A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter

TwitterI’m still amazed at how many CEOs and executives are still not on social media. Even more shocking is the percentage of people who are on social media who have no idea how to use it. I found myself making social media cheat sheets for client after client – especially for Twitter – and thought I’d write a post on Twitter basics to direct them to. At Sterling, we encourage our clients to be social, but only after the proper training, of course, to avoid gaffes like this and this.

Hashtags vs. Handles

A hashtag (#) is used to denote a conversation topic or what a particular tweet pertains to. Anyone can use or create a hashtag, and they are searchable. Say you’re looking into what’s being said about the Grammy’s, type #Grammys2013 in the search bar and every tweet using that tag will come up for your viewing pleasure. Twitter search is getting more advanced, so you can now do a one-word search without a hashtag and Twitter will pull all tweets containing that word. Hashtags cannot contain special characters (‘,$^& etc.). If you include these, your hashtag will stop before the special character. When using a hashtag containing multiple words, it’s best to capitalize the first letter of each word to help readers distinguish where one word starts and the other begins.

Handles (@) are Twitter usernames and can therefore only be owned by one person. Include handles when you want to engage a person or brand in conversation or when you want to attribute an article, quote or media to someone.

For example: A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are 26 of them: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori @Buzzfeed provides 26 #cats for every occasion #ILoveCats

The article is from Buzzfeed, and I’ve associated it with the topic of cats through the hashtags.

Pro tip: Place the link in the middle of the tweet because it usually garners more clicks than placing the link at the end. Sometimes, due to character constraints, it can’t be avoided.

Oh, did I mention all of this stuff –hashtag, handle and link– have to fit into 140 measly characters?!

Starting a tweet with a handle

Whenever you start a tweet with a handle, you are indicating that you are having a private conversation with whichever user you are tweeting to, and others are not exactly welcome to jump in. Tweets that start with handles can only be seen by those following BOTH the person tweeting and the person mentioned in the tweet. Since Twitter is a platform for conversation, this probably is not your intention. So, how to do you make the tweet public? Start your tweet with a period and then use the handle (.@), and it will be public and your tweeps will know that their input is welcome.

Example: .@Buzzfeed’s got 26 #cats for you for every occasion: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori Nothing says it quite like a gif #Kitties

RT vs. MT

Ok, so you’re down with the link and handle placement. “What now,” you’re asking. “What the heck are RT and MT?” RT stands for retweet. You use this when you like what someone has to say, and you want to share it and possibly add your own two cents.

For example: No more awkward emails, send gifs! RT @Buzzfeed 26 #cats for every occasion: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori 

You can also retweet without adding your own thoughts by either clicking retweet or throwing an RT in front of the tweet and adding the authors handle.

Example: RT @Buzzfeed 26 #cats for every occasion: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori 

Pro tip: If you’re participating in a Twitter chat (a conversation that takes places on a certain hashtag), your tweet will not show up in the feed if you click retweet; you have to add the RT like in the example above.

MT stands for modified tweet and is used when you want to retweet something that someone said but you make changes to it (probably for length).

Example: This is awesome guys! MT @Jazzpatron A pic is worth 1000 words: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori @Buzzfeed provides 26 #cats 4 every occasion #ILoveCats

The above tweet had to be modified for length in order for the retweeter to add his or her statement, so it is not a retweet, but rather, a modified tweet.

The most important thing to remember is that social media is supposed to be SOCIAL. Twitter is not a platform for you to blast out a bunch of messages (you won’t get followers that way). So, in summary: less of this —–> TwitterBird       and more conversation.

Now you’re armed and ready for the wide world of Twitter! Here’s a handy list of what you should and, more importantly, shouldn’t tweet about and a Twitter jargon reference guide – what does HTML even stand for anyway…?

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron