Day 4: Twitter

There are about 1,000 niche social tools. We’ve talked about the big dogs, Google and Facebook, but we can’t ignore the second string players, and the biggest of those is Twitter.

Day 4 Recap

Today was Twitter day. We discussed the dual nature of Twitter as both a personal instant message service, and a broadcast network, and the challenges that come with trying to understand the two at the same time. Twitter can be remarkably powerful for understanding a topic in broad strokes, and for collecting your list of influential publishers that exist in your space. If they’re influential, they’re likely distributing on Twitter. 

Twitter Convention

There are four primary conventions that you must know before jumping in to Twitter. There are many others that you will discover as you use it, but these four are foundational to using the service: 

  • @
  • .@
  • #
  • RT


Twitter convention is pretty simple. First, the “@” — If you see an “@” before a username, that means you’re looking at a Twitter handle. My Twitter handle, for example, is @petewright. If you’re writing a tweet, and you include @petewright in it, the Twitter system automatically knows to make that word a link to my user profile. Further, your tweet will be flagged for me and give my account (and phone) a buzz. Finally, that tweet will show up in your public tweet stream and anyone else following you will see that message show up in their stream, if they are following you.

If you write a tweet that starts with @username, that message will not show up to your followers. It still public, and it will display on your page, but it is the digital equivalent of taking someone aside in a large party and talking to them one-on-one. Others could hear you, but mostly it’s a side conversation.


If you add a period before the @username to start a tweet, you’re making that tweet public for all once again. You’re saying, yes, this tweet is primarily between you and this other person, but this information is important for all. This convention is highly used in customer service situations. 

Direct Messages

A variation on that convention: what if you want to send me a direct message, one that isn’t in the public stream of Twitter events? Simple. Just start your message with a “dm.” Examples… 

I just attended byb2014 class with @petewright at Chautauqua.

That tweet would be public, in the main stream, and would make my phone buzz as a mention.

dm @petewright I wish your class at Chautauqua would be offered every day, in my house.

This would be a direct message to me and only me, similar to a text message on your phone. Now, that’s convention. But since that convention for direct, private messages first came to be, Twitter has adopted it and built it into the service as a separate interface. Just click on envelope in the navigation bar to open a new private message to a Twitter user. 



What about Hashtags? If you think of Twitter as a book, the hashtag is the index at the end of it. The hashtag allows you to provide context to your tweet and help others classify the sorts of things you write about and share. Many more advanced Twitter applications allow you to do more with hashtags than I’m explaining here, such as saving searches by hashtag and receiving notifications when someone writes about a hashtag you’re following. I mentioned Tweetbot in class, for example. Manipulating and searching by Hashtag is quite advanced in Tweetbot and that’s just one way the application excels over Twitter’s own app. 

So, how do you use a hashtag? Let’s use the example above…

I just attended #byb2014 class with @petewright at @Chq.

I added the “#” before “#byb2014" making it a hashtag. I didn’t have to register them with any service, or tell Twitter I wanted to make a hashtag, I just did it. And now, thanks to that # character, my tweet will include links to #byb2014, allowing others to click on it and be presented with a list of other tweets by other users writing about the same topic.

I said above that you don’t have to register a hashtag. That’s true. You don’t have to register, but you canHashtags.org is a non-profit site dedicated to helping users understand and promote the use of hashtags to index the web. If you search for a hashtag there, one that does not have a definition associated with it, you can “add definition” to that hashtag and claim it as your own. Here’s the analytics page for #byb2014, for example.

That said, hashtags are unrestricted. There is nothing to say that someone else might not come along and hijack your hashtag, using it as their own. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do about it, other than find a new hashtag, or ensure that your hashtag is more popular. The hashtag universe is quite Darwinian in that regard — it is owned by the commons.

RT (Re-Tweets)

A “re-tweet” allows you to take a tweet of someone else, and share it with your followers. The symbol sits in the row of buttons below the individual tweets, two arrows in a circle, as shown in orange below. 


There are a number of useful apps in the Twitter ecosystem. Like any good app, the most important thing is finding one that fits your habits and expectations. 

Hootsuite is the gold standard in social media war rooms around the world. It allows you to manage not only Twitter, but Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and more. It offers wonderful research and tracking of discussion around your brand, and allows you to post to all your social networks in real time, and by scheduling posts in the future. It’s free, but offers a paid business plan if you need more features. 

The biggest feature for brands is that you can create user accounts within your business user account, allowing brand managers to interact with your user accounts without having to give them your main password for that account. Very useful!

Buffer is similar to Hootsuite, without so many of the business features. Still, it’s a quick and easy way to schedule tweets and posts so that you don’t have to sit up all night on twitter to post across time zones. 

Now, Twitter itself offers apps that allow you quick and easy access to your tweet stream on all the major platforms. That means you can get to your Twitter universe without having to deal with the web. While we spent much of our time talking about Twitter on the web, I strongly recommend you download the appropriate Twitter apps for Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, etc. If there isn’t an official app for your platform, there are a number of unofficial apps — i.e., not made by Twitter, but great and sometimes more powerful — that I recommend. Personally, I use Tweetbot on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, and can’t recommend it enough. It’s not available on Windows.