Twitter: The Basics You Want to Know & Are Afraid to Ask

By:  Bayshore Solutions'

“So what is that number sign thing all about?”

The other night my wife and I were watching TV when a Calvin Klein ad came on, and on the last frame of the commercial we saw this: #calvinklein.  She asked me, “So what is that number sign thing all about?”  Now you wouldn’t exactly classify my wife as a tech-guru, but she is definitely not a novice by any stretch.  She is very much middle-of-the-pack when it comes to her tech-proficiency, and, yet, here she is with absolutely no idea what this now ubiquitous “#” symbol means.

It got me thinking that she is probably not alone.  I suspect there is a significant portion of the tech-using population out there that doesn’t know what this whole Twitter thing is about.  And now it’s gotten to the point where if you count yourself among that group, you might almost be too embarrassed to ask.
“What?  You don’t know how to use Twitter?  And you call yourself a modern American?!”

Well, rest-assured, you are not alone, and you don’t have to be in the dark or embarrassed anymore because here is quick education about this modern web phenomenon – and a “quick education” is all you will need to count yourself as having your pilot’s license and ready to fly in this ultimately very simple social media outlet.

With twitter, there are essentially two questions to answer, what is Twitter and how do you use it?

What is Twitter?

Twitter is, first and foremost, a new way to consume information.  In the olden days of the web (way back in 2005) we would consume online information by navigating to something like Yahoo’s homepage where we would find links to lots of information about lots of things – news, sports, recipes, upcoming events, etc.  This information was chosen by the editors of these sites and then presented in the format of a newspaper or magazine article.

Yahoo Home Page Circa Late 2005

Now imagine that you were the editor, and you controlled what made it on to that homepage.  That’s essentially what happens with Twitter.  You choose what makes it on to your “homepage” by following different sources.  So, for instance, you could follow ESPN, and then your “homepage” would be populated by all sorts of links from ESPN.  If you only followed ESPN, you would only see ESPN on your “homepage”, but why would you want to do that when there are so many other interesting sources you can follow like CNN, FOX, NPR, and the list goes on and on.  Basically whatever source of information you personally find interesting and engaging is what you follow, and then their content ends up on your “homepage”.

I keep putting the word homepage in quotes because it’s the closest thing I can compare it to, but in reality Twitter is less like a static page and more like a flowing river of information that you are creating (this is called your Twitter Feed) by the sources you pick.  So when you go to the Twitter website and login or use a mobile app to access your Twitter account, you see a string of little snippets of content (called Tweets) which were created by the sources you followed and have now made it on to your feed.

Twitter News Feed Circa Early This Week

Another thing that makes Twitter very different from the old Yahoo homepage is that in addition to following big news networks or large media outlets, you can (and should) follow individual people.

So what people should you follow?  Well let’s say you are a big golf fan, you might want to follow Tiger Woods.  Or maybe you love Jerry Seinfeld and he has a Twitter account that you can follow as well.  Think about sports leaders, business leaders, political leaders, religious leaders – these are all people you can follow, and then you will see their tweets in your feed.  Personally, I really enjoy following several comedians: Steve Martin, Jim Gaffigan, Conan O’brien to name a few.

As a businessperson, you can follow organizations and brands: your own, your competition, the national leaders in your market, industry associations, government agencies and officials, etc.  This is a great way to stay in touch with your market dynamics and keep your competitive intelligence sharp.

Finally, you don’t just have to follow famous people; you can even follow your friends.  As long as they have a Twitter account, you can follow them.

How do I use Twitter?

Okay, so you’ve gone to the Twitter website and created an account.  Now what?

The first thing to do is find some sources to follow.  You can easily do that on the Twitter site.  There is a very intuitive search function if you want to look for something or someone in particular, but you can also browse by category.  For instance, if you are interested in cooking, you can browse that category and see all the people or organizations that tweet about cooking.  You will quickly find that there is no shortage of interesting sources to follow, and it’s helpful to know that you can just as easily unfollow if you find you don’t like their contribution to your feed.

Twitter Search Window


To Tweet or not to Tweet:

Plenty of people who use Twitter never actually Tweet themselves, they just use it to consume the information that ends up in their feed.  But in case you want to start contributing, or “Tweeting”, here are the few things you will want to know:

LengthTweets can only be 140 characters long – that includes spaces, dashes, punctuation, everything!  So you don’t have a lot of room to work with.  Because space is so limited it’s very common to have links in Tweets; links to longer articles (i.e. your 140 character tweet just has the headline of the article, and you have to click on the link to read it), links to pictures (i.e. your tweet tells the reader what the picture is of, and then they can click on the link to actually see the picture), and even links to videos.

Hashtags - Now we are back to that “number sign thing”.  The # symbol is used in Tweets to simply put a label on a Tweet.  So, for instance, you could Tweet a picture of the beautiful sandy beach you are laying on, and somewhere in that Tweet you might include #summervacation.  All you are doing is categorizing that Tweet as one that is about summer vacation.  Some of these hashtags catch on, and there will be lots of Tweets with the same hashtag, like #Obama2012, #superbowl, or #popefrancis.  Then a cool trick is that you can click on any hashtag in any Tweet and you will see all the Tweets that are characterized with that hashtag across the entire Twitterverse.


This Tweet is Tagged as Being About Cyprus using:  #Cyprus

Retweets - If you come across a Tweet that you really like, it is common “share” it by sending it out again from  your Twitter handle.  This is called a Retweet, and there is a quick bit of protocol around it.  You are actually already familiar with this protocol.  When you forward an email, there’s an “FW” that shows up in the subject line of the email - that lets the reader know that this was a forwarded message.  Well it’s the same thing on Twitter.  To make sure there’s no confusion about where the Tweet came from, you open your Tweet with the letters “RT” followed by the post you are Retweeting.  Conveniently, the Twitter website and most Twitter apps now have a Retweet button built in, so you just hit that button, and the Retweet notification is inserted for you.


This Tweet by Taylor Vinson was Retweeted by ABC Action News

Lastly, there are times when you might mention another Twitter user in your Tweet.  Something to note here is that your name in real life is not necessarily your name on Twitter.  It’s again a little bit like email.  Your email address is rarely your full formal name.  Many times it’s your first initial and last name, or your first name and last initial, or something else entirely.  When you create your Twitter account, you choose your Twitter name, and similar to creating a new email account on Yahoo or Gmail, the name you want may not be available, so you have to get a little creative.  Other times you pick a different name for convenience or for marketing reasons; so for instance, the New York Times shortens its name on Twitter to “nytimes”.  (Interesting trivia:  Back in the day when Bayshore Solutions was first establishing their Twitter account, the name “BayshoreSolutions” was too long for an allotted Twitter handle.  So we got strategically creative to make our Twitter identity convey who we are and what we do. And that’s how @BayshoreWebPros came to be.)

One additional tip  to know about Twitter names is they always start with the @ symbol, so the New York Times is actually @nytimes.   On Twitter, when you are referencing, or “mentioning” another Twitter user, you want to use their full Twitter name.  For example, you might tweet:


Congratulations! You are now in-the-know about Twitter! You are ready to spread your wings, jump from the nest and follow, #hashtag, RT, and @mention to your heart's content!

Though busy business executives need to know the basics about Twitter and other social media platforms, a full social media marketing strategy and implementation is another level of social media engagement.  This is where expert professionals like the online marketing team at Bayshore Solutions can create effective social media marketing to grow your business!

Contact us to learn more.


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