First, some explanations of basic Twitter concepts.
- A tweet is a 140-character update. Similar to a Facebook status if you’re familiar with Facebook. Why 140 characters? When Twitter was originally developed, that number was chosen for compatibility with mobile phone text messaging.
- To use Twitter, you’ll have to find people to follow. Follow just means that their updates will appear on your Twitter page. Every time they post an update you’ll see it. If they follow you back, they’ll see your updates as well.
Here’s an important difference between Twitter and Facebook: Facebook must be mutual; that is, for someone to be your friend and see your updates, you must agree to the relationship. Not so on Twitter. Anyone can follow you unless you block them. Conversely, you can follow people who do not follow you. It’s also worth noting that your updates are public unless you protect your tweets, which you really don’t want to do.
- If you want to say something privately to someone you follow on Twitter, if they follow you, you can send a direct message, usually just called a DM. This is like a text message or private email in that only they will see it. You can only send a DM to someone who is following you.
- The stream is the list of tweets from all of the people you follow. It appears on your home page, with the newest tweets at the top.
- As you read through the stream, you’ll often see words preceeded by hashtags (#). Hashtags are a way to categorize tweets, to make them searchable. You can do a hashtag search on Twitter to see all tweets about a certain topic. For example, most conferences have an official hashtag. Attendees who tweet about the conference use that hashtag and their tweets are easily searchable and update in real time, or as they are posted.
- As you read through your stream, it’s likely that you’ll see tweets that you want to save for future reference. You can do this by making it a favorite. Later you can review the tweets you’ve favorited and you can read the favorite tweets of others.
- If you see a tweet that you really like and agree with, you can retweet. This is a bit like forwarding an email; you still recognize the original tweeter but you send it to your own followers as well. Most people add a character after the tweet to separate it and add a short thought of their own.
- Search is a powerful facet of Twitter; you can search for a desired topic, save the search and check for updates each time you log in. For example, I have a saved search for the words Memphis and church, which allows me to gather all the tweets that mention Memphis and church in the same tweet. This lets me listen to what people are saying about church in Memphis.
- Lists are a relatively new feature. They let you categorize people you follow into groups; for example, I have a group of local people I call peeps. That separates personal friends from tweets from a software company I follow. I can make my lists public, so others can discover and follow them, or keep them private.
Next we’ll get started with the actual tweeting, which is where the fun begins.