Twitter 101: The Basics

Twitter 101: The Basics

At the heart of Twitter are “tweets”. Tweets are all of the short messages that are posted to Twitter by registered members. In order to tweet, you must be a registered member- by the way, joining and using Twitter is 100% free. You do not need to register on Twitter as a member if you want to just browse what is being said by any specific user or browse tweets via the search box on the unregistered Twitter homepage. If you are familiar with Facebook, you could equate the running live tweets by Twitter users to your Facebook wall stream with all of our friends. You tweet on Twitter when you post content in the text box on your homepage, under “”What’s happening?”” One other note: there is a 140 character limit on the length of all tweets. The character limit imposed on all of the tweets means you have a limited space to sell the value of the content of what you are sharing. Partly for this reason, Twitter is considered a microblogging service.

“Followers” are Twitter users who subscribe to another user’s tweets. Once you follow another user, their tweets, or status updates, will appear on your homepage’s real-time stream of tweets. For this reason, you want to only follow those individuals who are of interest to you. You can follow or unfollow Twitter users at any time. When you decide to follow another user, that user who you follow will receive an e-mail notification alerting them of your follow status. To initiate a follow request, you need only to visit that specific user’s homepage while logged on to Twitter, and click on the ‘Follow’ button. This same process applies to unfollowing a user and will remove their tweets from your homepage stream.

There is much debate about how many people you should follow. I’ve heard different schools of thought on the matter, but in my opinion, if you’re using Twitter for recreational purposes, you should follow those who tweet information of real interest and value to you. If you are using Twitter for business purposes, there are other strategies I would recommend employing. Twitter has an excellent guide for how to use Twitter for business, so I won’t go too much into depth there.

The importance of your tweets can not be understated. Every time you tweet, you are projecting an image of your business brand or persona. Twitter is inherently a social network. This means that in order to be successful, which is often gauged by the number of followers that have subscribed to your tweets, you must tweet interesting and important information. The 140 character requirement provides you with a unique canvas to manipulate. There are some best practices to follow, here are a few starting points as you compose your first tweets:

  • Use a website address shortener service whenever you tweet. One of the most trusted on the internet is What I really like about is that if you register with their service, you can gain access to analytics for any website that you share. In order to view the number of people who have clicked on your link, simply copy the shortened url and add a””+”” to the end. Also, if you are unsure if a link is safe, use a URL lengthening service to figure out what that shortened URL will take you BEFORE you click on it. One great service I frequently utilize is LongURL.
  • It’s okay to use poor grammar in your tweets- the 140 character limit almost makes you turn into a txtr lvr, almost. By using shorthand slang, you can maximize your messages impact; conversely, you can project a bad image about your brand. I strongly recommend using full phrases whenever possible and avoiding shorthand, except when it falls into small changes like removing extra spaces, punctuation, etc. I often have to resort to using just a few of the following: U=you, Ur=your, 2=to/too/two, 4=for/four, 2day=today.
  • When you tweet, use the hashtag key (the pound sign) to emphasize important keywords. Many users monitor certain hashtags and will find your Twitter profile this way. For instance, if I’m tweeting about the Dream Big Grow Here Cedar Valley $5,000 grant contest, I might include “”#grant”” at the end of my tweet.
  • Most tweets have a set structure that you should follow. This structure is often: catchy sentence, link, hashtag keyword. For example, a good tweet will look like this: Check out our newest blog post over how 2 setup Google Analytics #google

As you use Twitter, it is exceedingly important to be “social.” This means following proper netiquette protocols. The best way to recognize another use on Twitter is to “mention” them in your tweets. Why? When you mention another user, you are publically recognizing them and providing your followers with an opportunity to follow the user who you have mentioned. In order to mention someone, you must use the ‘@’ sign followed immediately by that Twitter member’s username. For instance, if I wanted to recognize The Brand Chef, I would compose a tweet which would include in my tweet @TheBrandChef. Be careful with this, however. Placement of where you put your mention matters.

For instance, if I composed a tweet like @ShaneReiser How are you doing today?, this will appear differently to my followers than if I simply posted, How are you doing today @ShaneReiser?. This is because when you compose a tweet that has a mention of another user at the beginning of your Tweet, you are creating a ‘Reply’. A reply’s effect is just as it sounds; It’s a more private way of communicating with another user. Only users who have opted to follow both you and @ShaneReiser will see this tweet in their homepage tweet stream.

Furthermore, Twitter will allow you to send ‘direct messages’ to specific users who follow you. Direct messages are private to only you and the user who you are sending the message to. In order to send a direct message, you must follow proper convention- this means using ‘d ‘ tweet structure. If I wanted to send a private message to Chris Rouw at Far Reach Technologies, I would compose a tweet that looked like this: d chrisrouw What’s happening?. Chris would receive my message “What’s happening?” in his inbox and could reply- so long as I am following him.

Twitter can be a very exciting and profitable business tool, when used properly. I would first nail down the basics of Twitter through the website (, then look at incorporating 3rd party applications to make life easier. Hands down, I strongly recommend HootSuite for Twitter management. HootSuite can be customized to show you mentions, direct messages, mentions and can be set to show tweets for only certain hashtags, words or phrases.

There’s a lot of information here, so sign up for Twitter, explore all it has to offer and be sure to contact the Iowa Business Concierge if you have any questions!

Rob Williams is a Business Analyst for the University of Northern Iowa

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