda D Allen said...

This is a great post! Thanks for taking the time to put all of it together.

Loveanewidea said...

Thank you - I actually enjoy anything Techie, and also like writing about it in user-friendly language. I really love using the stats tools too.


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