“What the Tweet?!” + Twitter (Part II)

130805 Twitter Part II Header

Twitter 101

In Part II of our three-part Twitter extravaganza, I am going to dive deeper into Twitter terminology, and offer a few basic tips that will allow you to get the MOST out of Twitter as soon as you create an account.

There is a lot of information in here. It’s a dense topic with a lot to cover and explain. But even if you just skim through most of this post on the first pass, keep it in mind if you decide to take the plunge and jump on the Twitter bandwagon at some point. Use it as a step-by-step guide once you set up an account, and hopefully it will help you get over the initial hurdle and eventually allow you to appreciate Twitter in all its glory.

The current generation of Internet users is a fickle bunch, and we are surrounded by social networks a-plenty (just look at the list from Monday’s post). These days there is nothing stopping users from jumping from one thing to the next to the next – especially if something doesn’t hook them, lure them in and hold on tight.

I worked with some amazing people during my time at @twitterchicago (@carey, @karilyn, @gingerm and @jessicav to name a few), but one thing I think the company as a whole has struggled to do is address the seemingly complicated and confusing nature of the service. Internally, people get it. Love it. Embrace it. But externally, people are still like WTF sometimes.

Attempts to explain even the most basic Twitter language and features, and show regular ol’ users like you and your Mom why THEY should be on Twitter seem unfocused and incomplete, and I’ve read a handful of articles that beg Twitter to address this in a more organized and clear way. After all, users are what turn a platform into a thriving ecosystem (and ultimately make it more attractive for advertisers), so Twitter needs and wants more of them.

But Twitter does seem to be making a solid push in the right direction by launching a new Media Blog focused on showcasing normal, everyday use-cases for the platform – and showing that it’s more than just “what your friends ate for lunch.” There’s still the issue of how users will actually FIND this blog (because it IS great), but baby steps for now. Twitter needs to find a way to sell itself to the masses of people that are still in the dark about how great it can be if utilized properly. So while corporate blogs can sometimes be dry and boring, this one is worth checking out or adding to your feed reader.

Twitter Terminology

So let’s start by breaking down some of the most common (but most misunderstood) lingo used on the site:

Tweet – a message posted on Twitter.

Handle – your username on Twitter – starts with an “@” symbol. So my “handle” or “@userame” is @bates (my middle name) and Rebecca’s is @iloveani (Ani is her husband). I have been asked why it’s called a handle – and I simply do not know. It just is.

130805 @bates handle

Timeline – your home “timeline” on Twitter is a long, continuous stream that shows all Tweets from the users you have chosen to follow. Tweets are shown in reverse chronological order to keep the most current information at the top of the page.

130805 Twitter timeline

@mention – any Tweet that contains an @username (i.e. @bates) anywhere in the body of the Tweet. You are notified when someone uses your @username in a Tweet because essentially they are talking “to you” and what they say might warrant a response.

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An @username/handle used in the middle of a Tweet
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An @username/handle used at the beginning of a Tweet

@reply – a variant of the @mention. This is when someone addresses a Tweet to YOUR @username and you reply specifically to that user. This back and forth essentially amounts to a conversation. In the one below, I was checking with a Boston bar to see if it was open on the 4th of July. That person’s @username (@jmCurleyBar here) will begin the Tweet.

130805 convo with bar

When you start a Tweet with an @username the Tweet will ONLY show up in the Timelines of the person you are addressing the Tweet to, and anyone that follows BOTH of you. This is a nifty way to prevent every person that follows JUST you (and not the person you’re conversing with) from having to see potentially lengthy back-and-forth conversations that aren’t entirely relevant to them.

The little workaround that some people use to “trick” Twitter is to put a “period” before the @username (see the Tweet below where I mention @Oreo but put a period in front of the @ sign). If you do this, the Tweet will be seen by anyone that follows you. It might make sense to do this if you DO want to make your Tweet more public, but still need to start the Tweet with an @username to ensure the wording of your Tweet makes sense.

130805 @mentions 3

Retweet – reposting/forwarding another user’s Tweet. A lot of Twitter is “sharing” things you find interesting or cool. Retweeting is an easy way to do this.


A couple of things that took me a while to figure out about Retweets:

  • On the desktop/laptop version of Twitter, the “Retweet” button simply forwards the Tweet you want to share EXACTLY as is. You cannot append the Tweet with any additional text or commentary.
  • To get around this, people will sometimes copy/paste the text of the existing Tweet they want to share, and then add the letters “RT” to let their followers know it’s a Retweet (see above).
  • To save characters (because you are limited to 140) you will also often see people just use “quotation marks” around the text of a Retweet in place of the actual “RT.”
  • In contrast, on the mobile version of Twitter, the app gives you the option to “Quote Tweet” (allowing you to add your own text along with the existing Tweet’s text that you’re sharing) or simply Retweet as you would on the desktop site. Take a deep breath, I know your head probably wants to explode.
  • While I’ve shown how I construct MY Retweets using the “RT” – you WILL see various methods used across Twitter. Don’t let it freak you out. The best way to lessen the confusion is to be on the platform and observe the different ways this is done in the wild.
  • This may or may not be helpful, but when I first joined Twitter I would “dissect” Tweets to figure out who was saying what. I like to start from the end of the Tweet and work backwards. Begin with the original Tweeted message (from the end of the overall Tweet). Then moving backwards, if it’s a Retweet you’ll see the @username of the person that originally Tweeted the message. Next, at the beginning of the original message and before that @username, you’ll usually see the letters “RT” (or simply “quotation marks” around the quoted text). Finally, at the very beginning of the Tweet itself, you may see “commentary” from the Retweeter. Again, sometimes people do this in a different order, but the key is breaking the Tweet down piece by piece. This should help you sort through what initially seems extremely confusing (and trust me, it was for me for a LONG time).

Hashtags – the strange words and phrases that begin with a “#” sign and have no spaces. Explained in greater detail below.

Favorites – giving someone’s Tweet a head-nod/thumbs-up indicating it was funny, cool, interesting etc. You’re acknowledging its greatness but in a much less committal way than commenting or replying. Think of it as similar to a “Like” on Facebook.

130805 Favorited Tweet

Trends – Twitter’s Trends box highlights what a large number of users are Tweeting about at any given moment. Twitter’s magic algorithm identifies topics that “suddenly” become popular and are popular in the moment, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or continually are on a daily basis. The goal is to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion on Twitter. Here’s an article that explains a little bit more if you’re interested.

130805 Twitter Trends Box

Composing a Tweet – there are a couple of places to do this, but the two places I use most are the big box on the left-hand side underneath my name, and the little feather in the top right-hand corner (you’ll also see this feather on the mobile app).

130805 Where to Tweet

How to Follow Someone – if you find an interesting @username/handle and want to follow it, typically you can click the @username within the Tweet and it will bring up a pop-up screen that is a sort of “snapshot” of that user’s profile. You then have the option to follow that user directly from that screen. If the @username that you want to follow is located in the “Who to Follow” section, you can click directly on the little “Follow” button without having to bring up the pop-up screen.

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130805 Where to Follow 2

Who to Follow – speaking of “Who to Follow” – these are Twitter’s recommendations for people it thinks you may be interested in following. I find them to be generally very relevant, so they are worth paying attention to in order to discover interesting users. There’s also a neat feature called “Popular Accounts” that you can use to discover popular users on Twitter in virtually any category you can think of. And you can search too – see my search for “tennis.”

130805 Popular Accounts130805 Popular Accounts

Advanced Search – this is a feature that I didn’t know much about prior to writing this post. It may be a stretch to think that all of you will try out this feature, but I wanted to at least mention it because it’s kind of fun to play around with. It’s basically what it says it is — a way to go beyond the basic search box, and enter some more specific parameters around a topic you want to find more Tweets about. See my example below where I search for information about the Cincinnati Bengals and the HBO series “Hard Knocks”

130806 Advanced Search

130806 Advanced Search 2

130806 Advanced Search 3

Discover Tab (#Discover) – the tagline here is “what’s happening, tailored for you.” This tab is located at the top of the Home page, and is yet another way that Twitter tries to recommend content that you may find interesting based on what you talk about and who you already follow. Again, I generally find it pretty useful, so it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for cool new content.

130805 Discover Tab

Connect Tab (@Connect) – this tab (also located at the very top of the Twitter Home page) will show you all of your “interactions.” This may include Tweets that your @username are mentioned in, your Tweets that someone else has favorited or a list of new followers you’ve acquired.

130805 Connect Tab

*Note: these same tabs appear in Twitter’s Mobile app to keep consistency across the platform. It just uses a slightly different layout to account for the smaller screen real estate.

130805 Twitter Mobile

Other Twitter Abbreviations You Should Know

MT = Modified Tweet – Kind of like a Retweet, but the content has been modified or paraphrased. Sometimes I do this when I want to add my own two cents to a Retweet, or need to delete part of the original message to stay within the 140 character limit because I’ve added additional text.

HT = Hat Tip or Heard Through – You can use this one if you’re Tweeting something you want to attribute to another Twitter user as a way to give them “credit” (perhaps a link to an article that the user originally posted and that you now want to share with your followers).

CC = carbon copy – Just like email. You want specific users to see your Tweet but you may not be directly addressing them with the message.

DM = Direct Message – This is a private message on Twitter (it will not be publicly posted anywhere). All you have to do is go to the “Compose Tweet” box and type “D @username, and then the message” and it will be sent as a private message. 

130805 DM

Via – Similar to “HT,” but I tend to use this when I am Tweeting a link to an article, picture or some other external source and I want to give the original author credit while still offering my own take on the content. I will usually list this at the end of a Tweet and put it in brackets like this →(via @iloveani)

OH = Overheard – I see this used when someone wants to post a funny comment that they may have simply overheard, without having to call out the @username of the person who said it (in other words, keep it anonymous). 

And if you REALLY want to step up your game:

IMO = in my opinion

NSFW = not safe for work

FML = f— my life

FWIW = for what it’s worth

FTW = for the win

QOTD = quote of the day

OOTD = outfit of the day (I was so confused by this one for the longest time – used a lot on Instagram)

BTW = by the way

AFAIK = as far as I know

SMH = shaking my head

TY = thank you

YW = you’re welcome

FF = Follow Friday (people will post a list of their favorite Twitter accounts that they want to recommend others follow)

YOLO = you only live once (and clearly my personal fave)

Don’t be Scared! Follow People!

The first key to making Twitter a place you will want to visit every day, is followers – you NEED to follow people on Twitter to get ANYTHING out of the service. Most people find it un-useful because they don’t follow enough other users. I would wager to say that only about half of Twitter users actually Tweet on a regular basis (or ever), and in my opinion the real power of the platform for most of us is the ability to listen to and absorb content. Everyone and everything is on Twitter, you just have to find it.

Twitter does a good job of helping you out in this area by recommending popular handles when you initially sign up for the service, and through the “Who to Follow” recommendations, “Popular Accounts” and the Discover Tab mentioned above. You will also be asked if you want to import people from your contacts list or email address book, which you can accept or decline. Without following anyone, your Twitter timeline will look like a blank page – and that’s NO FUN. After you sign up, take the time to follow at least 20-25 users – it will make your experience infinitely more interesting and worthwhile.

The great thing is that while you can certainly use Twitter to interact with other users, it CAN be a purely one-way communication channel. What I mean by that is, I can follow you without you having to follow me. So if I’m interested in your content, but I don’t Tweet much or you’re not very interested in what I have to say, you don’t have to follow me back.

This is in contrast to more of the two-way communication channel that Facebook is. On Facebook you typically have to “friend” someone to be able to see his or her information. Facebook HAS gone ahead and added a “Follow” feature where you’re able to follow more public figures and just receive their public updates, but while it has most of the big players covered, it misses many of the “hidden gems” that you can find on Twitter in the form of lesser-known celebs, community bloggers and parody accounts.

Case in point, Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) – follow her immediately.

If you’re interested in additional resources that you can use to find the “right” people to follow on Twitter, I found this article very helpful.


Ohhh, the hashtag. Why are you so misunderstood?

On the surface, all a hashtag really is, is a keyword or phrase (with no spaces) prefixed with the “#” symbol. That symbol “marks” keywords or topics in a Tweet. By adding the “#” you turn “dead text” like “NOLA” into a live, clickable “link” like #NOLA. When clicked, Twitter will generate filtered search results around that topic.

So people add the # to words to make those topics or keywords searchable. This is why while hashtags like #popeyesrocksmyworld are somewhat clever and funny and many of us (raises hand) are guilty of using them, they aren’t the least bit useful when it comes to the real power of hashtagged keywords. I can almost assure you NO search results will be returned if you click on that hashtag (even though CLEARLY the statement I’m making is true :)).

130806 stupid hashtag

Simple enough, right?

  • Discover similar content – ex. White Linen Night is a social event in NOLA, and maybe I want to see what kind of Twitter conversation is happening around it – so I can search for #whitelinennight, see what shows up and potentially “join” that larger discussion within a very relevant space with an real-time engaged audience.

130805 Hashtags

  • Search for hashtagged words in the Twitter search bar or simply “click” on a hashtag in someone else’s Tweet – in both cases Twitter will show you all other Tweets that include that hashtagged keyword (and are therefore focused around that same topic).
  • If you use a “#” in front of a keyword, it’s more likely other Twitter users will be able to “discover” your Tweets — but don’t overuse. 1-2 hashtags in a Tweet is MORE than enough. Anything more than that and your Tweet can look “spammy.”
  • Think of those search results as a single-topic magazine focused around something you’re interested in reading more about.
  • Twitter encourages the use of hashtags to categorize messages around common topics and help those Tweets show up more easily in Twitter Search – in turn making the platform more organized and useful for you and me, and allow for more targeted advertising for companies and brands.
  • You now see hashtags being used on Instagram and (finally) Facebook. Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery, right? 😉

I think what oftentimes makes hashtags confusing is that they are over-used and abused, and have become a sort of weird cultural icon for the current generation of Internet users. Originally, they were “created” to serve a very functional purpose – and while they still do – their usefulness is sometimes lost in all the clutter. So keep that in mind when using them.

Other useful hashtag resources straight from the source:

Twitter tells you what hashtags are

Twitter tells you even MORE about hashtags

Final Tips

Profile picture/background image – I know you might be new to Twitter, but before you do anything else, set a picture and a background image. Seriously, it takes five minutes. The egg (Twitter’s default profile picture) is the like a mark of shame.

130805 Twitter Egg

Unlock your profile – I know people have mixed feelings on this, but I really think having a “private” Twitter account is unnecessary. Twitter is an open social platform and the one-way follow ability is one of things that has made the service so popular to begin with, and allows it to differentiate itself from Facebook. Being able to follow professional athletes and CEOs of major companies? Yes, please. Having to essentially ask permission to “follow” someone with a private account makes things feel too closed. I think it makes complete sense on Facebook, but not so much on Twitter. Live on the edge. Open up your account. You can always change it back.

That wraps up Part II! Part III will attempt to tie everything together, and I’ll showcase some real-world use cases for Twitter and how I personally use it on an everyday basis. Check back on Friday for the final piece of the Twitter puzzle!

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