Twitter: The basics and the ‘need to knows’
Twitter is a community that can be used to join and facilitate conversations.
- Tweet: A 140-character message.
- Retweet (RT): Re-sharing or giving credit to someone else's tweet.
- Feed: The stream of tweets you see on your homepage. It's comprised of updates from users you follow.
- Handle: A handle is the ‘username’ given to anyone who signs up to twitter. (Our name appears as LdnCyclingCampaign and our handle is @london_cycling)
- Mention (@): A way to reference another user by his username in a tweet (e.g. @london_cycling). Users are notified when @mentioned. It's a way to conduct discussions with other users in a public realm.
- Direct Message (DM): A private, 140-character message between two people. You can decide whether to accept a Direct Message from any Twitter user, or only from users you are following. You may only DM a user who follows you.
- Hashtag (#): A way to denote a topic of conversation or participate in a larger linked discussion (e.g. #Space4Cycling, #Cycle). A hashtag is a discovery tool that allows others to find your tweets, based on topics. You can also click on a hashtag to see all the tweets that mention it in real time — even from people you don't follow
You can find more information on Twitter’s online glossary
Signing up to twitter is easy, you need to decide your username (i.e. your ‘handle’ and how it will appear on your profile), write a little bit about yourself in your bio add a profile picture and then start finding some people to follow.
Following and followers
Followers are those who have chosen to follow you (click ‘follow’ on your profile). Unlike facebook or LinkedIN, this does not automatically make you ‘connected’. You will also need to follow those people (and others) in return. Of course, only if you want, just because someone follows you, doesn’t mean you have to follow them too.
The people that you chose to follow will be the ones whose tweets you will see on your feed (homepage). You should select people who you are interested in: friends, those who talk about subjects and issues that you are interested in, etc
Building up followers and finding people to follow can take time, as can getting to grips with using twitter. Two key things are patience and confidence. Enter into discussions that you feel interest you, search using hashtags about subjects you are keen to discuss. For example #Cycling will bring up lots of people from around the world talking about #Cycling. Although it takes time, once you have built up your followers and started following lots of people, you will have a social media channel that it very much tailored to your interests.
Who can see what?
Firstly, it’s important to remember, anyone can see what you post on Twitter unless you have a private/protected account (you can find more information about it here https://support.twitter.com/articles/14016-about-public-and-protected-tweets). It is important to treat twitter as very loud megaphone. Do not say anything that you wouldn’t want other people to see or that’s offensive/upsetting. It’s fine to post about contentious issues, twitter is a great place to start discussions and stimulate debate. As long as those discussions are respectful there’s no problem.
Of course, be aware, not all twitter users follow the same rules!
When sending tweets to followers, the way you structure the tweet will determine who can see it.
If you just send a general tweet:
“Hi, this is my first tweet”
Then this tweet will appear on the homepage feed of all your followers (so people who follow your account). It will NOT be visible to people who you follow.
If you send a tweet that is aimed at another twitter user, or reply to a tweet received by another user (their twitter handle will automatically appear at the start of the tweet when you click reply):
“@anothertwitteruser Hi, nice to meet you!”
This tweet will be visible to those followers that follow both you and the recipient.
If you would like tweets where you mention another user to be visible to all your followers you will need to add a character before the handle. A common way to do this is to use a full stop:
“.@anothertwitteruser Hi, nice to meet you!” But you can insert any characters there:
“Hi @ anothertwitteruser nice to meet you!”.
What to say and how to say it
Treat twitter as a conversation, not a platform in which to make announcements. The key to all successful accounts is to keep it friendly, relaxed and two-way rather than structured, forced and one-way.
Be confident, retweet what you like and don’t be scared to join in the conversations!