The other day I looked at my Twitter account and I noticed that despite only using Twitter for a short time, I’ve made a surprising number of tweets. Since I started, I’ve learned a lot about the community, how people use it, and the ecosystem of services that rely on Twitter to function.
If you’ve got a minute, I’d love to share some of what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen others do successfully.
If you can say it with less letters, do so! There are only 140 characters allowed in a single tweet, so shortening a word or using a bit of slang is completely acceptable. Instead of “are,” say “r.” The same goes for “you” and “u.”
Don’t go overboard, though. If you abbreviate everything you write or do it in a way that breaks with your normal tone, you’ll drive people away. Using more than two abbreviations in a single tweet might be something to avoid.
2. Shorten Your URLs
Another kind of abbreviation you can use is link shortening. Instead of posting an entire link to a blog post (which might exceed the character limit on its own), you can use a URL shortening service. The most popular of these is [NO LONGER WORKS] TinyURL, which simply takes any long link, gives it a unique identifier, and produces a clean little redirect link that you can post anywhere.
The service that I prefer is the one offered by. Since I am part of many different microblogging communities I use Ping.fm to keep them all straight. Links entered into the post box are automatically converted into a “ping.fm/unique_identifier” format. This saves time and helps you ensure your links don’t get cut off. Because the system looks for links in an intelligent way, it’s also possible to post a long link in the middle of your tweet and have it shortened without interfering with the rest of the text or your character count.
If you’d like to consider other link shortening services, then check out Lee’s list of 10 different short URL services.
3. Invite Responses
Remember that Twitter is a social community with a reasonably good system for replies. If you only broadcast the status of your laundry, don’t expect many responses. You have to find a way to engage your followers by not only sharing the story of your life, but also asking their opinion. Questions make great Twitter posts because, subconsciously, the reader has to think about it longer as they formulate a response.
Be prepared for all kinds of replies, though. Usually your followers will be polite, but if you ask a controversial question, be prepared for strong viewpoints and possibly hurt feelings. If a debate gets too heated, either stop replying or move the conversation to another medium. In my experience, squashing your well-formulated viewpoint into 140 characters will probably fail to get your point across.
4. Find Your Voice
While you may have heard this advice in your high school creative writing class, I don’t mean it in quite the same sense. There are a million different things you can tweet about. If you really want to let the world know that you’re “going to do some cool stuff,” then feel free to post it. If you’re using Twitter as a means of plugging your own posts, that’s OK too. The most important thing is consistency.
If you typically write very casually about mundane events, don’t be surprised when your followers largely gloss over that crucial tweet describing your political views. The reverse is also true. A Twitter account that’s full of well thought out tweets can be disrupted by a few obscure references to the tedium of your life. Figure out what kind of Twitterer you want to be and stick with it. Your followers will thank you for it.
5. Timing is Everything
This is the tip that I have the most trouble following myself. When you have a couple big things happen and you sit down at your computer, you may have the compulsion to blurt them all out in 3 or 4 consecutive tweets. While it’s a great way to vent, it concentrates all of your day’s contributions to Twitter in one chronological spot. If some of your followers check their feeds later in the day, they may miss your updates completely.
Instead of compacting all your posts, spread them out so each one has an equal chance of being seen by a large number of people. If a follower sees one update in their feed, they may click your profile to check if they’ve missed anything. For extra help with timing, check out Jason’s article, which includes a description of TweetLater, a tweet scheduling service.
6. Know the Syntax
While it may seem obvious, make sure you know how to use the Twitter syntax. Specifically, the “@ reply” and the “hashtag.” These will allow you to change the meaning of your posts in a simple, unified way. ” @ replies” are great for replying directly to any user. Twitter alerts anyone whose username appears in the beginning of a tweet. For instance “@loyaleagle I’m having trouble with that too,” would show up in my replies area, as well as in my general feed (if I already follow that user). The post is clearly a reply to a previous one and people not involved can look at both feeds to understand the conversation. If you use an “@ reply” in the middle of a tweet, it won’t be added to that user’s list of replies, but it is a good way to mention someone’s username, as Twitter will automatically linkify it.
Hashtags are similar to “@ replies,” but they function more like an archival service. According to the hashtags wiki, they allow you to tag each post with its own specific category (much like the tags found on Flickr). Using hashtags allows you to join a community of people who are all interested in the same thing or are looking for updates on a particular news event. The downside to this is that you lose some characters to the tag, especially if that tag is long.
7. Use a Multi-protocol Service
As I mentioned above,is a fantastic service. I have numerous microblogging accounts all over the web and keeping them unified can be very handy. This isn’t an article on multi-protocol microblogging tools, but I wanted to mention them because they can help your tweets as well. If all of your microblogging services are synchronized, your followers will feel comfortable adding you in their favorite network. Also, it will help you get your various accounts updated together (otherwise you might accidentally omit one).
Remember, a lot of the tips above are completely applicable to other microblogging services. Some services have their own specific syntax, though. If you use a multi-protocol service to unify your posts, make sure the syntax works for every account. Fortunately the “@ reply” is a fairly well known term, so it should be fine anywhere.
If you have any specific tips you’d like to share, please post them below. There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter, but some ways will work best for you.
Finally, make sure to join and follow MakeUseOf on Twitter