A quick guide to Twitter

This blog post is not about why you should be on Twitter, what you should be saying and how you can measure ROI. It’s about all the acronyms and Twitter-speak that makes it so unique.

So in a nutshell, what is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging site.  Put simply it is an online place for conversation. You can say whatever you like about anything you fancy but you have just 140 characters to write it in.

Twitter is a powerful communication tool for:

  • short statements,
  • hyperlinks to a website/ blog,
  • commenting on something someone else has written,
  • posting a picture,
  • messaging someone,
  • searching for a topic and more. 

It is a place for interacting and sharing thoughts and opinions.

Have I lost you already? Look at the screen shots here to help… (download the presentation from SlideShare if it’s too small for you to see)

Twitter Speak:

Profile: this is a 140 character summary of what you’re all about. For example this is mine:

Katie Underhill @katieunderhill
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, UK
Mainly tweeting about marketing and some teaching and learning stuff- anything that takes my fancy, really. All views my own.

The central Twitter feed: All tweets unless protected (hidden) go into the public timeline which is a central feed chronologically listing the millions of tweets per day from across the world. All users and non-users (people who are just visiting the Twitter website) can see the central timeline.

Your own timeline doesn’t show the same as the central timeline. Your own timeline shows your tweets and the tweets of who you are following. It does not show the tweets of your followers unless you are following them too.

Following and followers: You have followers and you follow others. People/ organisations will follow you if you say something that interests them or if you have an offline relationship with them.

Following you means your tweets (the 140 character statements you make) appear in the follower’s feed.  The tweets of people you follow will appear in your feed. You don’t have any control over who follows you unless you protect your tweets and you allow followers when they request it.

You do however, have control over who you follow. You can search for people to follow by topic, name, organisation or other key word. You can unfollow people at any time, for example if their tweets become irrelevant to you or they offend you.   By the same token, your followers can stop following you at any time.

Those pesky acronyms:

DM = Direct Message (a private message sent to or from you- no-one else can see it). DMs do not appear in your feed- you will get an email saying it’s waiting to be read or it will alert you when you next look at Twitter.

RT = Retweet – someone liked your tweet so they repeated it to their own followers.

@ = Your twitter name begins with an @ symbol. It is called your Twitter handle. For example @katieunderhill . Your identity comes up on every tweet. If someone wants to mention you or have a conversation with you they will @message you but everyone can see this and your reply (unless you DM them back)

# tags = used for search, e.g. #glee #skins #housing. Some people make up their own tags like #iwishicoulddrinkstarbuckseveryday

< = indicates an answer or further comment to something you retweet.

#ff = follow Friday = people type #ff then put people’s @ names to suggest that you also follow them as they are good to follow (good etiquette to say why you should follow them rather than just a list of @ names)

Trending = something trends when lots of people are tweeting about it. Sometimes it can be very random like the Yeo Valley advert that premiered during X Factor last year.

Star = marks a favourite. I mark things because it’s something I want to save for looking at later not necessarily because I love them.

URL shorteners = use these if you are linking to a website as they reduce the number of characters in the text but keep the hyperlink. A popular one is http://bit.ly/


You’ll pick up etiquette as you use Twitter but here are my tips:

  • Check your spelling
  • No swearing or offensive language – that’s one sure fire way to hit the headlines in the wrong way!
  • Don’t make tweets so long that they carry on over two tweets- it won’t make sense in the feeds
  • Don’t use too many acronyms like ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) etc unless it’s accepted that everyone gets it
  • Don’t have too many @message conversations with followers/ followees because it gets boring for all your other followers
  • Give credit where it’s due through retweets, mentions etc
  • Use DM for private messages!
  • If you’re posting a link to something say what it is, why people would want to click on it
  • Same for #ff – say why your followers should follow the people you recommend.

I hope this helps! Leave a comment if I’ve missed anything out…


One thought on “A quick guide to Twitter

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