How to Use Twitter

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that is something like Facebook status updates, but only the updates and nothing else. It could also be described as a kind of giant online chatroom, but it's more than just chat.

Each Twitter update is called a "tweet" and is 140 characters or less. These tweets appear on your Twitter page. Users who follow you will get your tweets via the Web, their desktops, or even their mobile phones.

Twitter.com has some introductory resources for businesses here:

Why Use Twitter?

Twitter can be useful for networking with tech-savvy, social media influencers who can take your message beyond Twitter. Twitter isn't a place for direct sales pitches as much as it is a networking tool. See below for more advice on sales pitches.

Signing Up for Twitter

Signing up for Twitter is straightforward. Just go to Twitter.com and follow the directions.

Be sure to fill out the following information:

  • More info URL - the URL of your hostel's website should go here
  • One line bio - Write a short description of your hostel
  • Location - Your city and region
  • IMPORTANT - do not check the box that says protect my updates or no one will be able to read your tweets without your permission

Also, don't forget to add a user photo. The default Twitter image (o_O) means confused.

Be sure to change the default Twitter image.

Set Twitter to show you all "@" replies so that you will get notifications when any Twitter user messages you:

In your Twitter settings, choose "Show me all @ replies"

Who to Follow on Twitter

To follow someone on Twitter, visit their Twitter profile and click the Follow button. There is a limit to the number of people that can be followed. At the time of this writing, the maximum number of people who can be followed is 2,000 until an equivalent number of people follow back.

Here are some lists of interesting people to follow:

Another good way to find interesting people on Twitter is to look through your friends' friends:

Find new people to follow on Twitter by searching through your friends' friends.

If you use a Twitter client like TweetDeck (highly recommended) you can monitor interesting keywords to find out which Twitter users talk about subjects that you're interested in. The image below shows a search of the keyword hostels on Twitter with TweetDeck:

Using TweetDeck to see who talks about hostels.

Ideas About What to Say on Twitter

Examples of things that could be posted to Twitter:

  • Look through your timeline and through Twitter Search for interesting comments from other people. Click the "reply" icon next to a Twitter message to reply to that user and start a conversation.
  • Post a link to a webpage that you think it interesting. It could be your own site or another site. Don't only post links to your own site though or it can look spammy to other Twitter users. You could link to an interesting post by a travel blogger, an interesting photo, a news story, or anything you want to share with your Twitter network. Try to keep it interesting for your target audience.
  • If you're offering an especially low discount that is newsworthy, you could post that to Twitter. E.g., “€8 dorm beds in Paris in February! [link to your webpage]”
  • Use Twitpic to upload an interesting photo and post it on Twitter.
  • Twitter is a useful search tool. Try asking a question on Twitter in order to start a conversation. For example, “Can anyone recommend a....?” You may get a great answer back, and also start conversations and relationships with interesting people.
  • If someone tweets something that is interesting, you can “retweet” it (see below).

Tip: Twitter isn't a direct advertising tool. Don't give a hard sell for your website or continually mention your website. People will only pay attention to you if you say something interesting and/or have genuine conversations with others. It's best not to say things like "check out my website" or your followers may consider it spammy.

How to Reply on Twitter

Twitter messages are addressed to other users with the @ symbol prefixed to their Twitter username. To send user hostelblogs a message on Twitter you would start your message with @hostelblogs. To message the user hostelworld you would prefix the message with @hostelworld.

If you see a tweet (Twitter message) that you would like to reply to, hover over the tweet and an arrow will appear. Click on the arrow to reply.

Click on the arrow to reply to a tweet

How to Send a Direct Message

A direct message, or "DM" is a private message between two Twitter users. To send a direct message, go to their Twitter page and click the message link. To send a direct message on Twitter, the other user has to be following you.

You can also send a direct message from your standard Twitter message box by typing d + username + message. For example, to send a direct (private) message to HostelBookers (username: hostel) type: d hostel Hi There! :)

It looks like this:

An example of sending a direct message on Twitter to the user hostel (Hostelbookers)


Tip: When you send a direct message to a Twitter user it sends them an email. Use direct messages sparingly or people might get annoyed. It's okay to send someone a personalized direct message thanking them for following you, but don't include a sales pitch or a link to your website in your direct message. Unsolicited sales pitches on Twitter are usually considered spammy.

Don't send automated direct messages or send them a “check out my website” message right after they follow you. It will annoy your followers.

How to Retweet

If someone on Twitter says something interesting, you can retweet it to your own followers. Retweeting is a way to share someone else's tweet with your followers and also notifies the person who posted the original tweet that you thought what they had to say was interesting.

If a popular Twitter user retweets one of your messages, their followers might check out your Twitter profile and start following you.

The format for retweets is RT [@username] [message]. Retweeting might look something like this:

RT @jcreaturetravel Lisbon may have some of the best hostels in the world. http://bit.ly/5cnQt

See also this screenshot:

An image showing how to retweet on Twitter.

URL Shortening

Because Twitter messages are limited to just 140 characters, it's important to conserve space. URLs can be shortened with various URL-shortening services which give you more space to fit your message.

For example, the following link is 90 characters and would take up the bulk of my 140 character limit:

http://www.hostelmanagement.com/forum/f25/your-hostel-dynamic-pricing-aka-revenue-851.html

I could use a URL shortening service like bit.ly to reduce that 90-character URL to just 19 characters like this:

http://bit.ly/XFAoS

Here are some URL shortening services that will let you track the number of times people click on your links:

  • Bit.ly
  • [I removed tr.im because they closed down]

Other good services that don't track clicks are:

Tip: Don't use URL shorteners that do redirects in HTML frames like ow.ly (Hootsuite) or su.pr (StumbleUpon). They will annoy some of your followers. It's recommended to use one of the suggested URL shorteners above.

Hashtags

Hashtags are keywords prefixed with a pound sign (#). Adding a hashtag to a tweet makes it easier to find. Hashtags are commonly used when tweeting from conferences and events. People attending that event can then use Twitter search to see a channel of tweets from other people at that same event. Example of the hashtag #drupalcon used for the Drupal convention: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23drupalcon

Read more about Hashtags here and here.

How to Integrate Your Blog with Twitter

Here is a tutorial on How to feed your blog posts into Twitter.

Things to Be Aware of

There are many ways to use Twitter, but here are some general recommendations for Twitter use:

Don't send automated direct messages (DMs).
Automated DMs are generally considered spammy. They also send an email to the recipient. Use DMs sparingly.
Don't over-automate your Twitter feed.
It's okay to integrate a blog or website with a Twitter account, but it's best not to automate your main Twitter account too much. Take a look at your Twitter page and ask yourself, "is this information interesting to visitors?" The more interesting your posts are, the more you will get out of Twitter. I recommend only auto-posting your blog posts. If you want to auto-post more than just your blog, create a second Twitter account for that purpose. I recommend not sending information to your Twitter account that you didn't write yourself (e.g., forum posts by other people, blog comments). If you want to auto-post from various sources create a second Twitter account for that purpose. For an example of a separate, automated Twitter account see the @hostelblogs Twitter account.
Avoid direct sales pitches.
Twitter best used for networking, not for sales pitches. A good Twitter user is someone who says interesting things and who communicates with interesting people. It's okay to mention special offers at your business, but don't only mention special offers because it will look spammy. Twitter is a networking tool, not a direct sales tool.
Don't only promote your own site.
Twitter is more for networking than for direct sales pitches. Saying "check out my site" over and over is considered spammy and may cause people to unfollow you.
Be aware of the possibility of confusing your followers when cross-posting to Facebook and other sites.
There are services like Ping.fm that allow you to post to Twitter, Facebook, and other sites at the same time. The thing to be aware of with this is that your Facebook followers may not understand you when you use Twitter syntax like "@ replies" in your Facebook messages.

Twitter Tools

Twitter Clients

Other Twitter Apps

Twitter Tools for WordPress Blogs

WordPress is a popular blogging system. There are several tools for integrating WordPress blogs with Twitter:

For Web Designers

Further Reading