Given recent-ish changes to Twitter I figured the Christmas lull was a good time to update my guide to using Twitter, which I originally posted in Aug this year. It’s intended for BBC Vision’s producers (so edited to make sense for the outside world), but might not be a terrible place to start for other folk too.
This post covers:
- How Twitter works
- A bluffer’s guide to tweeting
- Best practice
- Hints and tips
- Twitter tools
How Twitter works
Everything you post is public (unless you have a protected account). When people follow you, all of your tweets get put into their main (“home”) view along with tweets from all the other people they follow, like this. This list will update when people who you follow post tweets.
If you click on someone’s name (including your own) you see all of their tweets. People can reply to tweets, such as Autumnwatch have done with the 2nd tweet here.
And people can rewteet (or “RT”) things other people have said in order to share things they think are interesting with their followers, as Autumnwatch have done in the first tweet above. Click on the “@yourname” and “retweets” links on the right of your home screen to see what people have said to you and whether you’ve been retweeted. Things you retweet and reply to get shown to your followers.
Bluffer’s guide to Tweeting
- Replies – You can reply to any tweet by simply clicking “reply” when hovering over the tweet and then writing your reply.
- Mentions – Typing @ followed by someone’s username within your tweet will automatically bring the message into their replies page so that they should see your messages.
- Retweets – If you see a great tweet and think your followers will be interested in it then share it! Simply hover over the interesting tweet and click on the “retweet” link that appears. If you want to add your own thoughts to the tweet, and there’s space to do so, you can use the old way of retweeting where you copy and paste the tweet into the input box and put RT @ followed directly by their user name so that they can see you’ve done it, like this.
- Direct messages – These are the only things which are private on Twitter. A direct message is one that only you and the person you send it to can see (or vice versa). It’s private and doesn’t go into anyone’s activity stream, but you get an email when you receive one. Saying that, don’t forget you’re using a professional account!
- Favourites – You can favourite posts on Twitter, but in truth this is a largely ignored function, although possibly useful for official BBC accounts who want to pull in user activity to other spaces and use favouriting to editorially select what appears.
- Following/blocking people – When you follow someone an email is sent to their registered email address. If someone dubious follows you you can block them from your account (link on the right hand side when viewing their page).
- # tags – People simply use these to group content together as Twitter itself didn’t build such a function when it launched. You might type “#licencefee” to tag your post with others on the same topic. Here are a few pros and cons around using them:
- These are valuable when lots of different people might comment on a topic which isn’t contextualised in their post otherwise i.e. “Just spotted loads of smoke #sohofire”.
- However, they do take up valuable characters and Twitter does offer natural language search, so they aren’t necessarily more useful than including “soho fire” in your comment.
- Sometimes they do become fashionable, and as they create a unified way for people to contextualise the topic of their post (rather than lots of similar words), they can help to bring your topic up in Twitter’s “trending topics” area.
- However, topic driven Twitter accounts like ones that the BBC often offers are the hub for activity around a topic anyway, Eurovision for example, so in this case it’s not really necessary to use a hashtag a lot because people know what you’re writing about.
- Doing so occasionally might help new followers find you, but doing so in every comment might become tedious for your followers.
- Hashtags can also act as a shorthand for a long topic title, such as #scd instead of “strictly come dancing”, therefore using less characters.
- They might sound complex, but don’t stress about them, they’re not of huge importance either way.
- It’s a conversation… Reply to interesting points which people make. Better still, contextualise what someone says to you in your reply if possible. This means that people following you get what you’re talking about. Retweet the best things on your particular subject using the RT functionality or convention (see below for retweeting).
- But it does need to be interesting… It’s fairly common to see people dissing Twitter with the “I don’t care what you had for breakfast” complaint. Like any content, it’s all in the quality of the writing. Keep it short (obviously), keep it interesting, keep it conversational, keep it professional (only point to things and talk about things which you’d be happy to see featured on bbc.co.uk). There are all sorts of really creative and informative uses of Twitter, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a boring place, it’s not, it’s bursting with craziness and clever folk – check out this page on Mashable to find some yourself: http://mashable.com/category/twitter-lists/
- You need to decide who to follow… It’s Twitter convention that people follow everyone who follows them, but as UK Twitter usage is increasing it’s wise to check whether your new followers are marketing something or less than desirable characters. But remember how nice it is when Stephen Fry follows you back, being followed by someone you’ve followed is a compliment.
- You need to make it clear who is posting… We recommend the “Britney model” as a great naming convention. If there’s more than one of you Tweeting on an official account it’s useful for followers to see who has posted what by putting your name or initials at the end of your tweet. With Britney Spears followers will be much more interested if they know it’s really her sometimes, and it is… check out @britneyspears
- What’s your name? Make your name obvious, short and as pretty looking as possible. Some Twitter names look ugly or are hard to type from a mobile – write it down, type it out, see what seems clearest.
- Who are you? Twitter gives you a 160 characters to write a bio in. This should include your name/s and something about the account, for example @bbc_sytycd. Twitter also verifies some accounts to prove to users that they are run by the person they say they are. They currently only do it for Twitter royalty really (e.g. @stephenfry etc.
- Search Click “find people” in Twitter’ top nav to search for people. On your home screen use the “search” input box to search for content on Twitter, or go to search.twitter.com for advanced searching.
- Lists are a way to group people who tweet. You can start your own list/s, follow other peoples’ lists or be included in other peoples’ lists. For example @bbcstrictly is listed in all these lists and they follow these lists, and the lists which start @bbcstrictly are ones that they have created.
Hints and tips
- Try and make your tweets even shorter than 140 characters so that people can easily retweet you. Aim for 130.
- If you post a link (and you should, links are currency on Twitter, be generous with them) and it doesn’t automatically shorten you can use a shortening service, pick one from here, they’re easy to use - http://www.toprankblog.com/2009/01/11-best-url-shortening-services-vote-your-favorite/ Some services such as bit.ly offer stats around click-throughs too.
- Be frequent and timely, that’s part of what Twitter is all about.
- Search for terms which are directly related to you i.e. search Twitter for positive mentions of “Springwatch” if you’re looking for new Springwatch people to follow. Searching Twitter is made significantly easier when you have a unique brand name such as “springwatch” compared to “being human”.
- There are various ways to tweet. Tweet directly on the site. Register your mobile to send texts (making sure you stay within the character limit!). Or use a Twitter Application (aka Twitter Client).
- There are literally hundreds of twitter tools which allow you to do all sorts from posting pictures to administrating your account as effortlessly as possible. Start discovering them here http://delicious.com/tag/twitter+tools
But the best way to learn about Twitter is simply to use Twitter. Start your own account, start posting and following people and it all starts to make a bit more sense.