At first look, Twitter may seem like just a place to talk about yourself, because it was initially created to do just that. When Twitter was created, its founders wanted everyone to answer the question "What are you doing?" with the hope that the collective consciousness would keep anyone who was interested "informed" about your life. There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter as it can be used for multiple purposes, but we hope to explain below some best practices to help you be most effective.
Watch this video to get an idea of where Twitter has came from and later we will talk about new and better ways of using this social media tool.
As mentioned previously, Twitter was initially used to share information about your life (personal or professional). This was good for a while, but the technology got a bad name, because everyone assumed it was just messages like "I am going to the library," "Mmmm, this coffee is good," "My boss is driving me nuts!" While these types of messages were pretty common, they dissolved over time to give birth to a completely new way of using Twitter.
One of the most powerful ways of using Twitter is connecting with people who share the same interests as you. This goes beyond just personal interests in sports, crafts, and other hobbies. Most of us have jobs and those jobs are in a particular profession and connecting with peers is a sort of professional opportunity to grow and learn. Imagine a continuous conference or expo where you can connect with people, share experiences, and ultimately grow in your field. Behind Twitter are people, and the platform will allow you to tap into the collective knowledge of people with similar interests and expertise.
If you follow the information below, you should be on your way to finding value quickly in Twitter. Like any technology, if you don't use a particular method and follow best practices you are not getting the most efficient use.
- Tweet or write messages no more than 3-4 times per day—you can tweet more often, but you need to be sure that it doesn't annoy your audience and cause them to unfollow you. Check out the tool Qwitter to allow you to track who unfollows you and what message prompted them to take that action.
- Write tweets that ask questions to create engagement. For example, when you share content or give a link ask a question like "What do you think?" You don't need to do this every time, but you should try to do it more more often than not.
- Talk about other people more than you talk about yourself or your organization. That may seem counterintuitive, but if you talk only about yourself it will sound like pure self-promotion. Talking about other people includes retweeing other people's messages and sharing relevant content created by another source.
- Include #hashtags at the end or within each tweet. For example, all Penn State–related tweets should include #pennstate at the end. Hashtags are not case-sensitive, but you may want to adjust the case to make them more readable. Remember there cannot be any spaces in hastags. Hashtags are very useful when you want other people interested in that topic to find you. For example, if you are talking about 4-H, use the hashtag #4H. If you are talking about agriculture or food, use tags like: #ag, #agriculture, or #food. You can use one or more hashtags in a message and we would recommend that you search Twitter to see if other people are using that hashtag too.
- Occasionally add pictures from events and other places that are related to your interests. There are a number of free services like TwitPic and TweetPhoto that allow you to upload photos and have them automatically be sent out on your Twitter stream.
- Go mobile! Twitter works best when you can share information in real time as opposed to when you get back to your computer. There are applications for most phones to allow you to tweet from anywhere. Most of the applications require you to have the Internet on your phone, but if you don't, you can always send tweets via text messages. If you have a phone with a camera you can also send photos to Twitter using a number of applications. To find Twitter applications for your phone, just Google search your phone plus "Twitter application" after it.
- Get a desktop application! You can do most of the features described here directly through Twitter.com, but if can be cumbersome and require more of your time. The most popular Twitter application for desktop is called TweetDeck. TweetDeck allows you to register one or more Twitter accounts through one easy-to-use interface. The application is set up using columns of Twitter streams including your friends (followers), mentions (tweets with your Twitter username in them), direct messages, and any number of custom searches you define. For example, if you are interested in farming and organic, you can create multiple searches in TweetDeck to keep you updated on new tweets containing those words. This is essentially the same method as going to search.twitter.com, but it saves all of your searches for future use. Searches will automatically be updated when someone tweets with the words or criteria you specified.
- Be interesting! Having character, excitement, and being positive will go a long way to help you gain followers. The purpose of Twitter is not all about having the most followers, but people will be more apt to share your content and respond to you if it is interesting. If all of your tweets do not interest your followers, people will get bored and unfollow you. While this sounds completely ridiculous, it happens in the real world. Most of us like to associate or interact with people we find interesting and we enjoy sharing those stories with other people.
- Use a picture of yourself for your Twitter picture. Remember that people are behind Twitter and unless you are a large organization with a logo, you should be yourself and include your photo to establish a human connection with your followers. People will start to associate your photo with your message and this goes a long way to help you build a following.
- Twitter: a free social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets.
- Tweet: text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers. The collection of someone's tweets is called a Twitter stream.
- Followers: People or organizations that have clicked the "follow" button on a Twitter profile page who will now receive your messages.
- Following: A list of Twitter accounts that you subscribed to by clicking the "follow" button on other Twitter pages.
- Hashtags: A word or phrase with no spaces that is prefaced with a # symbol. These are used to categorize a specific tweet, which allows other people interested in that same topic to find you.
- Replies: Anytime someone mentions your twitter name in a tweet using the format @user it is considered a reply or mention. Often if the tweet starts with @username, then the person is replying back to that twitter user. If the @username is somewhere else in the message, then the person is probably sharing content and giving someone else credit.
- Direct message: A direct message is a private tweet that can only be sent between two Twitter users who are both following each other. To send a direct message, you just write a tweet starting with the letter d and then the other person's username. For example: "d agsciences please call me at 555-1212". Note there is no @ in front of the username.
- Retweeting: When you share something on Twitter that someone else said, you are retweeting. Most of the time the message is formatted like "RT @OtherPerson their message" or "Good blog on food > Food Matters http://bit.ly via @OtherPerson". You may need to edit the tweet to get it to fit into 140 characters if it is too long.
- Lists: A method to organize Twitter accounts into topics or groups, which can be kept private or shared with the world. This is helpful when trying to find other Twitter accounts related to a particular topic.
- Favorites: A list of tweets that you or another person found very helpful or interesting. Simply clicking the favorite link on any tweet will save that message as one of your favorites. People are able to look at your favorite tweets and explore their content.
- Search: searching on Twitter is one of its most powerful tools. Visit http://search.twitter.com and search topics to get ideas for appropriate hashtags and to find new people to follow. There are advanced searches in twitter that allow AND/OR logic, and make it possible to narrow down results to geographic locations. Visit the advanced search for more information.
- TwitterFeed.com - Allows automatic posting of your website's or blog's RSS feeds to Twitter and facebook along with custom tagging and URL shorteners.
Check out some of the pages below for more helpful tips.