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Using Twitter Correctly and Effectively

There’s no right or wrong way to use Twitter, but the experience you get from it depends greatly on what you put into it. It has arguably become a new medium in and of itself, and as in any pathfinding venture, there are no rules. There is, however, a quasi-established etiquette, and, quite simply, a better way to use it.

The Restrictions Make it Special

140 characters. Only 140 charcters. Sounds ominous, but when used properly this is the haiku of the Interwebs—short, simple, concise updates that are not only easier to dish out but, in the big picture, easier to read when put together with all the other ‘tweets’ in the Twitter ‘verse. Write what you want to say, then look it over and see if there is any redundant phrasing or longer words where a shorter one will do. Keep in mind it’s 140 *characters* and not 140 letters, so drop unnecessary spacing or formatting and get used to ampersands instead of ‘and’, writing numbers as their numerals in lieu of one, two, three, etc..

This is not an excuse for TXTSpeak, though thousands of unfortunate people think so. This is a public forum, and poor spelling, grammar, or the laziness of “U R GR8″ does nothing but make you look like an idiot. That being said, there are some conventions that save both time and character count, or even imply mood or tone with only a few letters.

  • LOL – Laugh Out Loud
  • ROFL – Rolling on the Floor Laughing
  • [awesomeness]FTW – For The Win, simply great (or conversely, FTL = For the Loss)
  • FAIL – Just all around bad
  • FTR – For the Record
  • FYI – For Your Information
  • IMHO – In My Humble Opinion
There are some other beneficial restrictions as well. Once you post, it’s posted for the whole world to see. There is no ‘undo’ button as even those deleted will show up under search results. While you can delete a tweet, it’s primarily to tidy up your own stream. This forces the wonderful habit of (*gasp*) rereading what you write and thinking about it before you post. Proofing your own work 140 characters at a time is one of the best habits to get into.

Fine aRT of the ReTweet

This is perhaps the most confusing to TwitterNoobs, as it is something unique to Twitter. RT or ReTweet is a way to reiterate something somebody else said, or to respond to them with inline quoting; all with the purpose of sharing what they said with your followers, or others who may not be following the original tweeter.

The side benefit is the validation—as if someone else has replied “I agree, and I wish I had said that, so I practically am.” One measure of success for a tweet is just how often it’s retweeted. This is the carrier of breaking news, of particularly insightful or hilarious conversation, or sharing links or other information that would be helpful to others.

RT Format Formula

[response, if applicable] RT [full @username] – “This is the awesomeness you want to share” (via @username) [att: @username]
  • response: If you’re using RT to reply with inline quote, this is where your input goes. Yes, it’s backwards, but all of Twitter is in reverse chronological order, and this helps separate what you said from what they said. If there’s space, it’s also a way to put your own spin on the Tweet, adding your own insight.
  • RT: This is what signifies the ReTweet, ’nuff said.
  • full @username: Make sure you include the *correct* username. Copy & paste if you have to, as there’s nothing worse than misquoting someone else’s brilliance. By making sure you include the @, you also make it a link to that person and brings attention to that person as a ‘mention’. Retweeting and being retweeted are some of the best ways to find new people to follow or net new followers.
  • post content: This is the most important part, as this is the whole point for the RT. It is preferable to leave it intact, exactly as it originally appeared. In some cases you may need to trim it down to make the addition of the RT formatting, but only if you have to. It is also more acceptable to swap out ‘you’ for ‘U’ or other textspeak, if it means leaving more of the post as it originally appeared. Whether or not you correct the person’s spelling or grammar is up to you; if it seems it was a simple mistake, go ahead and change it, but make sure it’s not a stylistic choice by the author (ie InterWebs).
  • (via @username): This is the second degree of RT, ReTweeting someone else’s ReTweet. Rather than clutter up the whole beginning of the tweet with “RT @username 1 RT @username 2, keep it simple. The RT @username should be the original author of the post, while the via @username lets you acknowledge who shared the RT with you, or how you found it in the first place.
  • att: @username: If you want to bring special attention to a RT, or any post for that matter, this helps the post show up in their ‘replies’ or ‘mentions’ column and doesn’t confuse their name with any of the others mentioned.

Following and Unfollowing

This is not Facebook. If Facebook is for all the people you used to know, Twitter is for the people you’d like to get to know. Don’t limit yourself to only your friends on Twitter. The ratio I generally use is that you should be following half the amount of people that are following you. Obviously at first you’ll be following more than follow you, but this is the ratio to work towards. Don’t feel obligated to follow those that follow you (aka the ‘followback’), as they may be more interested in what you have to say than you are in what they have to say. Your Twitter stream is real time, and the last thing you want is too many people cluttering up the works so that you only see five-minute intervals of what people are saying, or someone gumming up the works with gibberish and nonsense.

Following and unfollowing is healthy, and encouraged. Follow new people based on a single random tweet and see if they’ve got anything else interesting to say. I usually check out their full Twitter feed first, as sometimes it is just a fluke, but there may be a common thread of shared interests that starts with Battlestar Galactica and spreads out to gardening and cooking. That being said, it doesn’t always work out, so it’s not the end of the world to unfollow. People’s taste or topics of conversation change, and someone vastly interesting last month may be boring as all hell today. If they end up posting more interesting tidbits later, follow them again.

Twitter is based on organic communities that grow around the individual. This, more than anything else, keeps it viable, constantly evolving, and helps keep Twitter’s bubble from bursting.


Twitter is also the world’s newest, fastest news source, the caveat being that ‘fact-checking’ sometimes goes by the wayside. Whether it’s current events, the latest revolutions and revelations, or simple updates on what vastly interesting people are doing, fill your Twitter stream with people who are interesting and people in the know. Not following enough people (or enough of the right people) is a waste of the medium. Twitter is the zeitgeist—very much the NOW for millions all over the world.

Fishing for RT or @reply?

When it comes to your post, think quite simply whether you would rather it be replied to, or ReTweeted. This will ultimately change the format of the finished Tweet, and also help give that particular Tweet a purpose. If you’d like a reply, pose it as a question. Take a bias, and make the post more interesting by making a declarative statement. Direct it to a specific person, and engage the instant communication aspect of Twitter. This aspect of Tweeting is one of its strongest features, so it is imperative to engage other people. There’s a ‘no strings attached’ mentality to Twitter conversations that I enjoy. This isn’t IM, so you don’t have to respond instantaneously. If the statement doesn’t necessitate a response, or you simply don’t want to respond…. don’t. As a courtesy, don’t clutter up other people’s feeds with unnecessary short responses like “@username ;)” or “@username Yup.“Either make it more interesting or leave it as an assumed response.


When fishing for an RT, keep the length in mind with the finished product. Since ReTweeters are going to have to add “RT @username”, keep the tweet shorter than other tweets. 140 characters minus “RT @yourusername” = about 125 characters (you’ll notice that almost all Twitter clients have a ‘characters remaining’ feature as you type). If you keep it just a little bit shorter, you can also make sure they have enough room to add their responses as well.

Hashtags ands TwitterMemes

#Hashtag. In the old days of Twitter, this was simply a way to bring more weight to a word or phrase to make it more easily searchable. While that particular aspect is less important nowadays, as the modern Twitter search makes them redundant, hashtags are still widely used to group tweets together, to link conversations, or to add a general tone or category to your own tweet. Use it yourself, to keep posts you make on a particular topic easier to find and read.

#WritingTips – – Abuse of the english language 140 characters at a time.

A collection of tweets joined under a single hashtag is a Twitter Meme. A number of hashtags are accepted and used, with the purpose of grouping together conversations about a specific topic. #FollowFriday is a long standing tradition to recommend people you follow to others. Comedic trends like #1stDraftMovieLines or #FailedChildrensBookTitles have anyone interested adding to an instantly growing compendium of humour. Adding a # to a movie or book title will help define it as such (and even underline it in most Twitter clients), thus #LOST can be easily identified as being about the show Lost.

Hasthtag Nuances

AlphaNumeric only – special characters, or spaces will ‘break’ the hashtag – #MakeSureItAllStaysTogether
Capitalizing – each word helps keep it readable, while still maintaing the hashtag - #betterthanthismess
Style – use hashtags to add a particular style, just a little bit of jazz to an otherwise uneventful tweet – #StyleAlwaysCounts
Context – sum up an entire phrase to express mood or feelings while saving precious characters. – #TooOldForThisShit

Sharing Links

Shortened addresses (or in NetSpeak: ‘URLs’) are important, and more aesthetically pleasing. Shortened URLs take up less space, ideally less than 10 characters altogether, and in today’s day and age of auto-generated news feeds addresses and the like, the more unruly ones can reach 40 or 50 characters easily. Twitter will by default shorten URLs that are above a certain length, but will do so blindly so I suggest you use one of the 100s of link shortening services available. Since proofing your own tweets is imperative, it must be in its completed form before you post. Also make sure you describe the link you’re sharing, as nobody should ever follow blind links. Use the title of the page you’re linking to, or describe it with a catchy and clever description of your own.

Essential Tools

URLbarEXT –  Very handy add-on for Firefox
URL Shortening Services -
TweetDeck, Seesmic, and many other Twitter clients have an inline feature.

How to get more followers on Twitter

Say something interesting! It’s that simple. Any other method for getting hundreds of new followers in only a couple of clicks is a scam, and counter-productive.

Bottom Line: You get out of it what you put into it. The more you use Twitter, and the better you use it, the better the experience.

Follow @FLIMgeeks for more delicious Twitter Awesomeness


Also see: Mashable’s Guide to Twitter

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