Twitter Crash Course

Of all the social media tools out there, Twitter is probably my favorite to use.

Last week, I touched briefly on utilizing Twitter to enhance our online identities. Now that we have our Twitter accounts (and under our name, not a nickname), it’s time to start using them to our advantage. Remember, Twitter is like a global conversation — one that is going to connect us with potential readers, other writers and people who work in the industry (literary agents and publishers).

For those of us who are familiar with Twitter, this post may just be a review about how Twitter works. Still, we might be surprised and learn something. For the rest of us who aren’t Twitter junkies, this post will be a life saver. It will save time from making rookie mistakes and teach us not only how to use Twitter, but how to use it to its potential.

The Character Limit
One of the biggest challenges new Twitter users face is the 140-character limit. That’s not 140 letters, it’s characters. Characters include punctuation and spaces.

Just because we’re limited in how much we can say doesn’t mean we have to lose our message entirely (or tweet it out in several tweets). The more and more we use Twitter, the more we learn that 140 characters really is enough to get a basic message across.

Twitter is a constant stream of information. If every one wrote as much as they felt they needed, we’d never sift through all the information. Even shortened to a few sentences, it’s virtually impossible to keep up — but that doesn’t mean you should abandon Twitter. Shorter tweets are easier to read/skim than long drawn out messages.

Unlike Twitter, Facebook doesn’t have a character limit (if they do, it’s super long and I haven’t hit it yet). So if I went on Facebook and updated my status to:

Yesterday, I packed two suitcases (one clothes, one books) and moved into my mother’s house. Today, the movers are coming to pack up everything left in my apartment. Only one more month until I move to Japan.

That status update is pretty short, wouldn’t you say? Well, it’s still too long for Twitter. How can we take something already short and make it even shorter?

Yesterday, I packed up the essentials and moved into my mom’s house. Today, the movers are coming to pack up my apt. One month until Japan.

That fits Twitter (I’m even short one full character!) and still gets the same message across. Twitter is about concise, short messages that are straight to the point. Keeping our messages to Twitter-length takes a bit of practice, but in the end, it actually helps us improve some writing skills.

And for the love of all things Twitter, please refrain from posting a tweet like this:

I wrote a new blog abt twitr n how 2 use it. U dnt want 2 miss it!

There’s just no need for that. It is possible to tweet your message without using text-speak and looking like a dumbass.

A lot of us (and of this, I am guilty) tend to ramble. There is no rambling on Twitter — unless of course you tweet fifteen tweets in a row (a sure fire way to have people unfollow you).

Tweet Longer!
There are a lot of sites and programs that now allow us to tweet more than the alloted 140-character limit.

These general show about half of your tweet and then include a link that others can use to read the rest of it. Not a bad thing when used sparingly, but I’ll be honest: for every 10 extended tweet links I see, I probably click on one. If that.

If we can’t fit our message in 140-characters, there is a good chance we are either rambling or that tweet is better served as a blog post.

Shortened URLs
Shortened URLs (ie: short links) are our Twitter’s best friend. Shortened URLs are to Twitter what Ron Weasley is to Harry Potter.

Never, never, never use a long URL in your tweet. ALWAYS shorten your links.

TweetDeck will shorten URLs for you. I’m pretty sure that does the same. If you aren’t using a Twitter client like TweetDeck or Hootsuite, then or Bit.Ly websites you need to familiarize yourself with.

These websites allow us to take a long URL and transform it into a shorter one (usually about 26 characters). So, in essence, we can go from Tweeting:

New Blog! The Twitter Crash Course! Utilizing Twitter to its potential:

to tweeting:

New Blog! The Twitter Crash Course! Utilizing Twitter to its potential:

The first tweet (with the full URL) only leaves us 8 characters to spare. The second tweet, with the shortened URL, has an extra 48 characters to spare…40 more characters than the original tweet!

Even though both of those tweets still allow for extra characters, the shorter tweet is better.

The tweet with the shorter URL is going to allow for more retweets than the tweet with the longer URL.

A retweet is nothing more than someone sharing your message with their followers. So instead of your message reaching only reaching the 100 people that follow you, it’s now reaching all the people that follow the person who retweeted your message — your tweet is hitting a wider audience and that increases awareness about your online identity.

So why is a shorter URL better for RTs (retweets)? Because a retweet will typically look like this:

RT @WritersDigest: I Have a Publishing Deal But I Still Want an Agent. Here’s Why…

A retweet takes the original message adds RT and the original tweeter’s username (which can be up to 20 extra characters). So if I retweeted that message and some one retweeted me, then it looks like:

RT @AliceMcElwee: RT @WritersDigest: I have a Publishing Deal But  Still Want an Agent. Here’s Why…

So on, and so forth. Granted, the person who retweets me can probably delete my user name to save character space, but most of the time it’s easier to just hit the RT button and move on…which means my name is also being seen. The message is orginal tweet with the link, but my name is now attached to it.


If shortened URLs are Twitter’s Ron Weasley, then hashtags are Twitter’s Hermione Granger.

Hashtags are the clever, easy way to reach new people and stay in the loop on different conversations. For those of new to Twitter, it won’t be long before we see tweets that have words preceded by #. That # is the hashtag symbol. Basically, it turns the word it’s attached to into a searchable term.

So I could tweet: OK! I’m going to start some #amwriting now. Anyone up for #1K1Hr? #ROW80

There are three separate hashtags in that tweet: #amwriting, #1K1Hr and #Row80.

#amwriting is a popular hashtag among writers. By clicking #amwriting, Twitter will show me a live stream of everyone (including people I don’t follow) using that hashtag — it’s connecting me with other writers.

#1K1Hr is a Twitter-related word sprint. The goal is 1,000 words in one hour. By using that hastag, I’m connected with everyone else who is running sprints or looking for a sprint.

And finally, #ROW80 is the hashtag for A Round of Words in 80 Days. That hashtag connects me to other writers participating in that writing challenge.

Here’s what searching a hashtag looks like on the Twitter website:

The Twitter Formula

According to Kristen Lamb, there’s a good rule of thumb for using Twitter. It’s the rule of thirds, and it is a good formula to follow when maximizing your Twitter potential.

1/3 Information + 1/3 Reciprocation + 1/3 Conversation = Balanced Platform.

Broken down this means that 1/3 of your tweets is you sending out information (whether it’s personal or professional). Another  1/3 of your tweets should be retweeting the information of others. and the final  1/3  is you talking and getting to know other Twitter users.

So that’s it.

Now we’re armed with the basics of using Twitter as well as some good-to-know-info, like shortened URLs and hashtags. The next step? Be mindful of Twitter pet peeves.

Cid’s mentioned some on her blog, and next Monday I’ll add a few more to that list. But for now, go forth and tweet!


What other useful Twitter tips do you have for newbie tweeters?

2 responses

  1. HootSuite uses Owly to shorten links.Very useful!

    April 11, 2011 at 8:38 am

  2. Pingback: How To: Twitter « Tutus And Converse

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