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Twitter 101: Learning To Chat In 140 Characters

So you’ve heard all about this Twitter thing, you’re thinking you want in, but after arriving at Twitter.com you’re not sure what you do next. Truth is, I started just like you, but in 2007 when I joined NONE of us knew what to do next. Twitter was an entirely new thing, something we all tumbled around in before getting on our feet and setting some basic rules.

You, on the other hand, have the utter luxury of choosing at the get go what you want Twitter to be. You can get out of Twitter whatever you need. So, the big question at first is: what DO you need? What are you hoping having Twitter as a broadcasting/communication channel will do for you? Are you promoting something? Seeking conversation? Hoping to drive sales?

Once you have this information in hand or, frankly, if you have no idea and you just want to see what Twitter’s all about then it’s time to start. First things first: choosing your Twitter name.

There are three ways to go with a Twitter name: your actual name (or some version thereof; my name is CecilyK), your business or company name, or some ironic or funny name that has no relation to who you really are. Only you can can decide what you want, but I will say this: Twitter is a place for people. A person is behind every account, and everyone knows it, so even if you Tweet under your company name, you are still a person. You might want to consider being more personal. Even the biggest companies Comcast, for instance have real people behind their accounts (such as ComcastBill).

Okay! So, now that you’ve gotten your account, what the hell do you do?

Start tweeting!

I always describe Twitter as a massive, ongoing cocktail party where networking is happening. So typical in-person networking rules apply. You find people with shared interests (using the Twitter search function), stick your hand out (follow someone), and introduce yourself (direct a tweet at them specifically). Here are some explanations for the basic Twitter functions.

@ message. If you put an “@” symbol before someone’s name, you will send a message directly to that person. This is NOT a private message, however it can be viewed in both Twitter streams.

Direct Message. This IS a private message, viewed only by you and the person receiving it. You can only send Direct Messages (commonly called DMs) to people that are following YOU; in other words, even if you are following them you cannot send them a direct message unless they follow you back.

Retweet. You might often see “Please RT?” in a Twitter message. This is a retweet a simple function in Twitter where you can share someone else’s tweet with your Twitter followers without the typical cut and paste function, AND crediting the original Tweeter at the same time. RTing things that are interesting to you is a courtesy and a great way to get to know people. Think of it as introducing someone fascinating at a cocktail party to someone you think will also enjoy them.

#Hashtag. You might notice people putting a # symbol in front of a word or series of words allruntogetherlikethis. That’s called a “hashtag” and it creates a simple way for folks talking about a particular subject to easily follow each other. For instance, if you’re all attending the same conference, using the #conferencehashtag is a great way to let folks you know you’re there, share something interesting from a conference session, or find dinner companions. It’s also how we all play along during awards shows on television (my very favorite time to be on Twitter, frankly), during world events, and of course presidential debates.

Alright! Armed with this information, I hope you’ll find your way about Twitter. Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to come back and answer them! And if you’re a Twitter veteran, feel free to share things I left out.

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