Dear Tweeps: Some Things You Should Know

OK. I’m enjoying a quiet Sunday evening at home, reading George W. Bush’s excellent memoirs, “Decision Points,” but more on that later. I’m also keeping one eye on Twitter, because I love my tweeps and, I hope, they love me back.

I follow around 550 people, and about 98% of them are computer savvy, social networking savvy and understand how to get the most out of Twitter. The 2%, while fine people, totally suck at it.

This post is for them.

Twitter has grown far beyond its “micro-blogging” roots. When used adeptly, it is a great conversational tool, allowing people to have multi-threaded discussions in a real-time format. It takes approximately five minutes to learn everything you will need to know to get the most from Twitter, so please take the time and do it.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you already know what Twitter is, what the @ symbol stands for, and how to follow or unfollow people.

Here are some tips:

RT – RT stands for “re-tweet.” As you know, Twitter builds a personalized timeline for you based on the people (tweeps) you follow. Similarly, everyone who follows you sees your tweets in their timeline.

Awhile back, Twitter added a built in RT function. Rather than typing “RT @UserName” then copying and pasting the tweet text, you can now just hit the “Retweet” option under a specific tweet, then choose “Yes” to re-tweet it to your followers.

Unless you are going to add text to the tweet, I highly recommend using the newer version (sometimes referred to as a “quick retweet” in third party Twitter applications.) Why? It still has the same effect; all your users will see the tweet, even if they don’t follow the person who originated it. But also, Twitter keeps track of RTs. They show up under the “Retweets” menu, and – should a tweet be RTed by a very large amount of followers – it can be bumped to the top of a search.

It also allows someone vain enough (like myself) to easily see everyone who has re-tweeted something I’ve said, making it easier to thank them, or follow them if I don’t already. Additionally, if the tweet you are re-tweeting is part of a conversation, it allows a user to follow the conversation (see below.) Starting with RT @UserName, then copying and pasting the tweet doesn’t, because Twitter has no idea the two tweets are related.

There is another point to consider here. Say I tweet “@KeitherOlbermann is a douche,” and Mr. Olbermann wants his followers to see it. If he uses the old style, I can then delete my tweet and he will be left hanging, because the two aren’t associated. Of course, he can go through the process of subpoenaing Twitter’s servers (which, I’m sure, keep change logs of all tweets, whether deleted or not), but if he uses the new style RT, it is proof positive the tweet he is re-tweeting is authentic.

If you are going to use the old (RT @UserName: tweet text) style, remember to put the RT first! There is absolutely no point in re-tweeting something if you type it in like this: @UserName RT: Tweet text. No one but the people who follow both of you will ever see it!

Of course, many Twitter users prefer the old style. For simple quotes, or re-tweeting links websites, this works perfectly well.

MT – Modified Tweet – I can’t stress this one enough. After a particularly vicious jerk falsified tweets using the old RT style, making it appear as if people had tweeted things they’d never said, Twitter actually added to its terms of service that it is now a violation of policy to make fake tweets.

We all know Twitter is slow to react to any report of a violation, but one might as well stay within the terms of usage. After all, it is their site, and we all use it for free.

If you are going to substantively change the content of someone’s tweets, please use MT rather than RT. MT indicates the original Tweet content was changed, and it may inspire your followers to take the few seconds it requires to look at the original.

Of course, if you’re going to change “someone” to “sum1” to save your 140 characters, then I personally think RT is fine. But if you’re going to change “I like cheese” to “Billy slaughters goats,” either don’t, or use MT. Mostly, don’t.

.@ – This is the biggest mistake people make when tweeting. They intend a tweet to be seen by all their followers, but then start off with “@UserName.” As in “@UserName should be followed by everyone! She rocks! #FF” No one will ever see this except people who already follow both you and @Username, making the entire tweet pointless.

Putting a non-reserved character at the beginning of the tweet means every one of your followers will see it. It doesn’t matter what the character is, but the convention is to use a period. For instance, “@KeithOlbermann is a douche” will only be seen by people who follow you and @KeithOlbermann, whereas “.@KeithOlbermann is a douche” will be seen by everyone who follows you.

@ replies – When replying to someone, please please oh GOD please use the reply feature on the web page or your favorite app. Don’t copy and paste. Twitter will automatically insert the user name for you at the beginning of the tweet. Of course, this means that only people who follow both of you will see it in their timelines, but it does something much more important.

For a while now, the best Twitter apps have taking advantage of a “conversation tracking” feature of the Twitter database and API. With the advent of so-called New Twitter, people who use the web page can now see conversations, too, regardless of whether they are following all the people involved.

So, if you follow @A and @B, and they have clearly been discussing the newest blog post – say, about what a douche someone thinks Keith Olbermann is, just hypothetically – you can click the little dialogue bubble graphic in the upper right-hand corner of the tweet to find the tweet it is responding to. You can also click a similar bubble on that tweet, etc., going all the way back to the first tweet in the conversation that contains the link to the blog post in question.

Not only does this feature cut down on unnecessary questions (like, for instance, “what the hell are you people talking about?”), but you can trace back a conversation regardless of whether you follow all the people involved or not (unless one of the participants has a “locked” account.) This is a great way to find other people you might be interested in following.

Consequently, it has become something of a Twitter convention to add to a Tweet by replying and adding text onto the end after using separators to indicate what you’re adding. (@UserName tweet text /// My response goes here.)

The slashes, or other separating characters, aren’t required, but it is extremely frustrating when people reply or retweet something someone has written and add onto it without indicating what they’ve added. For example: @UserName I think @KeithOlbermann is a douche but he’s sooooooo sexy vs. @UserName I think @KeithOlbermann is a douche /// but he’s sooooooo sexy.

OK. I needed a bit of eye bleach after typing that, but you get the point.

DMs – direct messages. Twitter is a great combination of CLI and GUI. In other words, you can accomplish all the functions of Twitter by just typing in the tweet text area, but seriously don’t! Sure, you can send a direct message (assuming a person is following you) by simply typing “D @KeithOlbermann you’re a douche!”

Take it from me when I tell you the potential for embarrassment is large. I’ve seen very prominent people accidentally send a direct message to all their followers by forgetting the “D,” or typing a “.” when they meant to type a “D.”

If you’re an extremely competent old-school CLI (command line interface) person, then “D” away. Otherwise, I highly suggest you use the “Direct Message” feature of the web page or your favorite app. I’ve sent my personal phone number via direct message, knowing no one but the intended recipient could see it. I just don’t trust “D @UserName” enough – even though I know it works – to do that.

Let Twitter sort your tweets for you into mentions, messages and your regular timeline. You’ll be happier. And, if you’re the naughty person I suspect you might be, we’ll all be happier not knowing about it.

# – Finally, the hash tag. Hash tags are a great way of categorizing conversations or single tweets into searchable categories. You’ll notice most trending topics begin with the hash tag. Twitter seems to parse every tweet for keywords, but by using hash tags, you make it easier for users to click on that tag and see a timeline of all tweets using that same tag.

One thing to note here: special characters (like $, ‘, *, etc.) break a hash tag, so don’t use them. Also, numbers only hash tags won’t work (#Sept12 = good #912 = bad.)

The funnest part of Twitter is the hash tag joke, or breaking the hash tag rules (see: @JennQPublic, @snarkandboobs and @stephenkruiser). But you have to know the rules before you can break them.

General Etiquette – Obviously, this varies from person to person. Some people call names. Others don’t. Some people swear. Others don’t. Twitter has remarkably broad freedoms and you’d be surprised the level of profanity and personal threat/invective allowed. But there are other rules of behavior.

Don’t spam. Just because I tweeted once about an iPad doesn’t mean I want to hear about your MLM scheme to get yourself a free one. Don’t follow me just because I once tweeted the word “puppies” and you run a dog grooming service. And, for the love of all that is holy, don’t follow me just because you want me to follow you. If you interact with me, I will follow you. Up to that point where we drive each other bat shit crazy because you are Keith Olbermann and I think you’re a douche.

I once made the mistake of going through a very brief period where I opined at my lack of followers. Know what? Once I stopped doing it, I got a hell of a lot more followers! If you’ve followed someone for a while and want that person to follow you back, then try actually talking to them. It’s a wonder what communication will do for you on a website built around … communication.

If you have a second account that you use “secretly” to offend or insult people you’ve had run ins with using your primary account, don’t be surprised to find out people learn of it and block both of you.

Yeah, it’s the Internet. And it’s rife with not only far-left liberals, but people who have yet to hit intellectual puberty. Life is too short to put up with them, so please don’t be one.

All right. So much for my dictatorial social networking pedantry for the evening. Most of you probably stopped reading after the first paragraph, as you know all this stuff. But if you wonder why Twitter doesn’t seem to be working for you, or you are simply new to the game, try some of these suggestions on for size and see how they work.

Happy tweeting!

5 Responses to “Dear Tweeps: Some Things You Should Know”
  1. Alicehankey says:

    Clear and helpful! You confirmed protocols I had worked out but were still guesses really, and explained several things I didn’t know. The old v new “RT” made no sense (I’m new enough on twitter I always had a button for this function) but the CLI details later cleared that up. Thanks!

  2. killtruck says:

    I’ve had a few DM mishaps, but never with anything super secret. When I use tweetdeck I always make sure that after I hit enter the tweet actually goes into the DM column.

    • Heh. I’m reminded of a time in an IRC chat room, when a young man using a CLI client started a very private conversation with his fiancee.

      He was a really super nice guy, but also quite mild mannered and shy.

      Unfortunately, at some point in the “heat” of passion, he forgot to start off his private messages with the requisite “/query” thus sending them all to the chat room, instead of privately to her.

      We tried to get his attention, but by the time he noticed us screaming at him to stop, it was WELL past TMI.

      Poor guy didn’t show himself in there again for almost 6 months.

  3. kelliejane says:

    You read my mind, kind of. You’ll see why later :-)

  4. DCG says:

    Thx for the info…been tweeting a year and learned a couple things here. Still have my “blonde” moments as I’m not real tech savvy :)

    I do know that Keith O is a douche…

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