Be a Better Tweeter — A How-to for Beginners

With PodCamp Pittsburgh coming up fast this weekend, I thought I’d write a short post about some Twitter functions and tools available and how they are used.

I remember sitting in a PodCamp session last year (unrelated to Twitter) and a woman asked me what the hashtag was used for and how to send someone a message or DM. If you have been using Twitter for a while, it may not be obvious what the newbies need to know or should know about how to get started with Twitter. And if you are new to Twitter, knowing what some of these functions mean will make your life a lot less confusing and will catch you up to speed so you don’t feel so out of the loop.

1) Hashtag: A method to track conversations about given topics. (Also often used to clarify sarcasm, make a stronger point.)
Example: #pittsburgh #pcpgh5

Using a hashtag before a word will allow people to search for that word on Twitter search. For example, as I type this people are tweeting about the hostage situation at Johns Hopkins and they are using the hashtags #baltimore, #johnshopkins and #jsu for those who are following the story and trying to find out information about their loved ones, who may be working at the hospital.

At PodCamp Pittsburgh 5, we will be using the hashtag #pcpgh5. There will be screens set up that will show all the tweets coming from people who are using that hashtag, so people at the conference can follow other people at the conference, as well as see pertinent information, like what’s for lunch!

Hashtags can also be used to make a clearer point.
twitter hashtag

2) Replies: Using the @ in front of someone’s name will allow you to respond to them, so they can see your tweet in their “replies” column or section of their Twitter account. You can also use this mid-tweet to gain someone’s attention. Careful though – everyone can also “see” this reply in their Twitter stream, if they happen to follow you both, or if they read your Twitter profile. For example:
reply twitter

3) Direct Messages or DMs: This allows you to send someone a message that only they can see. This can ONLY be done if they are following you. If they’re not following you, you’ll have to @them to get their attention, or try a more old-school, traditional approach — like email!

4) Retweets: This is what you do if you like what someone you follow has tweeted and you’d like to also share it with YOUR followers. Retweeting is the heart of social media. For example:
reply twitter

5) OH: Overheard. This is when you tweet something that you actually just heard IRL (in real life).
For example:
overheard tweet explain

6) Twitter Applications: Twitter’s interface isn’t the easiest to see what’s going on — using Twitter apps, either on the desktop or iPhone, make it much easier to interact and socialize, as well as retweet, use URL shorteners, and upload pictures through other Twitter clients, like Plixi or TwitPic.

I generally use TweetDeck or HootSuite on my desktop and Echofon or Twittelator for the iPhone.

7) URL Shorteners: You only get 140 characters, so what to do when a link or URL takes up most of that space? Use a URL shortener like bit.ly or is.gd.

I hope these explanations and tools can make a better tweeter out of you! Let me know what I missed in the comments below. For more advanced users, I blogged a while back on #followfriday etiquette, if you’d like to know what I think about the concept.

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