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@WhatTheHeckIsTwitter: A Guide to that “Twitter” Thing

twit-head

By now, most of you have probably heard of a little thing called Twitter. People everywhere are talking about it: on the nightly news, late-night talk shows – it’s even recently caused troubles in, ah, celebrity relationship paradise a la Maniston.

As I’ve been using it for the better part of a year, both personally and via @thehiringsite, I’ve become pretty familiar with the medium. I am, however, by no means an “expert/guru/evangelist” and I tend to shudder at those who proclaim to be, because really, we’re all learning about social media together. I also don’t want to tell you how to use or not use Twitter, because everyone uses it for their particular purposes. But I would like to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way; I hope these bits of information will help you quickly learn the ropes of Twitter and get comfortable with your style of tweeting, following, and the like.

Who’s on Twitter?

The Twitter world is full of a wide spectrum of users –those who tweet humorous little “stories” or anecdotes; the social media “gurus,” the engagers; the celebs; the “I treat Twitter like an IM chat room” types; the marketers; the information sharers; the one-sided users; the thought-provokers –the list goes on and on.  Not surprisingly, the array of users you find on Twitter is strikingly similar to the diverse mix of people you are in contact with in everyday life. These users, as do your real-life contacts, also likely fall into different levels: real-life friends (what are those?!), business contacts with whom you like to talk shop,  those with whom you passively interact, and on and on.

The best part is that every digestible bit of information that these massively different Twitter users share, also called a “tweet,” comprises just 140 characters or less. Pretty amazing.

Oh, and did I mention that you can find all CareerBuilder-related Twitter accounts in one place?

Twitter Origins

Twitter got its start just about three years ago, in March 2006. According to the company, its user base has grown 900 percent in the last year alone. That’s some serious growth.

As Gregory Lamb notes in an article on Christian Science Monitor, “In a Twitter-fied world, no one ever need feel alone or unconnected.” The article mentions that when Twitter debuted in 2006, it was brushed off as “the latest narcissistic way to waste time online.”  Even now, naysayers (some of my own friends come to mind) are dubbing Twitter as nothing but an online tool full of narcissists. Yet, Twitter is growing at breakneck speed, and many of its recent uses are anything but narcissistic.

For example, Twitter broke the news of the Hudson River plane crash earlier this year, reporting the news about 15 minutes before the mainstream media. Twitter users were also tweeting constant updates during the terror attacks in Mumbai last year, providing each other with new bits of information and organizing the info with hashtags for easy referencing.

Here’s a few things you should know about Twitter:

  • It’s free (there’s talk of paid corporate accounts, but we haven’t seen anything yet).
  • It’s public. Whatever nugget of information you write and send out as a tweet is completely and totally public. It’s searchable on the Internet and viewable by anyone. It can be grabbed from Twitter and written about on someone’s blog, for example. Keep this in mind, and use your best judgment.
  • You can access Twitter either through the Web or through a mobile device if applicable (there are a myriad of Twitter applications for the iPhone alone).
  • Even if you do not have Internet access on your phone, you can text messages to Twitter that will appear as tweets. They will appear in your feed as they normally would. Simply turn on your mobile device alerts, text your message (in 140 characters or less) to 40404 and it will appear as a tweet.

Twitter Definitions, a.k.a. You Want Me to Retweet What?!

@ symbol – When you want to reply to someone, you use the @, or “at,” symbol. You can easily reply by clicking the arrow icon to the right-hand side of any user’s tweet (it’s right below the star icon). When you click this, you will automatically be taken to your text box and @Name will be auto-populated for you. Conversely, you may manually place the @ symbol before the person’s Twitter name at the beginning of your tweet, like so:

That Twitter user will get your reply in their “Replies” area, and they can then reply back to you. Keep in mind that when you reply to someone, all of your followers (and anyone reading the public Twitter stream or doing a Twitter search) can see your tweet. It is still a public tweet. If you want to send a private message to someone, you can send them a Direct Message in your “Direct Messages” area. And a word on sending auto-Direct Messages to your followers: Just. Say. No.

Retweeting – Retweeting, in Twitterland, is essentially giving someone else credit for their tweet or their idea (which they’ve tweeted). It works like this. When someone tweets something and you want to broadcast it out to all your followers/repeat it/spread the word, you “retweet” it as one of your tweets, and you write it like so:

I want to retweet this. So I write:

It’s as simple as that. RT is the abbreviation, add a space, write @Name, and then that user’s tweet.

Hashtags – Represented by the # sign, “hashtags” are simply a way for twitter users to mobilize, organize, and easily connect to important news, conferences, and other events. You can add existing hashtags to any of your tweets, or you can create your own.

If you are attending a conference, for example, it’s quite possible that a hashtag has already been created. Attendees of the recent SXSW conference in Austin (including myself) followeed SXSW-related stream of tweets by searching for and using the #sxsw hashtag at Twitter Search. Bookmark that search page – if you’re on twitter, you’ll be using it a lot. Lastly, Tagalus is a new site that allows users to define tags — and check for already-established tags. Check it out.

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Follows/Unfollows – The beauty of Twitter is that you can follow anyone you like (unless they have a private feed, in which case you must request/be accepted to follow first). It’s likely that you won’t know the majority of the people you follow on Twitter in “real life,” but that’s okay. Actually, it’s encouraged.  If you don’t want to follow someone’s tweets, you simply don’t follow (or unfollow, as the case may be) them. Viola.

I have found that everyone has different methods of following. Some follow back everyone who follows them; others follow almost no one at all. Not surprising that some users are very engaged, and others are involved in a very one-sided conversation (their tweets only). This is up to you, and I’ll get into the business side of Twitter in another post (as I think the rules shift a bit), but I have found that eventually, you get into a rhythm. You create your Twitter world based on those you follow. You may choose to follow people who engage, inspire, or teach you. Those you follow may be solely comprised of fitness experts, if that’s what you’re into. Or you may just follow users who make you laugh all day. Either way, over time, you will likely mold your Twitter stream into those people and those things you are most interested in. And that’s a great thing.

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Blocking/Spam — Occasionally, you will get requests from spam Twitter accounts. You’ll usually know these straight away, because these types will have one tweet about “I made a ton of money online and you can too! Click here!” But sometimes, spammers won’t be so obvious right away. Use your judgment, and if someone is spamming or harassing you, you can block them in two ways: 1) directly from the user’s Twitter page, 2) via your followers list. Just hit “block” and Twitter will confirm.

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You’ll also notice that Twitter is very much a community, and its users are vigilant about spammers. If you come across a spammer, you can block the user. If enough users block someone, Twitter admin will suspend the account. So, community involvement does matter. You can also follow @spam and direct message them with the Twitter offender’s name, and the @spam account will report the spammer.

Additional Resources to get you started:

A few great URL shorteners/snippers:

  • http://tr.im
  • http://bit.ly
  • http://is.gd

TwiTip — Darren Rowse’s site dedicated to Twitter tips and tricks

The Ultimate Guide to Everything Twitter — this is a really comprehensive and excellent guide

Twitter Tutorial for Newbies (a video)

Twictionary: A Wiki Dictionary for Twitter or Twittonary: A Twitter Dictionary

Twittermania: 140+ More Twitter Tools!

Stay tuned for my next Twitter post: On What Twitter means to your business

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.
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  2. Trackback says:

    Like it

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  4. online says:

    … [Trackback]

    [...] Read More here: thehiringsite.careerbuilder.com/2009/04/09/whattheheckistwitter-a-guide-to-that-twitter-thing/ [...]

  5. Trackback says:

    Thank you

    How can I have updates of new blog posts from my blog being automatically posted on my Twitter?

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