Basics of Twitter

Twitter, when used effectively, is an extremely quick way to find and share information. The nightly TV news – God bless them – can’t stop reporting what’s happening in Twitterland, because more often than not, it’s where things happen, or happen first.

Yet here we are a few years into the revolution and I continue to find people who want to understand Twitter, some even want to be part of it, but they haven’t joined up. From what I can tell, these happy but misguided people fall into three categories; sceptical or ignorant or both.

So, here is my concise contribution to resolving that.

(I won’t spend any time here going into why or what you would tweet. I believe that once people have spent any time using Twitter, these questions appear as silly as the idea we would all sign up just to tweet what we’re eating.)

When getting started on Twitter, there are three important things to know.


Your username is your nickname within Twitter. Everyone can see it, and, like your profile picture, it helps define your Twitter identity.

To send a tweet to someone in particular, put their @username at the start of the tweet.

When you ‘mention’ someone this way, this appears on their Twitter page – or their ‘timeline’ – but not on the timeline of anybody else. (The exception to this is if someone is following both of you.)

It means that if you and I have a conversation, as if we were using text messages, most people won’t need to read our stream of comments, and would never come across it, unless they went looking for it. Available but not entirely public.

So, don’t be afraid to have a conversation or send people tweets, as these are generally unseen by your followers.

Twitter also offers the option of sending messages visible to everybody. So if you have something of interest to say, you don’t need to put anybody’s @username at the start of your tweet. Just gi ahead and broadcast.


Direct Messages
The other way to tweet is direct messaging. This is a private message sent via Twitter between two people following each other. It is the only way to keep tweets private. While you can’t prevent the recipient of your direct message from sharing it more widely, this rarely happens. For me, this is the main way Twitter is replacing email. But more on that another time.

‘RTs’ are the main way people re-share content. A retweet has less gravitas than a forwarded email. It’s best to imagine an RT as a forwarded email sent with a subject line FYI (For Your Information). That said, choose careful what you retweet to avoid it becoming spammy. Some of Australia’s most prolific tweeters retweet up to fifty tweets per day. Because I could, I tweeted them to let them know they were overdoing it. Sure, they ignored me, but I’d got it off my chest.(Don’t actually know if they read my whingey tweet. But still.)

The major concern people have with retweets is the fear that you are endorsing whatever is in the original tweet. This, to me, is a moot point for individuals but a serious issue for brands.

As a person, I can post a photo of graffiti without anyone suspecting I had painted it. Some who see my tweet may think I like the graffiti. Others who know me better will realise it’s just me highlighting how our city is going to rack and ruin. I don’t particularly mind either way but it’s not the best way to tell people what you think is appropriate or funny. It IS a great way to show people something you think others need to see.

For brands, the danger of being seen to condone various points of view must be taken much more seriously. That’s one reason it is safer to retweet with context.


Retweets with Added Value
I believe re-tweets are much more valuable if you take a moment to add a comment, a thought or some context to the content of your re-tweet. Where possible, I include a salient fact I gained from the article, or the statistic that surprised me most. Sometimes I even grab a quote that summarises the main thrust of the article.

Sure, it’s not as quick as hitting re-tweet, but it does help explain to people why you’re sharing what you’re sharing, and solves the problem of whether a re-tweet constitutes endorsement.

Now, go get tweeting, and tweet me your complaints or questions. I promise to read them. I may even retweet them.

Filtering, favourites, lists and real clout on social media


Social networks need filtering. If this issue is not sorted soon, places like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest could eventually become ghost-towns. (It could happen. Do you really think you’ll be posting this often in the same places in five or ten years?)

Imagine if 80% of posts in your feed were the gold you want to respond to, the ones you’ll laugh at, the posts you actually want to read. Of course, we still need at least 20% to be slightly irrelevant so distract/potentially inspire us.

That’s the well-filtered world we could be living in now, if we could just figure out who to follow, who to prioritise and how to manage it all.

Currently, networks like Facebook present us with more options than a food court.

Friends, Photos, Events, Apps, Lists, Subscriptions, Groups, Pages and soon Timeline Advertisements… It’s an untameable beast.

We require simple, effective filtering to
lessen the burden of just maintaining what was once so enjoyable to engage with.


To this end, the idea of measuring clout – to show who are the most influential people on a social network – could be endlessly useful.

I’ve seen many stories about why is feted as a measure of social capital. And it does seem a vaguely accurate marker – however easily manipulated.

But I have read other claims it’s based on a misnomer. After all, say the critics, “how do you define influence?”

Here’s how… Lists. Twitter Lists.


Do you add anyone to your Twitter lists who you don’t respect? It takes longer than to follow someone, and you only look at it for a specific purpose, not while window-shopping on your general twitter feed.

I am on about 60 people’s lists, because I have little influence. (It’s ok. I don’t feel bad.)

Barack Obama is listed 170,271 times. And rightly so.

Secondary to how many times you are listed, is who has you listed. Do they have many followers? Are they listed many times? This could also form a way for Twitter to select top posts. Currently, that algorithm seems hooked on a user’s number of retweets and follower numbers.

Mashable says that there’s a need to quantify someone’s ‘reach, relevance and resonance’ to measure their social influence accurately. (Read more of this dubious claim.) However, influence is dependent on subjective reasons too, like likeability – for example, Barack Obama is of much less influence to you if you are a Republican, or if you live in Iceland.


Just a quick note on this much ignored feature of Twitter. I love them as a bookmark, as something to retweet or reply to later… They have many uses. But… they’re UNPROTECTED.

I can look at your favourites, you can look at mine. This astounds me. Can you see my browser bookmarks? No. Yet, without even logging into Twitter , I can see that;

  • Demi Moore has added to her favourites a string of tweets about cheating and moving on from mistakes
  • TV Newsreader Pete Overton likes to add a favourite star to compliments of himself (admittedly, something many of us probably do).
  • PM Julia Gillard used to save criticisms of her staff
  • Singer Rihanna favourites 140-character profane mantras (to turn into songs?)
  • Broadcaster Mark Colvin (@Colvinius) stars what are probably research for future stories
  • Model and TV personality Sarah Murdoch has two favourites – and one is just creepy.
  • ABC Managing Director Mark Scott saves stories related to the changing face of journalism
  • Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has saved just one tweet to his favourites – and it is one of his own. “@ozleaks Didn’t see the programme but, yes, humans have evolved”
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